Saturday, January 24, 2009

Shall We Dance?

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A day this special should never end! The evening after the inaugural was to be as special as the day itself. My wife and I were invited to prom night at Union Station: The Eastern Ball honoring those who hail from New England. It was a wonderful night in quite an unusual venue.

If you haven’t been there before, your first impression of dancing in a train station might not be that appealing. This was certainly not the case tonight. Union Station had been transformed into a palace of marble and stone. Its ornate architecture was anointed with patriotic buntings and decorations. Colored lights, combined with a variety of different motifs, gave each area an entertaining theme.

The ball formally began at 10 pm. A long line formed early to pass through metal detectors, security screening and coat check. Three stages were set in various corners of the main floor. A party band was playing Motown hits when we arrived. The crowd was a random mix of old, middle-aged and young. Everyone looked elegant in a variety of tuxedos and ball gowns. A vendor was taking souvenir pictures using the ball’s logo, a commemorative inaugural seal, as a background. Two stages sat dormant. What would happen next? You had to wait and find out!

At 11:30, the musical gears changed dramatically as the stage on the left in the main room hosted legendary singer James Taylor along with a backup band featuring Russ Kunkel on drums and his sister Kate Taylor as one of the backup singers.

Watching Taylor’s set was a really unusual experience. I found myself on a line for bar drinks that happened to be right nearby the stage. Not knowing that his set was about to start, or where it was to be performed, I received a flute of champagne for my wife and – poof – all of a sudden James Taylor was singing just a few feet away! The setting couldn’t be more informal. The entertainment was stunning! “That’s James Taylor singing over there!”

James Taylor’s set was heavy in his old standards like “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Up on the Roof” with some tasty deeper cuts like “Copperline.” He spiced it up by doing some covers, most memorably Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman.” It was sweet and mellow and completely appropriate for the crowd. They loved him. He loved them. So what if he was singing at a party in a train station!

Taylor sang so sweetly for about an hour and said he would be back for a second set in about fifteen minutes. Actually, Joe and Jill Biden showed up nearly immediately thereafter by surprise on the opposite stage. After a brief welcome speech by the new Vice President, the couple took a polite dance with Mrs. Biden dressed in bright red.

Tired and weary at half past midnight, my wife and I were almost about to go when we noticed that a color guard and marching band were assembling behind the stage the Bidens had just used. The rumor in the crowd was that the new President would be appearing at about 2:30 am (!) since this was to be their last event of the evening. We were very glad we stayed!

A silence fell over the crowd as the color guard began to march on stage. An announcer proclaimed “Ladies and gentleman! The President and First Lady of the United States!” Michelle Obama, in a long white gown, appeared from the right side of the stage followed by her husband, in a conservative tuxedo, from the left. A quick speech followed, by the new President, with the theme of “This is just the beginning!” As a farewell for the evening, Mr. and Mrs. Obama danced to Etta James’ version of “At last, my love has come along.” Everyone held cameras and cell phones over their heads to document the moment. It was the perfect ending of a perfect day.

Now that the ceremony was over, we decided to make a fast break for the coat check room, on the lower level, to beat the enormous crowds. We were very lucky to be one of the first on line. We headed up to the main floor to catch James Taylor’s second set for a moment or two before we headed out to find a cab home.

Outside Union Station was not appealing. Porta-potties lined the street and they had run over. Lots of paper and other debris littered every street. It was as if two million people had visited D.C. all at once! Unfortunately, the cab line in front of the station was non-existent with concrete barricades blocking the main entrance for security. We launched out onto the nearest street corner, by the Postal Service building, and tried to hail a cab competing with dozens of other couples. We saw Obama’s nearly-endless motorcade leave Union Station. There must have been two dozen vehicles in procession, with flashing red and blue strobe lights, heading rapidly for The White House. We finally hopped into a cab and arrived home around 1:30am. Oh, what a night!

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