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Atwitter at the Science Museum: Hitching Bush's Star

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At 4:30 p.m., it'll be another hour before Big W arrives, but it's not too early for some of his biggest fans — and Sen. George Allen's supporters — to find a spot pressed against the stage, dressed and assured, cell phone cameras at the ready.

At the Science Museum of Virginia, minutes seem suspended, as though the pendulum removed from the museum's atrium this Thursday night has had some effect on time itself. This is no thrown-back, buzzing cocktail party full of bellowing laughter and "that guy" who had one too many. This is measured networking, minimal, with a touch of drab splashed around an echo chamber of a room, aligning with slowly rotating stars projected on walls by a lighting and events company out of Maryland.

There are thrills promised — the kind you must feel when you pay $5,000 for the chance to have your photo taken with President George W. Bush, and you shake his hand and the flash goes off. There's probably a tingle, or perhaps a painful jolt, in the chest and the wallet, anticipating the frame you'll put around proof of your patriotism. That excitement is out of sight to reporters, though, behind heavy blue draperies

Out of sight because reporters, with their green White House-issued credentials marked "Property of U.S. Government" are sitting in a pen, cordoned-off and guarded by a man with an earpiece. White House rules. No mingling with the nametag people. Of course, we're told, if it had only been up to Sen. Allen, things might be different.

There are, however, servers in white jackets who deliver soda and water to the pen. You get thirsty waiting for a president. Or is it just thirsty for something, anything, to make a story stand out. The little things.

Like with the arrival of the black Democrat who's "reaching across party lines," as Bush will say later, in support of Allen. Sen. Benjamin Lambert, who met Bush at the airport, wanders by around 5:05 p.m. Yes, Bush stopped for a pumpkin at a farm off Interstate 64. "Yeah, he paid for it," Lambert says. "He really did."

Reporters in the front row of the pen lean forward. Anecdote! What must that farmer think? Undercurrent of cynicism: Yeah, a real guy, Bush. What will Laura say? Journalists' pumpkin pictures indeed appear within hours.

L. Woodrow "Woody" Story, chairman of James River Bus Lines, is just happy he had his music request heard. He brought a favorite CD in from his new Cadillac — the Naples (Fla.) Concert Band's 30th anniversary. And Billy of RCI Sound System piped it through as background music. "He was so excited," Billy says of Story.

There are no small thrills or jobs in a world where terrorists want to kill us — even at the Science Museum. Or in support of a campaign "based on ideas, solutions and a proven record of performance," as Allen says, where Democrats are hurling "scurrilous" attacks your way. No, there are not. Not even if you are asked by authorities to escort reporters such as the Washington Post's Michael D. Shear from the pen to the restroom.

That assignment fell to Allen supporter Kelly Skrabak. Did she know she'd be on potty duty? "We just volunteered because we believe in George Allen," she says, and heads for the door. S

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