Notes from different corners of the world.
Jan. 22 1997 3:30 AM


       Today [Monday, Jan. 20], in between deeply inspiring gatherings and performances, we spent a lot of time in "holds." In the campaign, I became quite familiar with this routine--the protagonists of a political event are parked (along with sensible snacks) in a little windowless cubicle while the advance team sets up. Then, you're taken out and hit with a big dose of sensory stimuli (loud music, cheering crowds, inquiring shouts from the press, fiery stump speeches, etc.) before you are sucked back into another silent, whitewashed hold. It's the only place I've ever binged on carrots.
       This morning, through some error in advance work, my siblings and I were whisked past the hold and led prematurely to the front row of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. People stared expectantly as we unbundled and piled coats, gloves, and hats on the pew. We were an arm's length away from the cast of characters--rabbis, priests, preachers, a Muslim leader, and the Willow Creek Singers, who were harmonizing about Jesus. Soon a frantic advance man came scurrying up the aisle to retrieve us and, despite my concerns about rudeness, we were marched back out.
       The service ran late because there was a long, soulful jam session where everyone clapped, howled, and swayed except the Greek Orthodox archbishop, who seemed desperate to leave. Edgy advance people then herded us over to the White House for the traditional Congressional Leadership Coffee. Four years ago, this event was also a gathering of the old and new administrations, and I remember feeling so awkward talking to Marilyn Quayle that I panicked and launched into a story about how my dog just couldn't lose weight. This year, there was time only to nod politely and stuff a muffin in my pocket--people were waiting on the Capitol grounds.
       The ceremony was beautiful. I have huge swells of patriotism at many of the official events I attend, and this one tops them all. I am always thrown off when well-meaning people (who usually think I'm a lot younger than I am) whisper things like "you'd probably rather be shopping" or "at least this is a day off school, huh?"
       After a long hold, we were released to the Congressional Luncheon in Statuary Hall, where they served the same menu that Thomas Jefferson had. The shellfish couldn't have been that fresh then--I'm thankful they didn't re-create everything. I had a bit of champagne and a lovely commiseration with John Warner IV before I was put back in a hold.
       Next I reviewed the troops. Or rather, the president did. My family stood next to his on the Capitol steps as they marched by. The rest of the afternoon was a blur of hand-waving and high-school bands. All six of us piled in the VP limo and followed the first family down the parade route. We drove most of the way (frantically waving to both sides of the street) and then got out to walk. With a few exceptions--like the guy waving the Italian flag and violently shaking a hockey mask, and the lady holding up an obscene taunt directed at George Bush--the crowd seemed to be composed of joyous patriots. I tried to vary my wave: a little Miss America style, a little childish flapping up and down, and then the flagging-down-a-rescue-plane method, which is really only a salute to the building-top crowd.
       I am about to put on my dress and head (with a van load of rowdy friends) to the Tennessee Ball at Union Station. The 21st Century Ball is across the street, which is convenient--hey, is there a bridge we can take there?