"Extra ticket?" whispered a bedecked woman furtively out of the corner of her mouth as we passed. Since she sported an updo instead of a baseball cap, it took me a second to realize what she wanted, but by then we were getting patted down in security, sending our little, glittery evening bags through the metal detectors, and finally walking through the doors.
We passed the bomb-sniffing dogs and approached the coat check, mindful of its dangers. (The Washington Post reported, "At Reagan's 1985 inauguration, a seriously logjammed coat room resulted in Mink-gate. Several guests' outerwear went missing, including [an] $8,000 fur. . . ."
Would there be a Mink-gate reenactment with my TJ Maxx wool coat? My mother in law took no chances. Earlier that day, she sewed nametags into all of our outerwear, even though there was nary a fur among us. We took our coat chits and headed into the ball room where 1,000 of our closest friends had started to celebrate... or, at least, line up to buy drink tickets. Some of the guests--not us--had paid (well) upwards of $1,000 and still had to shell out for drinks.
We walked by a group of chairs filled with decidedly un-festive people typing at their computers. My first party also attended by the press corps. We chatted them up, hoping for some information about the arrival of the Obamas. "Our ball was bumped," we were told. "The parade ran late, so their ETA is now 11:30 p.m."
Guess we didn't have to rush after all. We got in line to buy a lot of drink tickets, and proceeded to work our way through them.
It was like being at the wedding of someone you don't know very well. Few people danced, although--as at most weddings--there were three little boys who slid around the dance floor and tried their best break dancing moves. The Bidens made an appearance on a little stage, and the crowd roared (it was the Biden States ball, after all). Joe thanked everyone for their support, pledged his undying allegiance to Delaware and Pennsylvania, and kidded that he couldn't dance. He was right. They swayed for about three minutes and disappeared behind the curtain.
By then, the drink tickets had done their work and it seemed that the Obama's arrival had to be imminent. The room got louder, people started dancing a bit, and some started angling for a good spot next to the stage.
"This is stupid, this is stupid, this is stupid," I was thinking as I stood in line for rubber pasta. Then, I noticed some sort of color guard and a brass band setting up. The news swept the room: "They're here!” A crush of people rushed to the front. I flat-out ran up to the balcony, where I would have a chance of seeing.
The emcee announced "Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Barack H. Obama, the President of the United States of America!" Hail to the Chief played. Barack and Michelle entered. And, in that instant, it became a great night.
They paused, center stage, and the women mentally approved Michelle's dress (she looked lovely in person, although the pictures weren't so flattering). President Obama thanked everyone, told us to enjoy that evening because the work started tomorrow and then said, "Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to dance with my wife." And they did, and they seemed to really enjoy it, even though it was probably their 10th dance to "At Last" that evening.
After they disappeared behind the curtain, noise level went up again. Everyone was exhilarated by the sighting. People started exiting. Mindful of our babysitters who had to work the next day, we took one spin around the dance floor and headed out to see what had become of our coats. Thankfully, we had no problems. It had to be the nametags.
We trooped out into the freezing air and promptly turned into pumpkins. The streets were full of formally attired and very cold people who were all headed towards the metro or trying to find a taxi. We headed to the Metro and waited... and waited... a train came but we couldn't squeeze on, so we waited 20 minutes more. Then we had to transfer, with another long wait. You get the idea.
Despite the wait, the lines, the crowds, and the sheer number of used drink tickets, everyone remained in a good mood. It felt like America won the World Series. Holy Cow!