My first impression of Washington: for a city that receives a foot and a half of snow a year, there is no place less prepared - physically or psychologically - for winter.
I arrived on Wednesday to weather identical to what I'd left behind in Wisconsin - a cold and overcast day, with a few inches of snow coming down.
I don't enjoy weather like that - any Midwesterner who claims they do is posturing for the southern folk - but it was hardly intimidating. A few weeks before I'd driven my daughter to school through seven inches of snow.
Yet my ride to the hotel lasted nearly as long as my flight.
Cars slid and fishtailed, drivers hit their brakes a city block before a stoplight, and pedestrians seemed at a loss. On ABC Peter Jennings called it a blizzard, the radio broadcast school closings, and the chatter on the streets was one of panic.
But give the town points for showmanship: the few sidewalks that were clear had red and blue road salt atop the white snow.
My second impression was more favorable. After sprucing up we headed down to the Rayburn Building to pick up tickets for the big event. Like every major city not named Milwaukee, Washington has a subway/elevated rail system. The Metro Rail proved to be a reliable, safe, and easy way to navigate the city.
Even if it is liberally decorated in '70's orange chic.
The jaunt to the Rayburn was my first taste of the grandeur of the capitol. Passing the Treasury building, with the Washington Monument and the Capitol in the background, is enough to give you shivers - doing so and then entering one of the places where Congress conducts business is awe-inspiring.
After a quick social at the congressional office we put off our next destination in favor of a little sight-seeing. Our ultimate goal was the White House, but security and event preparation limited that to a tree-obscured glimpse from a block away.
I consoled myself with the knowledge that John Kerry wouldn't get much closer in the next four years.
From there we arrived - fashionably late - at the Willard Hotel.
Once the site of a last ditch attempt to avert the Civil War
it was host to a far less auspicious occasion - a cocktail reception for the Republican Wisconsin Congressional Delegation.
Let me tell you, Old Country Buffet has nothing on that place.
There was tortellini in Alfredosauce, seared tenderloin of black angus beef¸ an assortment of cheeses and meats, Hors d'Oeuvres that ranged from miniature beef Wellington to spinach stuffed pastries, and a desert buffet that included chocolate elephants.
It was one of the most enjoyable evenings I've had, and when my cousin wished to leave I cajoled her into staying. That was a good thing, because a surprise guest was about to take the podium.
Tommy Thompson, the former all-powerful governer of Wisconsin. Bush cabinent member, and Cupid to my wife and I, strolled in and took the room by storm.
If you are Republican, and from Wisconsin, a visit from Tommy Thompson is akin to meeting The Beatles and Elvis in the same night.
[below: me and Milw. County Executive Scott Walker]
Afterwards, we browsed the shops in downtown DC, picking up souvenirs for the folks at home.
[Secret most embarrassing moment: in a political memorabilia shop I attempted to purchase a leather bound portfolio signed by Dubya. It was not until the clerk pointed itout that I realized the signature was, in fact, the scribble of Al Gore.
By midnight I was asleep. The inaugural was twelve hours away.