Austerity fully embraced at inaugural balls

  • The Washington Post
  • Tuesday, January 22, 2013 5:52pm
  • Life

WASHINGTON — The enormity of the occasion met the enormity of the room: Acres of concrete floor at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to sashay across in gowns and heels, to clippity-clop around in tuxes and shiny dress shoes.

All in search of that special “I-was-there” moment, an inauguration night when a city consumed by its quarrels stopped its sniping for a few, and just smiled.

In this age of austerity, President Barack Obama trimmed the fat off the inauguration festivities, slimming down from the 10 balls he attended for his first inauguration to the two official galas he attended Monday night for his second inauguration.

But it’s not like he slummed it, not with Alicia Keys on stage at the piano in that red backless dress.

“Obama’s on firrrrrre!” she sang.

Oh, yeah. Not slumming it at all.

Not with Jennifer Hudson serenading the president and the first lady as they slow-danced to “Let’s Stay Together.” And yes, America, Jennifer belts out that one better than Barack, at least better than he did last year when he gave it a go at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

The president got big cheers, but the crowd at the Commander in Chief’s Ball really lost it when he confided that “I’ve got a date with me.” His date-for-life, Michelle Obama, strode out in an ankle-length ruby-colored chiffon dress by Jason Wu, the same fashion designer who became a megastar when the first lady wore his white, single-shoulder gown to the inauguration balls four years ago. “She inspires me every day,” the president told the crowd.

Midway through their solo dance turn, the first couple parted, and each spun for the crowd for a few moments with a service member in uniform. The first lady got a peck on the cheek from the serviceman when they were through.

The munchies tilted more toward a summer camp vibe than a Michelin-starred joint. Three kinds of pretzels … and a pretzel blend! Also: Cheez-Its.

Over at the far end of the airplane hangar, er, ballroom, a large plot of land had been partitioned off for special guests. Between the panels, the regular guests spot white sofas, gold tablecloths, tea candles. And the special guests are …? Whoever, they appear to be feasting on the same Cheez-Its as everyone else.

Bryan Brokmeier, who traveled here from New York for the ball, said it wasn’t quite what he expected. He thought there would be “less concrete on the floor, something other than Cheez-Its” to eat.

The official Inaugural Ball was split over separate floors, the better to accommodate about 40,000 guests. And one was decidedly swankier than the other. At the elite level, there were fewer people, more carpeting, and penne al pomodoro instead of pretzels. And … Al Franken.

On a night with few real highlights , the poor cable networks were left to replay “Obama’s on firrrrre!!” enough times to make a viewer want to scream, “Put out the fire!”

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