OUR NEIGHBOURS, and seemingly half the street, were up and leaving home at 6.30am yesterday to make it to Pennsylvania Avenue in time to find a spot to view the afternoon's inaugural parade. 'We've been living here for 25 years and we've never seen hoopla like this,' said Elder Wellborne. Indeed. Limo-lock downtown reached disaster proportions by mid-morning. The atmosphere, under a dazzling winter sun, felt like Christmas, the Queen's Jubilee and all the birthdays you ever had rolled into one.
ONE MEASURE of the madness was the reaction of the king of excess and glitz himself, Donald Trump. Even in his book the inaugural fete has gone beyond reason. 'It's getting to be a little much,' he is reported to have muttered from his Manhattan penthouse, from where he has refused to stir. Friends told him the capital had become a 'madhouse, an absolute madhouse'. He noted, a little sourly: 'The Bush inaugural was not anything like this in terms of lavishness. The Clinton inaugural is about as big and opulent as you can do. The Democrats seem to enjoy the pomp every bit as much.' So it seems.
A CONFESSION: although the seats at Monday's dress rehearsal for Tuesday's Presidential Gala were meant to be free, your diarist was obliged to pay a scalper dollars 100 for a seat. Guilt passed quickly, however. Tickets for the performance itself, in the company of the First Family-designate (as well as Barry Manilow and assorted stars), changed hands for dollars 3,000. Yesterday, my tout was holding tickets not just for every ball in town but even for the swearing-in itself. Where did he get them all? Mostly from not-so-wealthy Arkansans, forced to fund their week-long stay in town by selling free tickets showered on them as honoured citizens of the hog state.
CONSIDER this, however. So hot was the alternative rock'n'roll ball staged by the rock-video channel MTV last night that one Texas man allegedly offered the organisers dollars 100,000 for a pair of tickets, surpassing the previous record of dollars 15,000. The Texan was apparently serious, but was turned down. Others who pulled all available strings to attend - and be seen to be there - included Thomas McLarty, the new White House Chief of Staff, the model Cindy Crawford and even the African National Congress leader, Nelson Mandela. All this to see Roger Clinton - Bill's half- brother - sing the Sam Cooke classic A Change is Gonna Come.
THIS DIARY reported yesterday that the Oval Office had been emptied of all Mr Bush's executive bric-a-brac. But where was it all going? Not to the Houston hotel suite George and Barbara now call home, surely? Fearless sleuthing has discovered the real destination: the sixth floor of 1726 M Street, Washington DC, where both Mr Bush and Dan Quayle are opening post-administration offices. Nothing remarkable about the location except, that is, for the distinguished company the two gentleman will be able to keep on the floor above. Level seven is occupied, you've guessed it, by us - the Washington bureau of the Independent. They're welcome up for coffee any time.
REMEMBER the cookie competition last summer between Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton? Well the First Lady's brand are on sale once again as a fast-selling item on the souvenir stands. But the new symbol of America's latest First Family is Socks, Chelsea Clinton's cat. Nobody is quite sure whether she will be taking residence up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue immediately, but her local following is already strong. Issue one of Socks the Cat Newsletter, written for children by children, is a sought-after item among the inaugural crowds. Among its stories is an item about past White House pets. There was Amy Carter's Siamese cat, Misty Malarky Ying Yang, and Susan Ford's Chan, also Siamese. The earliest recorded presidential balls of fun were Teddy Roosevelt's cats, Tom Quartz and Slippers.