WASHINGTON – Fishing rods, fur coats and more than a few four-legged friends helped bring to life 12,000 partygoers at the Texas State Society's "Black Tie and Boots Ball" (search) in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night.
Three floors of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel were primed and bursting with revelry, including Texas A&M mascot Revelry 7, a regal collie that accompanied the 138 Ross Volunteers (search) who serve as the Texas governor's honor guard.
In fact, dogs, longhorn cattle, armadillos and fat cats were all on parade at the hotel on Wednesday night, performing for the guests or otherwise celebrating a second presidential term for George W. Bush (search).
In the midst of it all, at least briefly and, as usual, earlier than expected, was President Bush, accompanied by first lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney (search), wife Lynne Cheney and Bush daughters Barbara and Jenna Bush. All were on the podium and in an obviously good mood as 3,000 of the VIPs and early birds who managed to crowd into the sell-out ballroom heard the president gingerly jab at the guests and clearly enjoy being in the company of Texas natives, honorary Texans and would-be Lone Star staters.
'It's nice to be home," Bush told the cheering crowd that frequently whistled and shouted out its support. "I was going to tell you to behave yourselves, then I remembered I was at the Texas Black Tie Ball," the president joked.
In high spirits, Bush and Cheney both offered up a quip or two while thanking the crowd — one of many visited throughout the day — for its support. As Bush waxed on for a moment comparing a free world to a peaceful world, he stopped himself, telling supporters that he wasn't going to deliver his inauguration day speech just then. Instead, he spoke about how important his roots were.
"I have never forgotten where I came from. I have never forgotten the values of our great state of Texas. And after I give it my all for four more years, I am coming home," he said.
Bush then assured the guests that "if you get to bed early enough," they will have something to look forward to when he does deliver his speech after taking the oath of office on Thursday.
Cheney, a Wyoming resident and honorary Texan, said he would be happy to be considered a native except for the "constitutional problem we had to get around." Article II of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the president and vice president from being from the same state. A former congressman from Wyoming, Cheney lived in Texas where he headed the Houston-based oil-services company Halliburton (search) before running for vice president.
Cheney said the inauguration "is not a political event but an official occasion, observed by citizens from both parties and all regions of the country. And this year, the occasion honors a man who has already become one of the most consequential presidents in our history.
"As the leader of our world, President Bush is building a safer world and more just society. He will leave behind a nation that is stronger, better and more secure for our children and grandchildren. He has made us proud to be Americans and we are very proud of him," Cheney said.
Even if not all the guests were from both political parties or even proud of Bush, Democrats avoiding the week of ceremonies would likely have enjoyed one joke at the expense of Rep. Tom DeLay.
DeLay is a lightning rod for Democratic ire, especially after masterminding the redistricting of Texas' congressional map, which led to the defeat of four of five embattled Democrats last November and changed the balance of power in the Texas congressional delegation. DeLay is currently facing an ethics probe and possible indictment for alleged illegal corporate contributions to his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (search).
In good fun, Bush, standing on the stage with his family, the Cheneys, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn and Rep. Kay Granger, president of the Texas State Society, thanked the rest of the Texas House Republicans for their support.
Then he looked around for DeLay. "I don't know if DeLay is here or not, but I appreciate working with him, Tommy DeLay. If he is, he didn't get a very good seat," Bush said to roaring laughter.
Bush also thanked former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a frequent campaigner for Bush and an oft-mentioned future presidential candidate.
Boots and Bulls
While Cheney and Bush attended the ball for about 20 minutes, slightly longer than the other three candlelight dinners at which they appeared Wednesday night, the crowd started partying early and showed no sign of letting up after the guests of honor left.
The affair, scheduled the night before Bush's inauguration, is timed so as not to compete with other formal balls arranged by the Presidential Inauguration Committee (search), the official organization that has raised more than $25 million to pay for events related to the president's second oath of office. But even if the ball did have to compete against the dozen or so inauguration night balls, it would probably win simply because of the Texas-size enormity of the event.
Bedecked in ball gowns and boots, bolos and Stetsons, the crowd was forced to give up trying to get into the third floor VIP rooms and sole public entrance into the ballroom early in the evening. Instead, they partied in one of many side rooms flush with Tex-Mex style delicacies displayed on lavish buffets. Diners ate tacos with fixins' like guacamole and chipotle, fajitas, enchiladas, quesadillas, country sausage, fried chicken, beef brisket and peel-and-eat shrimp. In each of the banquet rooms, bands from Texas performed.
Bars were plentiful and stocked with a variety of mid-range liquors. The wine choice, however, was subsidized by a section of the Texas Fair and Market Place and boasted selections from Texas vineyards. One vineyard, the Messina Hof Winery and Resort, located some 90 miles north of Houston, is the proud sponsor of Presidential Port, a wine that owner Merrill Bonarrigo said is cultivated in honor of President George H.W. Bush and served at the presidential library located near the vineyard.
The fair boasted several Texas businesses and shop owners — including Lockheed Martin and Trinity Rods, which specializes in fishing gear — and assorted furriers whose business on the cold and snowy night was probably more brisk than it usually is down home.
Per tradition, also in attendance was the University of Texas mascot Bevo, though not the same longhorn as the one that appeared at the 2001 inaugural ball. Bevo 13 "was put out to pasture," said Bevo 14 handler Tim Weaver, a recent UT political science graduate and member of the elite honorary fraternity, the Silver Spurs. Weaver promised that the phrase actually meant the 20-year-old Bevo 13 really was retired and not made into steak.
"You don't want to eat a steak that old," he explained, adding that the Texas U. mascot is fed an inappropriate diet for the usual Angus cattle bred for slaughter. Instead, the three-year-old Bevo 14, who was staying as a guest at the hotel, albeit in the enclosed loading dock, eats a diet of regular hey and sweet feed with molasses. The longhorn even offered to dozens of partygoers an admirable display of his healthy digestive tract.
Other Texas institutions were also represented at the party, including the Kilgore Rangerettes (search), the oldest drill team in the world, according to freshman Rangerette Catherine White; and the Dallas-based Lake Highlands High School Wildcat Wranglers, a 42-person country/western dance and stunt team.
Probably the busiest job of the night was held by Perry, the hotel's shoe shiner, who stayed all night to buff and polish as many boots as needed to be done. Perry, a South Carolina native who has been in Washington, D.C., for 40 years, said he got his start in the early 1980s at the Washington Hilton, the hotel where President Reagan was shot. He wasn't working that day.