After raising $9,000 and traveling 600 miles, the pompon girls from Ronald Reagan's hometown of Dixon, Ill., were not going to let a small thing like the cancellation of the presidential inaugural parade spoil their moment of glory yesterday.
So, donning their purple cowboy hats and matching outfits, the 35 freezing Dutchesses of Dixon High School realized their goal of strutting their stuff in front of the White House -- even though Pennsylvania Avenue was deserted and the new $1 million presidential reviewing stand was empty.
Performers high-stepping without an audience in front of barren bleachers was part of the surreal scene played out up and down the traditional parade route yesterday as thousands of wind-chilled celebrants tried to make the most of the unprecedented cancellation of the quadrennial political extravaganza.
On the same broad throughfare where 500,000 cheering people watched Ronald Reagan become president in 1981, an eerie, empty stillness made Pennsylvania Avenue for his second inauguration seem like the main street of a ghost town.
After months of planning, the parade of more than 10,000 participants was abruptly shifted to the Capital Centre in Landover, with the public not invited. Bone-chilling winds cleared the streets of the capital; so, like the parade itself, all other festivities instead turned indoors.
High school students who rode all night on a bus from Weeping Water, Neb., drowned their sorrows in Coke and pizza at the Old Post Office Pavilion. Dairy farmers from Florida sipped Bloody Marys in the lobby of the J. W. Marriott Hotel as they watched the inaugural address on color TV.
Jeff Brant, 38, a funeral director from Portsmouth, Ohio, drove 10 hours through blizzards in his 1985 Riviera, checking in Saturday morning at the Hotel Washington overlooking the parade route. Brant, who hired extra help so he could come here just for the parade, was crushed by the cancellation.
"I'm disappointed. I'm disgusted. I'm sympathetic with the president, though . . . . It's just too cold" for a parade, said Brant, who said he was giving up and heading home.
But for die-hard parade-watchers and cold-weather patriots like Deon and Carolyn Stuart of Bountiful, Utah, the searing cold was no deterrent. Clad in matching cashmere coats, the Stuarts stood along Pennsylvania Avenue, vigorously waving their American flags and waiting for more than an hour to see Reagan drive past.
"I just feel so patriotic, I am going to stand here 'til my toes freeze off," said Carolyn Stuart.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee is offering refunds to parade ticket-holders, but the Stuarts, who have spent more than $1,000 on inaugural activities, said they wouldn't ask for money back. "It would be un-American," Deon Stuart said, smiling.
Paul Venze, a Beverly Hills advertising executive, said it was absurd to call off the inaugural parade because of the cold. "You have people go to Colts-Green Bay Packers football games in colder weather than this," Venze said. "Our priorities are wrong. The presidency comes before a football game."
The day was a disaster for many of the city's 6,000 street vendors who competed for 300 parade-route spots and other choice locations, all in vain. "I sold two buttons," said James Robson of Vienna, " . . . Who can you blame? You can't blame Reagan."
The newly redeveloped Pennsylvania Avenue gleamed with new office buildings that have sprung up since the last inaugural. And while the avenue was largely deserted, that didn't stop the lavish parties planned by numerous corporations and law firms to show off their offices and their spectacular view of the parade.
"We invited 300 and we'll be lucky to get 50," said David Childs, the managing partner of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architectural firm at 1201 Pennsylvania. But Childs was quickly proved wrong as a steady flow of people arrived to munch on cold cuts, sip a drink or two and nibble on red, white and blue jelly beans.
American Security Bank turned its ornate headquarters lobby into a massive bar for select customers. The bank had invited more than 1,500 guests to eat, drink and view the parade. Instead, well-dressed men and women sipped martinis on the 10th floor and stared at dozens of flags flapping in the wind.
Other companies canceled their intimate bashes for favored clients. At the Hotel Washington, for 60 years a center for inaugural affairs, disappointment abounded. "I just can't believe this happened," said Lendy McDonald, Republican chairman of Laguna Vista, Tex.
For Cindy Wright of Washington and her mother, Barbara Parsons, from Ohio, decked out in $370 of winter gear they bought for the parade, including battery-warmed gloves, there was the consolation of seeing the presidential motorcade heading for the Capitol yesterday morning.
"We were standing on Pennsylvania Avenue when the president went by, on his way to the Capitol," Wright said. "We waved and he waved back. That was exciting."
But for Tim O'Brien and his high school classmates from Green Bay, Wis. there were no such consolations.
O'Brien and his friends stood on Pennsylvania Avenue near 10th Street NW yesterday afternoon, hoping to at least catch a glimpse of Reagan returning to the White House from the Capitol. At the last minute, however, the motorcade was rerouted.
"It was a fun weekend," he said, "but it was one letdown after another."