Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's First Day (and Last Inaugural Ball)

After a weeknight party with the stars (the infamous Youth Ball) and a weekday fighting to stay alert, I prepared for another night of Presidential Inaugural activities. Sure, the President was out longer than me at his 10 balls vs. my 1 Youth Ball and sure, Obama was working harder than me at helping the economy and repairing America's reputation abroad, but I was determined to keep up with him and attend the final ball, the Obama for America Staff Ball.

Over the course of two years of campaigning, hundreds of thousands of volunteers and campaign staffers joined up with the Obama movement and worked to get him elected. On the President's first day in office, his Presidential Inauguration Committee organized a thank-you event for a lucky few thousand of that enormous support crew, complete with open bar, never-ending buffet, and Jay-Z, of all people. Little did I know that this event of seemingly mundane proportion would be the highlight of the Inauguration week and go a long way towards replacing the infamous images of purple tickets (a growing legend for those whose privilege turned to pain on the back streets to the National Mall) and overflowing inauguration balls with images of greatness and goodwill.

After finding a prime parking spot right across the street from the venue, we gained entry to the venue after only 5 minutes of waiting in the cold. The coat check was well-organized, and security ran smoothly. Food was tasty and plentiful, so much that the buffet tables almost looked untouched when we departed at the end of the night. A beautiful spread of sandwiches, finger foods, veggies, and desserts beckoned us twice without reservation. Staffers and volunteers were overwhelmingly friendly, to the point of confusion as we wondered why everyone was so nice to each other. And the free entertainment, both from the warm-up band, the open bar and those who chose to empy its coffers, was excellent.

The evening only got better. First, the bathrooms had no lines (at least when we arrived). Second, seating was plentiful and offered good views of the proceedings. Third, we were surprised by the appearance of Joe Biden, who has quite a bit of share. Then, of course, there was Obama.

There is no better way to describe our new president than the musings of SNL comedian Darryl Hammond: "the Obamanon". This was my first evening to hear Obama speak in person, and he is truly gifted. His easy command of the language, his turn of words, his connection with the audience - Obama is almost without equal on a grand stage. Often, he has something to say. On this night, Obama's message was one of hope and inspiration to his campaign staffers, to translate the vision and hard work they showed over the past two years into tangible contributions that move the country forward. To change the world together, as he put it, with faith and confidence in what they have demonstrated to date. Heady and powerful words that left the audience asking for more of his time, as usual, before his hasty exit back to the White House.

No worries, he left the DC Armory in good hands with Jay-Z, a man who defines the words "consummate entertainer." Seeing Jay-Z in performance mode for the first time, he filled the hall with his presence and engaged the audience with "off-the-cuff" rhymes and a few playful jabs at outgoing President Bush for good measure. We danced the night away before heading for the doors and discovering that yet again, a line was still waiting to enter an Inauguration Ball.

30 seconds around the corner, and we were already in the car back home. The feeling could not be more upbeat and hopeful for what might come in the coming months. Of course, it starts with a full slate of work items tomorrow, but I figure that if Obama can already order the closure of Guatanamo Bay, then I should be able to get some of my own work done as well.
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