December 13, 2010

My Night At The White House Christmas Party

I made my way down to DC last Friday to attend a Christmas party at The White House.  I got the invite via my brother Tim, who works as a photojournalist for AFP.  He's been going to these parties for years and, actually, had previously invited me a couple times during the Bush years but I politely declined.  But this year when I got the call, I was thrilled to accept and partake in a little East Room egg nog as well as get a chance to meet Barack and Michelle too.

The evening began in line outside the Southeast Entrance to the White House compound.  We were ID'd and checked off the guest list 4 times before we even got to the metal detector. My brother says this is a new routine for all social events post-Salahi.  But once we ran the gauntlet we were greeted inside by the all-male singing stars of GLEE's "Warblers" aka The Beelezebub's from Tufts University.  I heard them doing the Katy Perry song from the show and I was like, it couldn't be them....but it was!  That was the first big surprise of the night.

The second was all the food.  Such incredible snacking!  There were huge spreads in the State Dining Room, which is where we started with some salmon, steak, cheese, and veggies.  There was an even larger table in the East Room.  After checking out the decorations (so many trees!), we then had some pie.  The White House pastry chef has become very popular with Obama for the pies he makes and I can totally see why.  We sample the apple and pumpkin which were both superb....I especially loved the apple.  The crust was just amazing!

Then it was downstairs to the Diplomatic Reception room for our photo op with Barack and Michelle. This involved a wait in line that was akin to waiting for a ride at Disney World. They'd clever set it up all windy, through different rooms and nooks so that you never realized how damn long the thing was til' you reached then end.  And when we got the Obamas for the picture, the whole thing was run like clockwork....they have it down to a science. Everyone gets about a minute with the first couple, which makes roughly for 120 people an hour.    

As we came around a dressing screen set up in the middle of the circular room, we could see Barack and Michelle and suddenly we were 8 people away.  From there, it was just surreal.  Michelle glittered in a black sprakly floor length famous biceps poking through.  Barack was in a suit with a slivery tie.  As we got closer, the dressed-up Army folks who manage the line told us the order to greet them and where to stand but I wasn't really listening.  And then suddenly, there I was as Barack turned towards me, hand outstretched and I said about all I was going to say..."Hello, Mr. President".

Both he and Michelle were quite chatty with us, however.  Barack recognized my brother from the photo pool and then commented on the fact that we were brothers but with very different hair.  LOL.  "What's up with that?" I think he said, smiling his famous smile.  Then we all turned to the photog for the deer-in-headlights moment.  Then Michelle got involved in the chatting, saying " two are brothers." Like...uh-oh, that means trouble. And in true mom fashion, she told us to not get up to any mischief at the party.  Which was ironic as a few moments earlier, I had discovered a secret door in a panel and was trying to pry it open, much to my brother's chagrin.  He was like, "I've been working here 12 years but you come in here for a couple hours and you find the secret door."

After our presidential meet/greet, I was in a daze.  Truly.  What can I say other than they are both superstars, truly larger than life personalities.  Barack is nearly my height but Michelle is about 6"1".  Everyone kept telling us that, given our height, we were lucky and we'd have a good picture.

In the anteroom where we were guided to after the photo, I noticed there were two women standing by a bookcase who seemed upset.  I was confused by this scene until we got upstairs and others told us how this was happening all night; after meeting the President and First Lady, women had been crying afterwards as they were so moved by the chance to meet them.   I found this to be the most fascinating and telling detail of my short visit with the President.  You can disagree with him, dislike his policies, or even hate what he stands for but you can't deny he is remarkable man whose journey to our nation's highest office still inspires such deep emotion.

Tomorrow, I will have lots more pictures and even some video too.  And then (hopefully) on Friday, I'll have the money shot: my picture with Barack and Michelle.  Stay tuned!