Maia Schneider’s Inauguration Diary: Part Duex The Ball!
Editor’s note: Read before this installment. And don’t forget to read when you’re done with this one.
In my first post, I mentioned a special ticket I had to pick up at Union Station. That ticket was for the Western States Inaugural Ball that Michael purchased as a gift for me. (Note: This is a good time to point out that Michael was incredibly helpful and encouraging of my solo trip to the inauguration. Large crowds and even small crowds are anathema to Mike, but he wholly understands my social needs and my political addictions. As he said, one of us has to be there, and it has to be you. Go, have a great time and tell me all about it when you get home.)For the uninitiated, the Presidential Inauguration is celebrated at a number of Balls. Many states have societies which host the Balls. The Western States Ball hosts guests from California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and more. This year, there were ten official Balls which President and Mrs. Obama were expected to visit, and about twice that many unofficial Balls. Tickets to all the events sold out in a day or two, and the black or grey market for tickets was robust. Resale tickets to the Illinois and Hawaii Balls were going for as much as $10,000 each 3 days before the event. The ticket to the Western States Ball was a whopper, though not $10k. Michael, thank you!
After a day of amazing ups and downs; a day of long lines and massive crowds and emotional highs too extreme to be quantified, I finally slumped onto the sofa of my rented condo at 5:00 PM. But by then there were already long lines of high-heeled, black-tied guests queuing to attend one of the four (or more?) Balls being held in the Washington Convention Center and I couldnt rest.Since the Ball doors opened at 6:00 PM and the festivities started at 8:00, I figured I was safe taking my time to enjoy a very long hot shower and preparing for the Ball. After all, it was only _ block from my condoI could see the building from my window! I also gambled that a later arrival would avoid some of the queue.Stepping outside at 7:00 in my gown and sandals, I was gloating to myself that I only had a half-block to walk in the now-even-colder weather. And it appeared that my gamble was paying off: the queue had indeed evaporated and I cruised right to the front door. But wait! Not so fast, sistah. Each of the Balls had its own security entrance to the Convention Center. It just so happens that the Western States Ball entry was on the opposite side of the Convention Center – as far from where I was standing as it could be and still be in the same building. So, a walk of 4 really big city blocks in 12* weather in high heels and a strappy gown finally got me to the correct entrance. (Yes of course I had a coat on, but no long underwear. Once again I found myself yearning for Ruths fur coat).
The Western States Ball was held in a cavernous room in the basement of the convention center. There were many stations for drink ticket sales, bars, Presidential shwag, buffet tables, and a large stage on either side of the room. The room was draped in deep blue and large inaugural seals hung everywhereFor my Truckee-Tahoe friends, this was Cadillac Ball on steroids, right down to the photographer taking shots of couples against an inaugural backdrop. For a small fee, of course!If youve watched any TV in the last 2 months, youve been inundated by offers to buy official Obama commemorative fill-in-the-blank goods. The running joke in our home is the Obama Plateeven as I write this, I am looking for just the right plate to bring home to Michael. Well, the Ball had several tables of shwag to buy, but of course, this was official Presidential Inaugural shwag, not that cheap stuff you can get on TV. (Which gets me to wondering: who sanctions this stuff officially? Is that a Cabinet post?) There were inaugural plates, but they didnt say Obama or even have a picture of him, t-shirts, paperweights, and something that may have been a money clip. It did seem a bitwell, cheesy to me, but that was not going to take the shine off the evening.I wandered from station to station (the food was mediocre – it could not have come from California), struck up a few conversations, and danced with a herd of little old ladies in the front of the dance floor. These LOLs in their gold lame could shake a major tail feather and we had a blast dancing to mostly Motown covers. A highlight? A cover of I will survive pointed directly at George W. Bushthat rocked the dance floor!
Finally, youre thinking, shes going to tell us about the celebrities! Well ok, but its a bit of a let down. Someone near me said Denzel and I nearly fainted, but that turned out to be a rumor. I saw Tyra Banks (and let me tell you that girl is TALL with a capital T). Dancing to the opening band I sighted a few politicos I recognized but could not recall their names. Marc Anthony was the headline musician, and his wife Jennifer Lopez (J Lo) was in the crowd about 20 feet in front of me. Near the end of his concert, she joined him on stage for a duet. I got some fuzzy pictures but you have to look hard to see that the back of that womans head just could be J Lo. I heard the Governator was there or coming, but I never saw him or the crowd of security and acolytes you would expect to see surrounding him.Oh, wait, youre not looking for sub-lebrities. You want to hear about the real headliners, dont you?!
Lucy, a precious metal broker from SoCal, was on the dance floor next to me during the Marc Anthony concert. Her mom was watching the inaugural events on CNN and calling Lucy on her cell phone every time the President left one Ball for another. Apparently the Obamas had already been in the convention center that night for 2 other Balls, and had left to attend others. But the plan (it was posted on Obamas web site) was that the Obamas would come back to the convention center where our Ball would be the 7th stop out of the 10 Balls they planned to visit.Once again I found myself squished, this time on the dance floor. But armed with high heels I could take off and swing, and feeling confident I could easily take the 70-year old man to my left, I didnt panic (although in truth my ribs still hurt from injuries sustained earlier in the day). I danced in place next to Lucy as long as I could to get her moms updates but eventually we were separated. As the hour drew late, I worried I may not make it until the Obamas arrival. But just when I thought I would throw in the towel, things started popping. (I had just run off to the ladies room and missed the Bidens but tunneled my way back into the crowd) I asked the very tall man directly in front of me if he would take some pictures with my camera. He was unenthusiastic but agreed. Security came in, folks couldnt come or go, and the Obamas arrived on stage! Yow!I could not hear a thing for the roar of the people around me, but once again I found myself immersed in the electricity of the day. Everyone there had to be as physically exhausted as I was, yet we amped up as though wed had an instantaneous, simultaneous injection of Red Bull and espresso. It was a sort of endorphin flashback, and I was once again overwhelmed with the enormity of the day. Everyone in that room was invested in this Presidency and you could feel it. Obama stayed with his theme that in order to succeed, we would all need to participate. Im in! Sign me up!As you probably saw on CNN, the President made some comments and interacted with the crowd. He and Michelle danced (and I later learned that At Last was the song at all of the Inaugural Balls for the Presidential dance). Michelle Obama was stunning. In person shes even prettier than on TV and her dress was amazing. The electricity you see between them on TV is real, and what a delight to see first-hand what appears to be a happy, functional family in the White House.(Unfortunately, the unenthusiastic man in front of me forgot to take pictures with my camera while the President was on stage. I did get my camera back after Obama left but devoid of any pictures of our new President and his wife. I couldnt muster up any anger; maybe the man really did forget, maybe he was embarrassed by the ideaI dont know. But being angry would not have gotten my pictures and would have been a buzz-kill.)Once the President and Mrs. Obama left our Ball it was time for me to split. There were some logistical issues with this, too, as the Obamas were still somewhere in the center. As luck would have it, the only exit we were permitted to use spit me out closest to my condo, so it was just _ block to bed. Sleep, however, was hours off.
Read of Maia Schneider’s Inauguration Day Diary next.
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