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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Inaugural Ball...A Test of Endurance

So, Tom and I got an invitation to attend the 2017 inaugural events.  Wheeee!  We decided to fly to DC on Saturday morning, possibly attend the actual inauguration (depending on the crowds) and definitely attend the Freedom Ball that evening.

Our plane was delayed in Dallas, so we arrived in DC just about the time that President Trump was being sworn in, so we missed that and had to watch it on our phones.  A small disappointment since we weren't sure we were going to go anyway.

But, we did attend the ball and I just want to record my experience so that, if there is someone out there who is considering going to one in the future, you can know what to expect and plan for...assuming future inaugural balls aren't very different from the past ones.

First of all, it wasn't as cold in DC as it usually is reported to be in January, but we still needed our coats.  I took my full-length sheared mink that is completely reversible so that the lining, which is a heavy silk and actually feels like some sort of nylon, becomes a raincoat since it was also forecast to rain.  Tom took his long wool overcoat.  It was a good choice to take coats, because even though it wasn't as cold, and it's kind of a pain to travel with them (plus it was in the 70's when we left and returned to Dallas) , we needed them and did wear them.  We were blessed, though, that it did not rain, although there were a few instances of mist.  We both took light ponchos just in case.  I intended to wear mine over my hair if it did rain.

If I could only give one piece of advice to all the ladies who may attend an inaugural ball, it would be WEAR FLAT SHOES.  (more on that later)

Now, I was prepared.  I really was.  I am not one to sacrifice looks for comfort.  I mean, ideally, one can look good and be comfortable, and it is important to me to be comfortable and not ruin my feet.  But, I hardly ever wear flats with any outfit when I go out.  I even wear heels with jeans, even if it's just a small boot heel.   So, my plan was to wear my Fitkicks (super comfy gift from daughter) to walk to the ball and clip my gown up under my coat so it didn't drag, but that's not the way it went down.  First off, my gown wouldn't stay clipped up because the sequins made it too heavy.  Did I want to walk all that way and maneuver around the metro, holding my dress up?  Then, Tom made a face at my Fitkicks.  Sure, they looked goofy with a ball gown, but, who was gonna care?  In the end, *I* cared.  I stuck the Fitkicks in a bag to carry "just in case" and donned my red shiny pumps (which, for heels, are not uncomfortable).

OK, so nobody drives to the inaugural balls (well, unless you're the one in the Presidential motorcade).  Our hotel was about two and a half miles from the convention center where the ball was held.  We were told no limos, taxis, busses, ubers...no vehicles (other than security) are allowed within several blocks of the convention center (I noticed as we left, that there were cars driving around not too far from the convention center, so we probably could have taken a taxi).  So, we decided to take the metro train.  The station was just about a half a block from the hotel, down a hill.  The station  closest to the convention center was about, oh, three or four blocks away.  We walked.

When we arrived at the convention center, we discovered a line that wrapped around two sides of the center, so that added about two more blocks of walking just to get in line, then walking in the line (which moved very quickly) back the way we came, through security, then back another block to the entrance, to coat check, back out and down a couple of escalators to where to ball was being held.  Walking, in heels, walking.  Ouch.  I should have worn the Fitkicks.

The invitation said the ball started at 7:00.  It was recommended that we go early (doors opened at 5:00) to get through security.  I did not want to go early.  I just wanted to arrive at 7:00 and stand in whatever line we had to stand in.  But, Tom likes to get to places early.  So...we compromised at little and left the hotel at 5:00.  In hindsight, this was completely unnecessary.  If I had come across a blog post like this one, I would have known this.

Security was quick and easy.  They had done background checks beforehand, so we just had to have our ticket scanned and our picture ID to show that we are who we say we are.  We checked our coats (also very quick and efficient).  Loads of people had gone in before us, but it still looked pretty empty when we finally got in.

There were several places to have our photo taken, both with professional photographers and with our own phones and cameras.

Tom is announcing his run for Presidency in 2028, although, I told him we'll be too old and it should be sooner.  I don't want to be the First Old Hag.

I'm usually cold at these kinds of events, so I also brought my vintage mink capelet to throw over my shoulders.  I had to shed it a little later because it did become too hot in there, mostly because we were in such close quarters near the stage.

