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Inauguration Diary: Five Days in D.C.

Town & Country events editor Alexis Clark reports from Washington, D.C. on Barack Obama's inauguration.
By Alexis Clark
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Crystal McCrary Anthony and Alexis Clark

obama inauguration, inauguration pictures, alexis clark crystal mccrary anthony and alexis clark Producer and writer Crystal McCrary Anthony and Alexis Clark at the Daily Voice Awards Reception.

Alexis Clark

obama inauguration, inauguration pictures, alexis clark alexic clark At the Western Inauguration Ball at the Washington Convention Center the weekend of Barack Obama's inauguration.

Cory Booker

obama inauguration, inauguration pictures, alexis clark cory booker Newark Mayor Cory Booker at the Daily Voice Awards in Washington, D.C.

Alexis Clark

obama inauguration, inauguration pictures, alexis clark alexis clark Alexis Clark and her brother, Ben, at Jazz at Lincoln Center's "Let Freedom Swing" concert in Washington, D.C.

Alexis Clark

obama inauguration, inauguration pictures, alexis clark alexis clark Alexis Clark and her brother Ben near the Capitol during Barack Obama's inauguration.
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For more than a year, I followed the 2008 presidential campaign. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I became obsessed. I watched nightly election coverage, read multiple editorials each morning, and incessantly emailed friends and family members about my take on the candidates, their spouses, their advisors and the media coverage. I never missed a televised debate, and postponed Sunday brunches because I could not miss my morning lineup of news shows. I had an insatiable appetite for everything about this election.

When Barack Obama won, I found it difficult to put into words what his victory meant. As a black woman, I was so proud and honored that this country elected an African-American president. His win proved that racial barriers can be brought down, and people of all races and religions can come together and collectively share the same hopes, values and ideas. I know that racism won’t disappear completely, nor will sexism or any other form of discrimination, but the election did symbolize that this country is open to change.

A few weeks after the election, I bought a train ticket to Washington, D.C., to attend the inauguration. I had not secured any accommodations or had a real plan of any kind, but I was determined to witness history. I was able to stay with my best friend and her family who live in the area. I also received invitations to a few celebrations, and before I knew it, I had tickets to the swearing-in ceremony and an inaugural ball.

I had a whirlwind of a trip, and that feeling was shared by everyone I ran into who was in D.C. for the inauguration. There were literally hundreds of brunches, receptions and parties taking place throughout the day, every day.

Saturday: BET (Black Entertainment Television) Honors

I arrived Saturday night and the chaos started the minute I got to Union Station. There were hundreds of people coming and going. I stood in a long line just to exit the train station for the subway.

The talk of the town for Saturday night was the BET Honors event at the Warner Theater. I didn’t get one of those coveted tickets, but everyone was gabbing about it the next day. Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston were among the performers. An official after-party did not follow because BET hosted an inaugural ball Tuesday night. My best friend, who hosted me at her family’s house, took me to a house party until 4 a.m.

Sunday: Gwen Ifill, The National Association of Investment Companies Private Equity Gala Reception, Maryland Ball

My first official event was a book party for journalist Gwen Ifill Sunday afternoon at the D.C. Coast Restaurant. The crowd was packed with PBS, NPR and print journalists. Obama United Nations ambassador appointee Susan Rice zipped through. Gwen was gracious and spoke about the hard work that went into her book about presidential politics, “The Breakthrough.” I bought a signed copy, introduced myself and told her I was an editor for T&C. She gave me a big hug and seemed very warm.

After that, I headed to another brunch hosted by Morehouse College; then it was on to Oya’s, a very chic restaurant, for an early dinner with one of my mentors, Dawn Sutherland, a vice president at Xerox. After that, it was off to The Ritz-Carlton for the Private Equity Inaugural Gala Reception. There were tons of people outside the hotel waiting for a cab and valet parking. This turned out to be a typical scene outside any D.C. hotel during inauguration. The event itself was a good networking opportunity for African-Americans in finance – but, since I’m not on Wall Street myself, I ended up going to the hotel bar and bumping into Bo Derek. I introduced myself, and we made small talk about how exciting the weekend was.

After the Ritz, I attended the Maryland Ball at the Mayflower Hotel -- another crazy scene. The lobby was packed with the overflow from the various parties, with the Ohio Ball and the Maryland Ball going full swing just across the hall from each other. While the look of these balls was uniform -- not much glamour, local politicians from the designated states, buffet-style food and some random bands playing -- the mood was the highlight. People of all ages danced and laughed. In spite of all the lines and crowds, the atmosphere was celebratory at all times.

Monday: The Daily Voice Awards Reception, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s ‘Let Freedom Swing’ Concert

Monday, I attended an afternoon awards reception at this chic lounge called Halo. Producer Crystal McCrary Anthony invited me. Anthony was one of the honorees, along with such notables as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph and actor Isaiah Washington. Each person was honored for his or her activism in the black community. The event was jammed-packed. I escaped out the back door to attend the Jazz at Lincoln Center concert at the Kennedy Center. (The major parties that night were JALC and The Huffington Post.)

The jazz event was truly fantastic. Hosted by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and entitled “Let Freedom Swing,” the show was a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a jazz music fan. I assumed a former Supreme Court Justice was as dry and serious as they come, but Ms. O’Connor has a lively personality and a great sense of humor. Performers included Dave Brubeck, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson and Wynton Marsalis and his orchestra, to name a few. The event tied in the healing power of music, the need for collaboration and new ideas for the creative process, and how those methods should transcend into politics. After the concert, a buffet dinner followed. After that, I headed back to Oya’s, which was quite a happening late-night scene. I had drinks with friends and met some of the members of the former HBO’s hit series “The Wire.”

Tuesday: Swearing In, Western Inaugural Ball

Tuesday, the day of the swearing-in ceremony, started at 6:30 a.m. for me. The wind chill was eleven degrees. The subways were packed at 7:15 a.m. My brother, Ben, and I had standing tickets and we were prepared for a long wait. We made it to Capital Hill at 7:45 and stood in shoulder-to-shoulder lines for more than three hours. By 11 a.m., we made it through security and found a place to stand for the ceremony. It was so exhilarating to witness history (even if it was mostly via a jumbo television screen). The fact that we were on the grounds in person hearing President Obama take the oath of office still gives me goose bumps.

I had a few hours of down time before I had to dress for the Western inaugural ball at the Washington Convention Center. I was frozen and fatigued. I wore my red Angel Sanchez gown with high-heeled riding boots because I couldn’t handle wearing open-toed shoes in those temperatures. I had read the warnings about the tedious inaugural balls before, and yet I begged my connected friends to find me a ticket. I wanted to experience it for myself. Perhaps I should have taken those reviews to heart. There were massive amounts of people. The scene came down to this: a ballroom the size of a football stadium, cash bars and buffets with dry pasta. The entertainment saved the evening. Mark Anthony and J. Lo graced the stage and sounded quite good. I lasted three hours before running out of steam. Apparently, the Obamas stopped by on the tail end of the evening, so I missed their appearance.

Wednesday: Home Again

Wednesday morning, I headed back to a packed Union Station for my trip home. Although my feet are still numb from the constant walking and standing in freezing temperatures, I would not trade my trip to President Obama’s inaugural weekend for anything.

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