(CNN) - Attendees at tonight’s presidential inaugural balls, like the 11,500 at the official Western ball, were lucky to spend maybe 20 minutes of their night with the president. The rest of the time, they were waiting - and not just for the first family to make an appearance.
They waited to get through security. To check their coats. To buy drink tickets, then to exchange those tickets for plastic glasses of chardonnay and mid-priced champagne. To cycle through buffet lines for plates of pasta and dinner rolls, which they’ll eat standing up.
With a few exceptions – like the events dedicated to military personnel, young people and residents of Washington, DC – most balls featured states grouped together by region. The Western ball drew 11,500 guests, from places like Oregon and Idaho to Montana and Guam. Californians like Director Ron Howard and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Cheryl Hines mixed with residents of Sarah Palin’s home state of Alaska. Both were serenaded by soft rock standards and BeeGees classics. Later in the evening, singer Marc Anthony was set to take the stage.
Celebrities and politicians, college students and senior citizens, Hill staffers and volunteers all mingled in the cavernous ballroom. One group that isn’t in the mix: journalists, who were only allowed to leave a press pen just off the main dance floor if they’re accompanied by an official chaperone to monitor their movements and conversations. (Drinks were allowed; food was off-limits.)
The Obamas themselves expected to visit the Western ball on Pacific Standard Time: it could be Wednesday morning before they make an appearance.