- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

UPDATED:

Too many events and too few takers.

The economic downturn, among other causes, has led to the cancellation of several inaugural parties, from Luke Russert’s event at the Rookery in Georgetown on Monday night to the Inaugural D.C. Ball on Tuesday at the Old Post Office Pavilion.

While security probably played a role in some cancellations, many fancy events were shuttered because they cost too much for people feeling financial strain. One partygoer at Sunday’s Change the Game gala at the Sports Club/LA said she picked that event because the tickets were relatively cheap at $150.

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For the same reason, many events around town have not sold out, and one other event began offering last-minute discount tickets to its ball, cutting its prices by $100.

The unofficial People’s Inaugural Gala Weekend and Ball issued a statement Monday announcing that ticket prices for Tuesday’s ball, set for 7 p.m. at the Constitution Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, had been cut from $350 to $250. Event organizers said they wanted to make the party more accessible to the people.

“We’ve had a great weekend of festivities,” said chairman Bill Davis, whose group also sponsored a prayer breakfast, women’s leadership lunch and concerts over the last few days. “We want to encourage people to come join usfor our ball on Tuesday, and to do so we are offering $100 off the ticket price.”

Monday seemed to be the day to wander around Washington and absorb the city for little or nothing, rather than worry about fancy parties, maybe because inauguration celebrating during an economic downturn can wreak havoc with one’s budget.

“I spent the most money on a plane ticket,” said Love Stocker, 37, of Augusta, Ga., who is staying with friends in Maryland. “Tuesday, we’ll go to the inauguration and parade.” “With the economy the way it is, who has $150 to spend on party tickets?” she wondered, though she did buy a pink Obama hat and sweatshirt.

Retried Marine Lt. Col. Lew Deal, from Quantico, Va., brought his wife and teenage children to the District on Monday. No fancy parties for them, either.

“We wanted to be part of the historic atmosphere before the crowds get to be too much,” he said. The family walked down to the reviewing stands, then headed home last night “to build a fire and relax” at home, here they will watch the swearing-in.

Mom Claudia Garcia and son Marc Anthony Garcia, 9, of Hesperia, Calif., flew in Tuesday to see the monuments and museums. Initially, their hotel was $250 a night, but on the fourth night, it was $699 per night, forcing them to relocate to a Super 8 hotel for $158 daily. They were determined to stay, having already spent more than $3,200 on airfare and hotels, but Mrs. Garcia was frustrated because they missed Mr. Obama’s historic speech at the Mall concert Sunday when their cab could not navigate around the crowded streets to make it in time.

“We just wanted to be a part of history,” she said of their interest in seeing as much of the inauguration as they could. “I want to walk up the Lincoln Memorial. I am going to stay until I do.”

Lines were long at the Metro Center sales office for purchase of commemorative Obama SmarTrip cards. The cards will be available after the inauguration, including through online sales. Revelers pouring onto the streets from bars and inauguration parties Sunday found cabs in short supply, particularly after the Metro closed at midnight.

People lined the streets from Chinatown to Capitol Hill waving in hopes of securing a cab. One young man near Union Station punched the roof of a passing cab in frustration. Near the Verizon Center, a D.C. police officer asked a cabdriver whether he could call more cabs to pick up the people crowding the sidewalk.

Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Traci Hughes said officers encountered no problems because of the cab shortage.

Leon J. Swain Jr., chairman of the District’s taxicab commission, said he didn’t receive any complaints but wasn’t surprised by the demand. “There are a couple million people in town and 5,700 cabs,” he said. The shortage could be alleviated a bit Tuesday night as the subways are scheduled to run until 2 a.m.

On Monday afternoon, Metro was dotted with those who decided to ignore the economic hard times and splurge anyway. Instead of commuters looking for seats, it was men in tuxedos and ladies in ball gowns.

Rhea Hesse, 27, of Arlington was headed to the Illinois State Society Ball at the Renaissance Hotel late Monday afternoon wearing a floor-length olive green gown with gold beads and matching strappy gold sandals.

“I am very excited,” Miss Hesse said. “But I think I will stay home and watch the events tomorrow on TV.”

But Hollywood would not be denied as such stars as Isaiah Washington, Alicia Witt and Tobey Maguire invaded Georgetown’s Cafe Milano on Monday night for a party co-sponsored by the Artists and Athletes Alliance and Service Nation.

Actor David Arquette, star of the “Scream” movies and a native of Winchester, Va., said he was here “to be a part of history and to lend my support to the new president.” Also at Cafe Milano was Fran Drescher of “The Nanny,” who said the new president will give hope to her and other cancer survivors.

“Obama, while he was a senator, was very active in pursuing research into gynecological cancers because he lost his mother to cancer. He will be very sympathetic to women’s issues because he lives in a family full of women and he was raised by a woman,” Ms. Drescher said.

But there were masses of budget-watchers downtown Monday. The eatery with the biggest crowd seemed to be the McDonalds near Seventh and G streets, where people overflowed in the small restaurant.

Stephanie Green contributed to this report.

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