I started posting on HowieinSeattle in 11/04, following progressive American politics in the spirit of Howard Dean's effort to "Take Our Country Back." I decided to follow my heart and posted on seattleforbarackobama from 2/07 to 11/08.--"Howie Martin is the Abe Linkin' of progressive Seattle."--Michael Hood.
The inaugural ball is an event that would disappoint Cinderella.
It's an occasion for political junkies, not romantics. And, of course, it's not just one ball but many, spread over two nights. This year, because the Obama inauguration planners wanted to be more inclusive, there were more balls than ever. Most were not held in anything resembling a ballroom. The Western States Inaugural Ball that I attended took place in the cavernous lower level of the Washington Convention Center. As a result, it had all the ambience and sparkle of a trade show. And, like the inauguration itself, it was a massive crowd scene.
Inclusiveness is a worthy democratic impulse, but true glamour is usually a result of exclusivity. My daughter, Darielle, bought two dresses in anticipation of going to an inaugural ball, even before I was sure I'd find tickets that I could afford. After it was all over, we agreed that we'd both been to high school proms that seemed more elegant. Still, I'm describing, not complaining. It was what it was. The ball provided a fitting end to the long inaugural day that began at 6:30 AM.
Rather than make the round trip to my apartment and back downtown to change clothes after the inaugural ceremony ended, we stashed tuxes and gowns at the Hearst Newspapers Washington Bureau the day before. My son Daniel, my friend Howie and I took off long johns and donned ties and cummerbunds in the glass-walled office of now-retired Hearst columnist Marianne Means while our ladies reassembled themselves in the rest room. Using the office space as a dressing room may sound daring, but it was not all that unusual given that several other of my journalistic colleagues had camped out overnight amid the cubicles and computers so they'd be well positioned to brave the inauguration crush.
The convention center was a short walk away. If it hadn't been so cold, we would have left coats behind to bypass the coat check system that the Washington Post said should be avoided at all costs. At the end of the evening we understood the warning as we waited 45 minutes to retrieve our outerwear. At the foot of the escalator that descended into the ball area, we encountered a sign that suggested buying drink tickets before proceeding further. At the end of a long line, we discovered the tickets were three dollars each and the price of beer, wine or a mixed drink was three tickets. I felt a twinge of pity for the folks who shelled out $500 for each of their ball tickets (I got mine for substantially less). You'd think they might not have to pay nine bucks for a beer.
Despite the enormous crowd, it was easy to cross paths with folks from back home. Gov. Chris Gregoire and congressmen Jay Inslee, Jim McDermott and Brian Baird were there. So, too, were travel guru Rick Steves and his lovely bride, Anne, plus political impresario Frank Greer and his wife, public policy strategist Stephanie Solien. Even P-I rock critic Gene Stout showed up looking like Mr. Establishment in his tux.
As if to give Gene something to write about, Jennifer Lopez made a surprise appearance singing a Latin number with her husband, Marc Anthony, the evening's celebrity performer. When Anthony's band began playing, my wife, Nole Ann, tugged at my sleeve. "Let's dance," she said – a thing easier said than done. At this ball, dancing was not a priority. The area in front of the main stage where one would expect to find a dance floor was, instead, packed with a few thousand people awaiting the arrival of the new president and vice-president. Brief appearances by the men newly installed in the nation's highest offices provide the focal point of these balls and the real reason anyone attends. We waded into the crowd just in time to see Joe and Jill Biden. The vice president said a few words, danced half a song with his wife and then was gone. The crowd stayed in place, anticipating the appearance of numero uno. I looked around and saw that the TV cameramen had left their posts. Figuring nothing was imminent, we pushed back through the masses and made our way to the far end of the hall where a band from Atlanta was belting out some very danceable music.
An hour-and-a-half later, the president and first lady showed up. We ran back to get a glimpse. Barack said a few words that he obviously had already repeated 10 times at other venues. A Marine band brought in for just this moment played the tune for the first couple's dance. Michelle and her man looked sleek and handsome.
And then they were gone. Most of the ball-goers who had spent the night standing and waiting for drinks or standing and waiting for Obama herded themselves to the escalators and the long wait for coats. Nole Ann and I returned to the dance floor and stayed to the last song.