Inaugural balls

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Second inaugurals traditionally are less dramatic events, and the 2013 Inauguration — also historic, in representing the first black president being elected to a second term — will be more subdued. One factor in complicating the swearing-in is that the Constitution requires the official ceremony to take place on Jan. 20. This year that date falls on a Sunday, so the inaugural will span two days.

There will be a private swearing-in of the president on Sunday, but in order to ensure the festivities will not impinge upon the Sabbath, there will be a public swearing-in on the following Monday, along with the inaugural parade and the inaugural balls.

Even though this inauguration promises to not be as historic or as glittery as in 2009, it is still well worth taking the opportunity to attend. Washington insiders, jaded with the “been there, done that” attitude, contend that it isn’t worth the money or time to attend inaugural events. And yes, it is more comfortable to sit at home watching it all on television.

I differ, however, from the position of someone who has been out in the icy rain covering and inaugural address, braving the cold winds on Pennsylvania Avenue covering the inaugural parade, and in a standing-room only crowded inaugural ball waiting for the president and first lady to arrive, spend a few minutes and move on. After the first couple leaves there is little reason to stay. In spite of how miserable that sounds, being there and being a part of history makes up for all the discomforts and frustrations.

There will be a number of state societies and associations hosting parties that are more elegant with good food and drinks and where you will probably run into more of the political celebrities. Because the presidential entourage with all the police and Secret Service protection has only one location to travel to this year, the downtown street traffic should be much more manageable than when the president and first lady had 10 balls to attend all across town four years ago. It made for some snarled, frustrating traffic jams.

There are several survival techniques Inauguration Day veterans understand; here are some of them. Wear comfortable shoes — women should avoid high heels. Hire a car and driver (if you can still find one) or take Metro. Don’t drive — the downtown traffic may be lighter this time, but it will be bad enough and parking will be virtually nonexistent. If you can avoid checking a winter coat or expensive fur, do so. It is advisable to not wear that expensive Neiman Marcus gown or mink that can easily be ruined or lost in the crush of overworked and understaffed coat-check facilities. There were almost riots at one of former President Reagan’s inaugural balls at the coat check with long lines and people impatiently jumping over the counter to find their own coats.

Don’t expect to find anything to eat at the official balls — have your dinner before or after the ball, and don’t forget to make reservations. You don’t want to end up black tie at McDonald’s. 

Even though it will be a day of annoying problems and discomforts and can cost thousands of dollars, the inauguration festivities are a significant and colorful part of our nation’s heritage. And if you have never been in Washington for one of the most impressive events of our democracy — the peaceful celebration of the transition of executive leadership — no one should miss Inauguration Day.


Conconi of Qorvis Communications is a former Washington Post Style Section Personalities columnist. He also covered Inauguration Day activities for WMAL radio and WTTG and Channel 8 television.

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