Waiting for my "Official Inaugural Invitation" was akin to waiting for Barack Obama to clinch the primary last spring -- I knew it was coming; it just took so damn long! Three days after Election Day, Obama Long Island Field Organizer, Susannah Mrazek, called to ask me if I would like to attend the Inauguration. Once again, my heart filled with unequivocal joy for the second time that momentous week.
I had joined the Obama campaign in January 2008, after Obama's Iowa win sparked my dormant political consciousness to try, once again, to change the direction of our country since the backwards turn it took 8 years prior. We had a chance to reverse the trend in 2004, and I, along with millions of others, spent countless hours working hard to elect the uncharismatic democratic candidate (although I do not fault Kerry for loosing an election filled with Rove's "win at any cost" shenanigans.) The loss in 2004 soured my interest in the 2008 presidential run for the White House, and except for news clips, I didn't watch any of the pre-primary debates, declaring to my friends that anyone of the candidates on either side was far better than what we had endured since 2001. However, Barack Obama's speech the night he won Iowa inspired me to get involved once again with hope that this time we had the chance to alter the misdirected American policies set by the Bush administration.
After what seemed an endless primary season, my involvement in the campaign grew as Long Island volunteers realized that we were not going to have a typical campaign in New York because the state's electoral votes were certain to go to Obama. As volunteers for the Obama campaign, we founded and incorporated ourselves with the name: Yes We Can! Long Island, and immediately started to raise funds to support our efforts. We raised close to $50,000 and most of that money went to support our offices where we provided training in regards to voter registration and phone banking; held two rallies, one prior to the Hofstra debate which featured David Crosby, Graham Nash and Bruce Hornsby; participated in weekend street fairs; provided buses for volunteers to travel to PA; and supplied highly requested campaign materials and memorabilia. The last four days of the campaign, I ran one of the Obama mega phone centers in Mineola, where we had hundreds of volunteers calling voters in swing state, altogether we made over 50,000 calls to six states. The excitement in the phone center on Election night grew as results started to come in, and yet we were still being directed to call western states up until 10 pm.
On November 7, 2008, after receiving Mrazek's call, I immediately learned from the media that "all" the hotel rooms in Washington had already been booked at inflated rates with no refunds for cancellations, so I decided to wait for the actual invitation before trying to secure a place to stay. By Thanksgiving, having not heard a peep, I made an inquiry or two as to when I would officially receive my invitation. No one knew. On Friday, December 19, I received a phone call from Jon Cooper, the Long Island spokesperson for Obama, asking me if I would like to attend "an official ball -- one where Michele and Barack will attend" and my excitement level was once again sky high. I immediately called my relatives who live in Maryland, about 10 miles from the Capitol and asked if I could crash at their place on the evening of the 20th. Of course, they would be delighted to accommodate my friend and me if we got an invitation.
It was a long holiday season, every day I checked the mail. No invitation. My anxiety rose. When were they going to send the invitations out? What happened to the 4 - 6 week etiquette rule of sending out invitations? Didn't they know that I needed time to make arrangements, shop for a gown, and really go on a diet?
Finally, on January 6, at 7:31 pm, I received an email from the Presidential Inaugural Committee. The reward for waiting was that besides the two tickets to the Neighborhood Ball, I also received one ticket to the Inauguration ceremony itself! OMG -- how lucky can one get? By this time, thanks to the media's over zealous coverage of this event, I became painfully aware that there was no way that I was going to be able to travel in and out of DC twice on that day. Announcements of bridge and road closings, excessively long lines for the Metro (my only way of transportation) were expected to be hours long, I knew that I needed to find a place within walking distance to both the Convention Center and the Capitol. My friend and I spent many hours looking for hotel rooms (one at the Renaissance for the bargain price of $1,000 for the night of Jan. 20 was still available), B&B's - $850/night at DuPont Circle or $350/night five miles away. Many apartment owners were requesting 4 - 5 night minimums and the prices were outrageous.
On Friday, January 9, we found a small, 400 sq ft apartment with an off-street parking space for the bargain price of $1705.00 for three nights. If necessary, we will walk the 1 ½ miles to the ball (I am breaking in my new, wedged heel Aerosols this week) and the mile to the Capitol Reflecting Pool.
Even after hearing and reading that the balls are not what one would expect, we are looking forward to the entire event. We hope to arrive in the city by noon on Sunday, in time to attend the Opening Ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial. There is a possibility that we will get into a reception Monday evening hosted by the New York Democrats at the Smithsonian, and then the big event on Tuesday (I found another ticket to the ceremony for my friend, even if it is in a standing area behind the reflecting pool, at least we will be together). Then the Neighborhood Ball - the "premier ball" with an incredible line up of talent (this is the ball that will be aired live on ABC that evening). After the ball, we have dinner reservations at Bistro Bis, one of the hottest restaurants in the city, where I will happily end my no carbs, soup and salad crash diet I am currently adhering to. Yes, it will be an expensive three days, but a once in a lifetime experience and one I am sure I will never forget.