If you went to any of the official inaugural balls this year, stop reading - unless you want to see how your experience stacked up. The following tips are for future ball-goers; You won’t need them if you’ve already done your patriotic duty by attending a party where alcohol is too expensive, the bartenders card like crazy, and where, as one college student from Maine put it, “there’s too many old people.”
“People I’ve talked to who have been to these things said it’s something you only have to do once,” said Brian McBride from the University of Arizona. After you’ve been to one, you’ve been to all of them. And all of them, he said, are a little stiff.
But if you haven’t, here’s how to navigate a night of sober celebration:
Cheer up with the people actually excited to be there. Like budding Latino pop stars and high-ranking College Republicans. Both are blind to stiffness, or claim to be. Ana Cristina, who said she’s the first Latino to perform the national anthem at an inauguration ball, thought the party was a blast.
“I’m really honored to be here,” she said. “I’m proud to represent my country.” Cristina was born in the United States and is enrolled in the University of Nebraska, but her parents are from Cuba.
Andrew Dill, chairman of the College Republicans at the University of Georgia, was also honored to be there.
“I’ve partied with some of the most influential people in the Republican Party here,” he bragged.
I told him that some of the other college students I talked to that night thought the party was a little uptight, and asked if he agreed.
“I’d say it depends on where you’re at. Some of those Republicans can drink more than any college kids,” he said, adding, “It’s great for our age group to be here. College students should take a more active role in politics.”
By going shot for shot with your senator?
Drink, if you can afford it. At about $8 per drink, it’s hard to get drunk. At $4 per soda, it’s hard to even stay adequately hydrated.
But if you remembered to bring a wad of cash, you can have as much fun as Brianna Foran, of Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia and Kathleen DeLoach of Case-Western Reserve University in Ohio.
After I watched them dance in front of one of the television cameras, clearly amusing the anchorman, I asked them what they thought of the party.
“I think we’re the life of it,” DeLoach said, noting that the turnout was so good “because I told people Bri and I would be here.”
Fall in love with Bush (if you haven’t already). The Constitution Ball at the Washington Hilton was one of the first President George W. Bush visited. I arrived just after he left, but I heard about his visit from Peggy Lee Mowers, a friend of the aforementioned drunk duo, whose heart was still fluttering.
“The first thing he said was, ‘I love my wife,’” she said. “It hits you right in the heart.”
Now try Cheney. People started to whisper that Vice President Dick Cheney would arrive in 10 minutes, and the crowd flocked to platforms on the sides of the room, which were a few steps up from the dance floor, for a better view.
The band played four ruffles and flourishes followed by “Hail Columbia,” the vice presidential version of “Hail to the Chief,” and Dick and Lynn Cheney appeared onstage. Then they appeared on three dozen LCD screens of the digital cameras that sprouted from the crowd. It seemed like everyone screamed and whistled, and the ball-goers not holding cameras applauded.
“This is the rowdiest bunch yet,” Cheney said. The crowd of course went wild. “It leads me to think of what you’ve been doing for the last couple of hours.”
He spoke about unity for a few seconds, but the crowd didn’t want to hear about unity. Who needs unity when you can watch the vice president spin his wife around onstage? So that’s exactly what they did. Wild and crazy dance moves, like a twirl, elicited hoots and applause.
The whole thing lasted less than five minutes, but the ball-goers were beat. The Cheneys’ departure induced a mass exodus at about 10:30 p.m., cutting the crowd in half by 11:15.
“You’d think for $150 a ticket, people might stay a little longer,” said Ali Retson, a freshman at Georgetown University.
Survey style, skip guy-watching. Retson came with her friend, Lindsey Purdy, also a freshman at Georgetown University. They sat in some of the chairs around the perimeter of the dance floor and surveyed the sea of tuxes and dresses.
It’s an entertaining thing to do with a girl friend at an inaugural ball, but Purdy said, “My boyfriend would have been bored out of his mind.” For those of us without a boyfriend, the night didn’t offer much. Retson observed, “They’re all either 12 or 30.”
Together we noted that most of the dresses were tasteful, although there was the occasional dress to remind us why no one should ever wear orange. An overwhelming number of outfits were red, perhaps symbolic of the “red state” presidential victory.
Lonnee Long, a freshman at Southwestern Oregon Community College described the night’s fashion as “pretty conservative.”
Get in for free. “I don’t think I’d pay to go to this,” admitted a Presidential Inaugural Committee volunteer from Georgetown University who asked not to be identified. The committee, a privately funded organization in charge of the $40 million inauguration events, including nine official balls, asked volunteers not to talk to the press.
It was a little stiff, he said, but a good experience anyway.
I agreed. It’s not all bad. It’s fun to get dressed up, to see everyone else dressed up, and to mingle, if even only to commiserate with other college students who wish they had pre-gamed.
But I got in with a free press pass. Honestly, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself when you got in for nothing. The real trick to making the most of your inaugural night: Report or volunteer so you can get in for free, and you really can’t go wrong.