WASHINGTON – The buffet was lackluster, the line for drink tickets seemed endless at times and President Bush danced for all of 55 seconds, but Gene Mobley still had a fine time celebrating the inaugural Thursday night at the Independence Ball.
“I thought it was an excellent evening. I found myself in tears when the president was speaking,” said the 22-year-old dock master of Kentmorr Harbour Marina in Stevensville.
But Mobley did not have to shell out $150 for tickets — he was a guest of Art Eisenstein, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, who made headlines in March by helping to rescue several people in a fatal water taxi accident in Baltimore. And Eisenstein got his tickets from a friend.
For those who had not saved a life or two recently, the $150 tickets bought access to the Guy Lombardo Orchestra, master of ceremonies Tom Driessen (a self-proclaimed exiled Republican funnyman from Hollywood) and a buffet that featured plain bread, turkey roll, baked ziti, cheese cubes and potato chips.
The Independence Ball was one of nine inaugural balls Thursday, and the one designated for Republicans from Maryland — along with Republicans from Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state.
The Washington Convention Center room had a maximum occupancy of 7,500 people, and it felt full by 8 p.m., an hour after the doors opened.
Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, showed up a short time later, causing the partiers to show their Republican spirit with roars for the couple — and two weak attempts at starting the chant, “Four More Years!” that went unnoticed by most.
After Cheney reminded the audience that the American military is defending freedom, he and his wife displayed some impressive dance moves, which were accentuated thanks to the three rhythmless couples that joined them on stage.
Bush and his wife, Laura, appeared just before 9 p.m. to more cheers. After he said a few words about his patient wife and how he will work to spread freedom around the world, the couple danced for a whopping 55 seconds to “God Bless the U.S.A.,” which was announced as one of the president’s favorite songs.
The Bushes left for another ball after their brief dance, leaving Mobley teary-eyed and Eisenstein grateful.
“I feel blessed that I had the ability to go and witness history like that,” Eisenstein said.
He attended one of the balls at Bush’s first inauguration in 2001, and thought it would be nice this time to bring some friends who had never been to this special event. He was touched to see Mobley’s emotional reaction to Bush’s presence.
Earlier in the evening, as Mobley handed out glasses of white wine and champagne to empty-handed friends, Eisenstein balked when asked how he got his tickets, saying only that, “I know some people in state government.”
He was also wary of retelling his heroic story.
“I was lucky enough to get here,” he said.
Not every Marylander at the ball was there to show his love for Bush — Alder Nelson was just happy to have some work for the evening. The 54-year-old unemployed computer technician from Baltimore was part of the beverage serving team from Express Personnel Services. The drinks, cups and ice were provided by the convention center, but servers were brought in.
Staff Sgt. Troy McKay was also working the party Thursday, but he could not contain his enthusiasm for Bush. McKay, 30, is a trumpet player in the Army band known as “Pershing’s Own,” which also played at the Independence Ball.
“I am a big Bush fan and I pray for him every night, and I’m excited to be serving my country and my president in this way tonight,” McKay said.
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