This will be the second time I have gone to see the inauguration of a president. And, although I appreciate the historic value of “being there,” I am not such an “insider” on the Washington scene that I’ll get a great seat anywhere. Thus, I will be a witness to history, albeit at a distance.

I am hopeful that things will be a tad better this time around than the last which followed a long haul of rain and snow, leaving the capital grounds one big mud puddle. There was lots of security with metal detectors and long lines … and that was before 9/11 which has generated ever more security concerns. I expect longer lines, longer waits and even more distance between me and the President.

I have been lucky enough to have met George Bush personally on more than one occasion, so I am not heartbroken at being just one of thousands to witness the swearing in. The last time around, I could actually see him take the oath, and hear the words over a loudspeaker. I could see him if I squinted really hard and used whatever was left of my baby boomer vision. I must admit that it was kind of exciting.

However, schlepping through the mud was no treat. All the men or women in pantsuits had the bottoms of their trousers caked in mud. Shoes all had the uniform color of mud, and for those ladies who got all gussied up in their high heels, it was a total mess. I recall walking behind one gal in heels who was carried forward by the momentum of her walk as her shoes were sucked into the mud behind her. There definitely was cause for a long, hot shower with much scrubbing before any consideration of any of the balls which were available that night.

I always find it interesting that folks use Walgreens-type disposable cameras to capture the scene, as if a little flash like that could possibly light up a distance of at least a football field. It will definitely be a Kodak moment of a crowd scene, shared with thousands. I was wondering why I was not comfortably situated in my hotel room, or better yet, my home’s living room and watching the events on television.

Trying to get a cab is almost impossible. The bunch of Illinoisans I was with walked for blocks seeking an intersection where we thought there might be cabs. But, cab after cab passed us by. Finally getting a cab, we incredibly crammed seven people into it, definitely sympathetic to what sardines go through in their itty, bitty can. The cab cost more, but then, everything in Washington D.C. costs more. Every hotel and service jacks up the cost for all the visitors. In other words, they know we are coming, and they lay in wait.

There is food everywhere in Washington as hotels and lobbyists, politicians and organizations host parties. I often wonder just how restaurants in Washington make any money during an inauguration since there are so many competing interests?”all with foods of all kinds available. The hotels, furthermore, decorate to accommodate visiting state delegations. Frankly, it is all somewhat reminiscent of nominating conventions.

At the hotel we were staying, my shower had no hot water, so I toddled off to one of the other gal’s rooms to use hers. She, in turn, used my hair dryer as hers did not work. We shared our resources to try to get through it all.
Thank goodness for portable steamers and irons and ironing boards in hotel rooms, since packing at least two long ball gowns makes for some pretty crushed packing all the way around. Ah, how lucky guys are to get away with just one tux, or even a dark suit! I find I can pack for Europe with less hassle and more room to spare in my suitcase.

The balls are beautifully laid out but, frankly, no more so than some of the charity or ethnic events in Chicago or its suburbs. The highlight of the evening is always the arrival of the president and first lady.
Knowing myself how hard it is to get to multiple events in an evening, I feel sorry for them having to get around to some nine-plus balls and dinners in one night just so an adoring public can see them for some 15 minutes, watching them do a few dance spins, and then leave.
The ladies, of course, want to see what the first lady is wearing, knowing full well that the gown will one day be in the Smithsonian along with first ladies’ gowns of the past.

This year there is great excitement to see what the Bush’s twin daughters will be wearing. Everyone in the press who asks about the inauguration wants to know about the Bush twins’ gowns. Enough has been said in the press, already, to create a stir, alleging that the gowns will be by some pretty avant garde designers and a bit more sophisticated than the girls have worn in the past.

Four years ago, it was just too cold and wet to watch the parade to the White House outdoors, and, frankly, we cheated and went inside of some building so as to watch from a window. I suspect that will be the case again this year.

I kept telling myself four years ago and am saying it again this time around … it is history one is witnessing, so all the hassle is somehow worth it. After all, travel is travel and never meant to be as convenient as sitting at home.

Still, somehow, I am convinced that those who will be following all of this on their televisions are getting the same dose of history for a lot less time, trouble and money.