The place was starting to fill up as it got closer to 7:00.  These people are random strangers that we formed a bond with as we staked out our small section of floor space close to the stage.  Our thinking was that if we were close, we'd be able to see everything better.  That holds true for tall people.  I never really think of myself as being short, but at 5 feet 3 1/2 inches, I had no advantage being close to the stage.  We started out right up by the barricade, but as time went on, other people kind of inched in front of us.  We weren't really paying attention, but we ended up about five people deep away from the barricade.

So, while President Trump was on stage making his comments, then the family was dancing their "first" dance as President and First Lady, this was my view.  I say "first" because he had already had two "first dances", one at the Military Ball and one at the Liberty Ball, which we could see on the jumbotron.

And, this was my phone's view as I held it over my head trying to get a picture of the President.

The ball was scheduled to start at 7:00, but at 8:00, the announcer announced that the party was beginning and the entertainment started.  The entertainers were very good, although I could see very little of what they did without standing on my tip toes.  The food was mediocre, but plentiful.  They had several buffets scattered throughout so that lines were short or non-existent.  However, I really don't think people ate much.  I know I didn't.

They had cheese, fruit, and veggie trays with assorted crackers and breads, along with three different hot pasta dishes.  Because I have celiac disease, I couldn't eat anything except the veggie, fruit and cheese.  They gave us drink tickets and anything beyond the value of the drink tickets, you had to pay for yourself.  I didn't even bother getting a drink the whole time I was there.

Here's the thing...there were NO CHAIRS and NO TABLES.  Seriously, no place to sit.  At all.  There was a small section with chairs for the handicapped that was cordoned off, but none for anyone else.  Not even a ledge against the wall to perch on.  If you wanted to sit, you had to go sit on a toilet or leave the party.  After standing for so long, I was beginning to wonder what happens to a body that stands still for too long.  Seriously.  

Now, when I was young, I used to have a job that kept me on my feet for pretty much eight hours - and oftentimes I wore heels.  And, yeah, I know people work and stand for that long and longer.  And, yeah, my farm work requires that I'm on my feet a lot and I'm walking a lot.  But, in all of those situations, I can take a break and sit for a minute, even if it's on the ground.  But, there was no option at the ball except the cold, hard, dirty concrete convention floor...in a ball gown.  There was nothing to even lean on.  And, I didn't bother to eat much or drink anything because there was no place to even set a plate or cup.

Believe me when I say no place to sit, because I was desperate enough to want to go shove one of those handicapped people off their chair like we were playing musical chairs.

Anyway, it was fun and exciting to be in DC while history was being made.  And it was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience to get to go to an inaugural ball and to be with all of those people that were equally excited for this new Presidency.  But, it also was an experience to test my endurance.

Oh, and Inaugural "Ball" is a misnomer, because there is no dancing at the ball other than the few moments the first family swayed back and forth a few times.  As soon as they left, we and at least half the other attendees made a bee line for the exit.  Like me, they probably couldn't wait to find a place to sit, even if it was a train seat.

For the walk back to the metro station after the ball, I did switch to my Fitkicks.  Otherwise, I might have had to crawl back.

If I had it to do again (and that won't happen unless I'm arriving in THE motorcade), I'd do things differently.

Things to know:
(1) Take a taxi and be dropped off as close to the venue as possible
(2)  Wear flats to and from the venue (I ended up taking my shoes off at around 9:30 and going barefoot (I had checked my Fitkicks with my coat).  I stepped in all manner of who-knows-what and my dress dragged the floor, but by then I didn't care.
(3)  Eat before going
(4)  Don't wear a wrap into the party and carry the least amount of belonging as possible
(5)  Invitations say black tie and most men were wearing tuxes, but it is not essential.  Nobody will care if your man wears a suit instead.
(6)  I did see a couple of women in street length dresses, but they were out of place.  Wearing a ball gown is a better choice.  Even though nobody will likely remember or care what you wore, you will not look like you belong there if you aren't dressed appropriately.  But, don't try to be Cinderella because a big, over-the-top princess ball gown is impractical in that crush of people.
(7)  Arrive late.  Really, there is no reason to go early.  As we were leaving, there were some people just arriving - they were smart.  Here's what I'd do...I'd arrive between 8-9:00, switch to my heels, dance to the great music away from the crush of people near the stage, watch the President from across the room (because he didn't arrive until around 10:00 and the view is better and you can see the jumbotrons better), nibble on the food here and there, dance some more after the President leaves, then go home.