It’s 6 p.m. Wednesday, and the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel is already throbbing with Lone Star style —wall-to-wall fur coats and silver longhorn bolo ties. But that’s to be expected. After all, the hotel is the site of the Texas State Society’s “Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball,” attracting some 12,000 revelers.
Cowboy hats and tiaras are the headgear of choice. Several women combine the two and sport cowboy hats decked with tiaras. One such partier is Jennie Hargrove, a black-suede-clad homemaker from Dallas, who dubbed herself a regular “rhinestone cowgirl.”
Others, such as 67-year-old Midland County Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Brannon, opted for just a tiara because she preferred to be “like a queen.”
Texas pride is so big it can’t be avoided. Nearly everyone is either from Texas or has some Texas connection — and most want to tell you about it.
Martha Tyroch, the mayor pro tem of Temple, Texas, sports a royal blue gown, her campaign color, she says. She’s “proud to be an American, but real proud to be a Texan.”
“I’m 2,000 miles away from home with 3,000 of my closest friends,” says Russ Cook of Austin. “I’m a big Republican and a big-time Longhorn.”
Those looking to add a little more flair could head downstairs to the Texas Fair and Market Place, where vendors hawk everything from colored furs to belt buckles to apple pie.
A trio of cowboy hat-wearing “Plungettes,” who form a Republican senior citizens drill team, wait to get commemorative photos taken just inside the market at the Lockheed Martin booth. They had hoped to march in the parade but we “didn’t make the cut,” says Ginny Patterson, 60. She sports a “Texas loves W” cape with feathers.
Meanwhile, the media crowd includes comedian Mo Rocca, who is covering the event for “The Tonight Show.” He’s roaming the market and in fine spirits.
“The inauguration is the perfect way to come down from the Golden Globes and gear up for Trump’s wedding,” he quips.
“Thank God it’s not the Democrats,” he adds. “They’d be serving lichen stripped from the trees.” But while the Republicans serve all top shelf liquor, Rocca says, he holds a club soda in his hand.
He’s wearing a black velvet jacket, which covers suspenders depicting “scenes of African wild life.” He doesn’t want the Republicans to see them because they might try to “shoot them and turn them into boots.”
Just before 7 p.m., when the ball starts, the line to get in is already snaking around the hotel’s second floor. Waiting in line is 10-year-old Melissa Crawford, sporting boots and a cowboy hat. She is there because “her Aunt Kay,” as in Texas Rep. Kay Granger (R), invited her. It turns out Granger, a friend of her grandmother’s, wrote the recommendation for her parents to adopt her. So Granger is her adopted aunt, she says. Crawford likes Bush “because he makes good decisions” and “believes in God.”
Once inside the ballroom, attendees dance, drink and feast on beef brisket, shrimp and fajitas.
Adjacent to the dance floor, Ron Reagan Jr. is broadcasting for MSNBC and says he’s having an all right time — not very enthusiastically. The country music is continuous — and a lot of the attendees seem to know the words. There are even high-kicking performances by the Kilgore Rangerettes.
Bush finally makes an appearance sometime after 9 p.m. Shouts of “W” and “Viva Bush” can be heard. He gets huge cheers when he mentions the best decision of his life — to marry Laura.
He also gives a nod to “Tommy DeLay.” Bush’s fellow Texan can’t be seen so the president tweaks him. If DeLay is here “he didn’t get a very good seat,” Bush says of the powerful House Majority Leader.
And when Bush mentions Rudy Giuliani’s name the crowd goes wild. But more on that in a moment.
“Kiss me,” screams one black woman standing in the crowd as Bush’s speech ends — clearly overcome by being in his presence.
“George Bush is the cutest man,” gushes a pair of teenage girls.
Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) later says that when the president was speaking much of the Texas delegation, including DeLay (who he said sported an “LBJ-style hat”), was in the kitchen just off the ballroom. The Texas Members were supposed to be on stage with the Bushes, the Cheneys, Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) and John Cornyn (R), and Lone Star Gov. Rick Perry (R), he said, but there wasn’t time.
Maybe because the president arrived 35 minutes early, as Granger, who serves as Texas State Society president, later explained.
Not long after Bush leaves — around 9:40 p.m. — Giuliani sweeps through the crowd with wife Judith on his arm. He is mobbed like a rock star and quickly exits out a side door after posing for several photos. Granger says the highlight of the night was “making Rudy Giuliani an honorary Texan” at the sponsors dinner before the ball. “We gave him a hat and boots,” she laughed.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), a Democrat in a sea of Republicans, missed Bush’s speech because he was late getting back from the sponsors dinner and was not allowed in until after Bush was done. “I never throw my name around — never, never, never,” he says.
Cornyn declares himself “pumped” after the Bush speech. He shows off his personalized Texas Senator boots. His wife says he’s an OK dancer, but that they don’t get to dance “very often.”
By 11:30 p.m., the ballroom is a crush of bodies — and that’s just the people who managed to get in before the fire marshal closed the main ballroom sometime after 8 p.m. The thousands who were shut out had to settle for enjoying the festivities offered in smaller ballrooms, such as the Salado Saloon Stage and the Lubbock Lounge. While country music star Clay Walker croons, a beach ball is being bounced among the crowd on the dance floor.
Departing guests stream out of the hotel sporting the night’s party favor: straw Texas State Society cowboy hats. Many are met by Steve Ekberg standing by the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metrorail station with a large “Nader Lives” sign.
“In your wildest dreams, fool,” shouts one ball attendee after seeing the sign.
“They live in a Disneyland fantasy,” Ekberg says of the attendees, adding that he’s used to the cold since he’s from Vermont. “The president is engaged in an illegal war that is blowing the limbs off children.” He then proceeds to ask one reporter to come home with him that night to see “what a radical can really do.” What a night.