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My sister’s inaugural story, parts 2 and 3

The Ball!!

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!

Act One: The Washington Convention Center

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 couldn’t 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 ½ block from my condo…I 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 Ruth’s fur coat)

Act Two: The Ball

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 everywhere…For 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 you’ve watched any TV in the last 2 months, you’ve been inundated by offers to buy “official Obama commemorative fill-in-the-blank” goods. The running joke in our home is the Obama Plate…even 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 didn’t 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 bit…well, 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. Those 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. Bush…that rocked the dance floor!

Act Three: The Guests

Finally, you’re thinking, she’s going to tell us about the celebrities! Well ok, but it’s 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 woman’s 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, you’re not looking for sub-lebrities. You want to hear about the real headliners, don’t you?!

Act Four: The President

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 Obama’s 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 didn’t 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 mom’s updates but eventually we were separated. As the hour drew late, I worried I may not make it until the Obama’s arrival. But just when I thought I would throw in the towel, things started popping. 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 couldn’t 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 we’d 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. I’m 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 she’s even prettier than on TV and her dress was amazing. The connection 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 couldn’t muster up any anger; maybe the man really did forget, maybe he was embarrassed by the idea…I don’t 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 ½ block to bed. Sleep, however, was hours off.

Inaugural Day: Epilogue

Experiencing this event first hand was an extraordinary opportunity. I only regret that I don’t have the vocabulary to paint a better picture with my words; that I cannot adequately express my feelings from the day. Someone asked me today how I could consider that day one of the best of my life when I actually feared for my life at one point. Well, I guess I have two answers: one, I did live and there’s nothing better than living when you think you might not. Two, that I see that day as a best in spite of my scary experience and injuries may help illustrate the level of positive emotional intensity surrounding the inauguration of Barack Obama.

There were many frustrations the inauguration attendees experienced. Long lines, cold weather, being turned away, misdirection, lack of cooperation or communication among law enforcement…and there was more to come. Closed Metro stations, a clogged airport, missed flights and road closures that went on long after the event all could have been bruises on the day, and would have been scars that lingered on any other day.

But not on this day. And that above all should say something about the generous people around me and their spirit. The unifying force of positive energy reassured me that Americans can and will meet the current challenges and rise to meet our potential. It told me that after all, I can still have faith in humanity, faith in my country. This experience reinforced to me that we can live in a great nation as long as we participate. After all, it was the people that voted Barack Obama into office; the people that made the day special; and the people that helped one another when things got bad.

One last thing…

I’ve already been asked about Biden’s appearance at the Ball. Alas, I edited out an entire paragraph dedicated to the trip I took to the ladies room just before the Presidential party showed up. There was lots of detail about the anguish of leaving the room versus my need to leave the room, and the physical strength and time required to push through the crowd yet again. I was back, working my way through the crowds, when our President took the stage.

Now, if I can just find that plate…

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