The neighbors have a ball welcoming Bush to ranch

CRAWFORD, TEXAS — CRAWFORD, Texas - The people of Crawford - all 631 - were ready to welcome their famous neighbor, President Bush, home for the weekend.

A sign outside the Pay-At-The-Pump Coffee Station said: "Welcome to the Texas White House. Open till 2."


"We Won the Count" T-shirts were on sale across from the Crawford Feed & Grain.

And at the community center on Saturday night, 350 people packed in for a "Bush Ranch Rock" inaugural ball. Bush attended - for 15 minutes - and told the crowd he intended to spend as much time as possible at his 1,600-acre ranch, just outside town.


Inaugural ball organizers knew Inauguration Day was a month ago. They delayed the ball because many Crawford residents - including the high school band and Boy Scouts - were in Washington on Jan. 20.

The First Rancher arrived at his home Friday after meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox in Mexico at Fox's ranch. Except for the ball appearance, Bush never left his property, where the Secret Service has set up a permanent post complete with the kind of heavy metal gate that keeps cars away from the front of the White House.

Despite tensions in Iraq, where U.S. and British warplanes attacked military installations Friday, Bush kept to a hang-loose schedule, aides said. Yesterday, he went on a 3-mile run at 7:20 a.m. then worked out in an exercise room. After lunch, Bush went fishing, cut wood and cleared brush on his property.

Bush flies this morning to Oklahoma City, where he is to take part in the dedication of a new portion of the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Tomorrow, he begins a two-day trip that includes stops at schools in Ohio, Tennessee and St. Louis.

In Crawford, Bush was reunited with his wife, Laura, who has spent the past two weeks here putting finishing touches on the new ranch house. The couple has spoken of the ranch as something of a refuge, before, during and after Bush's presidency.

Though the president is known not to like dancing much, the Bushes hit the dance floor Saturday night. "They danced for a long time, longer than he did in Washington at the balls," said ball organizer Shirley Westerfield. "Two or three minutes at least."

Texas fiddler Johnny Gimble and his band, Texas Swing, provided entertainment. Before Bush's arrival, a band member invited guests to "find a member of the opposite sex" and "wiggle" on the dance floor. "But," he added, "no same-sex dancing tonight."

Rock guitarist Ted Nugent, visiting friends in the area, also attended but did not perform.


Tuxedos and brown bags

It was a bring-your-own-booze affair - Crawford is dry - which offered the peculiar site of women in evening gowns and men in tuxedos carrying brown paper bags of beer or wine. There was a barbed-wire fence draped in holiday icicle lights outside the community center, where a steer named "Frito" greeted guests as they waited in line to be searched by the Secret Service.

Frito was apparently named before Bush's weakness for Fritos, the snack food, became public.

The centerpiece at each table was a black cowboy boot. Tacos, Spanish rice and tubs of beans were served. The ball lasted until 12:15 a.m., hours after Bush left.

The mayor of Crawford, the Rev. Robert Campbell, an African-American Democrat, did not attend. A Methodist minister, Campbell said he avoids events where people are smoking or drinking and that it should not be viewed as a slight to Bush. "I don't go to many parties," he said.

Once a German farming community, Crawford has seen new developments, as families from Waco have moved here in search of better schools. The town, a half-hour from Waco, has two gas stations, two antique stores, a barber shop and five churches. There's no stop light.


Crossing party lines

Although the area is represented mostly by Democrats, many residents spoke of their conservative values and said they were drawn to Bush. "I was a Democrat. I guess I still am," said Billy McKenzie, 65, whose ranch is near the Bush property.

On Saturday afternoon, McKenzie, a Bush supporter, rushed to the stand selling Bush T-shirts and caps. But he was disappointed to find it was all Bush gear - because he was looking for a Crawford Pirates cap, in advance of the high-school football season, which opens in September.

"They run out [every season]," he said, "and I wanted to be sure to have one."

McKenzie said residents have been warm to the attention Bush has drawn here. "When people would say, 'Where ya from?' we'd say we're from outside Waco," he said. "Now we say Crawford."

One of the few complaints is a recent law that bans cars from stopping on Prairie Chapel Road near the Bush ranch. People liked to stop there, McKenzie said, "if you saw something you liked - maybe some deer. Now you have to keep going. But I understand that."


Anticipating interest

The T-shirt stand is operated by Crawford residents Danny and Katie Garvin. They also run a Web site promoting Crawford that recently attracted its first advertisers. Katie Garvin credits her husband.

"He was lying in bed and said, 'You know, I think there's gonna be a lot of interest in Crawford,'" she said.

The town also was ready for reporters. Dozens following Bush were directed to tables and phones set up temporarily in the gymnasium at Crawford Elementary School, which typically does not have satellite trucks in its parking lot. On the walls inside were the writings of pupils who, in celebration of Presidents Day, were asked to say what they would do if they were president.

"If I were president I would not be a sor loser if I lost the vote and I wold be a great president," wrote Andrew Dunn. "I would do all the things to help the poor and care about the poor and raise mony so the poor cold by food for their family and help the Navy git the armer they need to practis for a wore and I would live at a ranch if I was on vacation."