Inaugural balls and parade are less lavish this year

"He's a good man," says Hargrove of Bush.

Hargrove passes his daughter, Carla, the company president. "Anything new?" he asks.

"We've got the mariachi band!" she shouts, sounding fully victorious. The band will play while riding on a Southwestern-themed float in the parade.

Hargrove walks into a bustling workshop where workers are rolling out inaugural posters. The company will print 100,000 square feet of inaugural graphics.

Then, he steps out to the sprawling area where floats are made. Hargrove is particularly proud of the towering flag float, which is covered with 5,000 yards of hand-tufted red, white and blue satin.

"Twenty-five Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are going to stand on that one," he says, beaming.

Walking by just then is Arthur Colbert, an African American who's worked on inaugural floats for Hargrove since 1969. "This inaugural," he says, "is special. Very special."

Keeping cool when things go wrong

Back in his office after the tour, Hargrove reflects on some pressure-filled inaugural moments.

During the Carter parade, a float for the state of Tennessee featured a barn with a live rooster. To keep the rooster in place, a rope was tied around its neck. But moments before the parade started, the rooster tried to fly off.

The float went rooster-less.

Before the 2005 Bush inauguration, it snowed heavily, covering the outdoor stage for a pre-inauguration show on the Ellipse near the White House. Just a few top Hargrove employees had Secret Service clearance to go on stage. So CEO McGill led the snow shoveling into the wee hours to clear the performance space.

Any disaster that can happen, will eventually, McGill says. The key to success in the special events business, he says, is how you handle a crisis. "You can't panic."

Hargrove says he never did, though he sometimes wanted to.

Most of the 400 employees worked through Monday night, including Hargrove. But he still will be there today to revel in pageantry.

"Sure, my family is worried," says the octogenarian.

"But I'd have a stroke if I didn't go. And they sure wouldn't want that."

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