Take tickets to the swearing-in. Enough people were ticketless that having an embossed ticket of any color or rank was an automatic status symbol. But it would be a mistake to believe that just holding a ticket actually meant you were going to be allowed into your designated zone, or even be able to figure out where you were supposed to be at any given moment. Lines in ticketed zones stretched for miles, and except for an even more chosen few -- elected officials, Dustin Hoffman -- everyone still had to stand throughout the ceremony, for at least six hours.
The same logic went for the prized Obama ball tickets, which held the promise of visits from the First and Second couples. Of the ten official balls, the Neighborhood Ball, Obama's Home States ball, and the Youth Ball were considered the hottest tickets. Having procured a ticket to the Youth Ball, I'd been warned that it wasn't as glamorous as it sounded. "Every four years I warn starry-eyed rookies about the inaugural balls, and every four years they ignore my hard-earned advice," Washington Post style writer Roxanne Roberts wrote, predicting long lines, aching feet and expensive dresses bought for naught. But the prospect of glimpsing the man of the hour with the demographic that had been central to electing him was irresistible.
I never got that glimpse, because for unknown reasons, several thousand people had been sold tickets to a ball in a space that couldn't hold them. By 8 p.m., fire marshals arriving at the Washington Hilton and barred anyone else from entering the ballroom, leaving hundreds of ticketed guests shivering on a two-block-long line, barred indefinitely. (I headed instead to the Google Ball, which was excellently equipped. Perhaps an argument for private-sector management?)
Anyone who already was inside the Youth Ball was told there was no re-entry for anyone who left. Fair enough, except that getting to a bathroom required leaving the ballroom, which meant at least two ballgoers crouching under the table and peeing into a cup. More than one person was heard to sigh that all this was pretty ironic for the so-called best-run campaign of all time.
Still, no one seemed to stay disappointed for long -- they found enough to be happy about this week.