Amid the Inaugural Masses

A Washington-based reporter writes to two California colleagues about the sights and sounds of the capital the week that Hollywood came to town

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DEAR Dan and Gloria,

This whole city became a kind of giant sound stage for the inauguration of our 42nd president. Living near Hollywood, you'll understand. You might think of it as Disneyland, Universal Studios, the Tournament of Roses Parade, and a coronation, all rolled into one.

People came from across the country to see this. You saw busloads from Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and points west. People seemed genuinely moved by it all. It's as if America is doing more than changing governments. It's celebrating a renewal of its democracy, as it does every four years.

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The big thing for many people was the week-long show that began on Sunday. Even Cecil B. De Mille would have been proud of this production put on by the Clinton folks. It had a cast of thousands, a hefty $25 million budget, and the kind of props to make a moviemaker proud - the historic Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, majestic Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House.

The crowds were huge, but probably not the 1 million that a Clinton aide proclaimed. I'd assume that fellow won't be appointed to head the Census Bureau.

For visitors, the week had a lot going for it. Much was free, such as the entertainment on the Mall on Sunday and the parade on Wednesday.

Lots of us couldn't get very close to the swearing-in ceremony itself. There were maybe 300,000 of us, I'd say, and I was near the back of the crowd on the Mall. That put me a quarter mile away from Mr. Clinton. But his people thought of everything, including a truck-sized TV screen and speakers, so even those at the back could see and hear what was going on.

One of the most notable things about this week was the aura of good feelings. On Sunday, people were jammed shoulder-to-shoulder at what they called Reunion on the Mall. At musical performances you had to stand on tiptoe just to catch a glance of Carol Channing, or Kenny Rogers, or Aretha Franklin, or Diana Ross. But no one seemed to mind. People were very upbeat. I didn't hear a cross word all week.

There were a few little things that might interest you.

The "uniform of the day" for the inauguration audience was blue jeans. Not for the gussied-up official audience of course, but for the people who spread over 100 acres of the Mall. My unofficial survey showed over half in blue jeans, both men and women.

Did you see the tears on Mr. Clinton's face at the church service on Wednesday morning? Religion seems important to him. As other presidents have, he called on God for help. Later that day, he quoted the apostle Paul.

Inaugurations are famous for bad weather. This time, at sunup, the radio weatherman announced it was 14 degrees at Dulles Airport. But it turned out to be a perfect winter day: chilly, but calm, with a cloudless blue sky.

After the inauguration, thousands of people sauntered past the White House, where a huge United Van Lines moving truck was parked near the south door.

"Look at that! Bush is moving out," exclaimed one camera-snapping visitor. "Now I really believe it's happening."

One thing about elections like this: They virtually decapitate the government. Thirty minutes after Clinton was sworn in, I walked with my press pass over to the White House, where hundreds of offices that once hummed with activity were suddenly silent. The Republicans were gone, and few Democrats were in sight. The new president hadn't yet moved in. It was a little eerie.

So Washington put on quite a show. As George C. Scott said of Morocco in the movie "Patton," this week the capital was a mixture of "the Bible and Hollywood."

Your friend,

John Dillin

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