By Donna Cronk
It's hard to believe that it was merely one week ago that I picked up a sparkly jacket from Classic Collections consignment shop to complete my $43 Indiana Society Ball ensemble.
With everything else going on the past week, I left you all hanging on the topic.
Let's catch up.
Going into the trip, there were two things that concerned me most about getting my job done. In fact, I asked close friends to pray specifically for my technology!
I had no doubt about finding content. But I worried that my elderly laptop and reliance on hotel wifi would get the connections I needed to transmit stories. I was hugely (or shall I say bigly?) relieved that those were fine.
My second concern had to do with schedule logistics. On Thursday, we were booked for a full day of sightseeing, and the experiences would provide one of the stories that Indiana editors wanted for weekend papers.
That was fine but I had to miss a portion of the day because I had to return to our Bethesda hotel, change into my dressy-ish outfit, and reach the Washington Hyatt by 4 to pick up my press credential for the Indiana Society Ball.
I wondered how to accomplish this, but it too, worked out. I think my apprehension comes from Indiana not having a Metro system that whisks masses of people underground to their destinations. In DC, this is how large numbers of people live their lives and it seems to work very well.
I opted out of the National Cathedral tour and got back to the hotel, then left again via the Metro to the stop I needed for the ball. Once I got there by 4, that's where I'd remain until the bus driver picked up ball-goers at 10. At least I didn't have to navigate the Metro by myself at night even though I'm told it's perfectly safe.
I got to the Hyatt with ease, greeted by this welcome sight at the Hyatt entrance.
Yes, a row of police motorcycles spelling out a greeting.
Inside, I was directed to the press-registration where the public relations team greeted and credentialed media coming through to cover the evening. I felt a wave of excitement when I saw the check-in sign because I realized I had cleared the second worry about this assignment.
I was there! I was all set to cover the ball! The occasion required a photo in my second-hand attire.
Easy now, I'm a writer, not a fashionista.
Early party-goers came through in gorgeous outfits, dressed to the nines, the men in crisp, black tuxes. We weren't allowed to take photos in the lobby so I'm not able to show you how stunning they looked but think about the popular, beautiful people at your senior prom and picture them 20 or 40 years later. That is, picture the most flattering versions of what you imagine they would look like. You've got it.
I talked with one of the event's organizers as we stood in line to pick up credentials. She was nice, originally from Indiana, but spent her career as a textile curator at The Smithsonian. Guess what she misses about her home state? The Indiana State Fair.
She explained that The Indiana Society is a social group of folks who are former Hoosier residents, and forevermore Hoosiers, period, only living and working in DC. The ball got started in 1953 when after a long run of Dems in the White House, Republican Eisenhower became president. The Republicans were out of luck getting ball tickets. So they created their own gala and it's gone on every election since.
Money raised goes to charity and one of the ball-goers in our tour group told me that tickets were $360 a pop. About 1,000 attended the ball. Funds that night went to Riley Hospital's Art Therapy and to benefit veterans.
After our spontaneous chat, it was time to go through a Secret Service check point, wanded and all, front and back, belongings gone through, and once clear, I was directed to the actual ballroom downstairs. I realized that's where I'd be for the night. I had left my coat upstairs. So back up I went, grabbed my coat and yes, I had to once again go through Secret Service checks.
One of the public relations women told me that the Indiana press was well-represented at the ball and that the Washington Post would be mad at her because we got so many passes. I think she was joking because the seating didn't seem so incredibly tight to me. My seat was, as seems appropriate in keeping with the name of my blog, the last seat in the press pool as I was put at the far end in the back row.
Some of the press seats remained open. The TV reporters were posted on an elevated platform. As the sound checks continued, the tables were layered with beautiful dishes, silverware, centerpieces, candles, favors and programs,
I anxiously awaited further instructions ... Would we get press kits about the evening? Would we get tables of our own? Would we get at least a bottle of water? No on a table, eventually on the water.
I was a bit .of a pest with questions. First about the programs. No programs or press kits. Then about water. Oh sure, they would bring water.
We clearly were not in Indiana anymore. We remained in our roped-off area and were expected to stay there unless we had public relations staff escorts to go see someone in the room. A reporter from Bloomberg thought the set up was pretty standard.
This is a whole different world than what I'm used to where pretty much anyone in a community is accessible, But on the other hand, this was a social event, and it only makes sense that organizers wanted to make sure guests weren't swarmed by press during their fun evening out.
I took a few photos, like this one of a beautifully appointed table.
And, I took the occasional photo of Hoosiers in our group who I recognized in their lovely evening attire, for printing in the newspapers.
Following dinner and before the dancing, dignitaries were announced, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, former Vice President Dan Quayle, incoming Second Lady Karen Pence and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence. Karen and Mike gave speeches.
And then, I waited, and felt sleepy, and longed for the clock to strike 10 so I could catch the first pumpkin back to the hotel.
I had been up since 4:15 when we made our way to the National Mall for an interview with Fox 59. So I downed a couple of granola bars back in my room for a (very) late dinner, and went to bed.
The next morning, up at 5:15 because it was inauguration day, and we had a new day's agenda. I learned that the ball-goers had a wonderful time, including some speaking with the vice president-elect and one, Ritha King, even had Pence initiate a selfie of himself with her and with his wife, Karen. Ritha is elated! You can see the photo she sent on The Courier-Times Facebook page with her comments.
I was glad for their good time, and for myself, delighted to have the event under my belt and a story in my notebook, just waiting to be written when I got the chance.