Many Americans celebrated the second inauguration of the 44th President of the United States in front of their television screens while others had the opportunity, or misfortunes depending on your perspective, to experience everything live.

I danced my way into five inaugural balls, and the Illinois State Society Inaugural Gala held Saturday, Jan. 19 at the Renaissance Washington Hotel was my least favorite celebration.

Anyone who knows me knows that I put forth mounds of effort to fabulously prepare for any occasion that I attend. My ensemble is perfectly pressed with every strand of my hair laid perfectly, every fingernail polished completely, and my makeup done professionally to look impeccable for a top notch affair. However, this particular gala was a jaw dropping disappointment.

With the ball scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. and end after midnight, I knew my 9:00 p.m. arrival time would be perfect. I entered through the main glass doors of the Renaissance, handed my $260 admission ticket to the usher, and rode down the escalator with anticipation of a glamorous affair only to experience a sad surprise. When I reached the bottom of the escalator at 9:05 p.m. and headed to coat check I saw a guest retrieving his coat and headed for the door.

“Leaving so soon? Why?” I asked. The gentleman replied, “Yes, I gotta get out of here. No worries. The little food they did have, I saved some just for you.” Baffled, I headed to the ballroom to find a trio of ladies from the Radio King Orchestra wearing satin, lime green halter dresses singing to a nearly empty ballroom. Most of the guests were outside the ballroom hovering at the bar, while the others searched for food.

My expectancy of an exquisite full-course menu dwindled further after I saw black and white cow-printed plastic tablecloths on little round tables rather than fresh white linens. Corn dogs, Uno’s pizza, and roasted peanuts were served by teenagers at stands lined up along the walkway. I couldn’t remember if I was mingling at a gala or walking through a state fair. In addition, the western-styled hats and room décor made me feel like I should be kicking up my heels in a square dance at a saloon.

With the many security personnel in place, and Illinois being the home state and stomping ground of President Obama, I fully expected to see the newly elected President of the United States suavely walk through the doors of the gala. Yet again, that hope was dashed.

That said, I thought, at least I would rub elbows with Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, but like one Illinois native and party-goer told me, “The city of Chicago doesn’t represent Illinois. Not many Chicago natives are here tonight. It’s just a cool city ”. Needless to say, I never spotted Emanuel before I left, although I was told he did stop by later that night.

Apparently, this Illinois State Society Inaugural Gala, often confused with the Illinois Presidential Inaugural Celebration held the following day on January 20, took a while to warm up because U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and the state’s senior senator, Dick Durbin showed up for the party.

Subsequent to my many disappointments, I eventually discovered a sautéed mushroom, artichoke and sliced cheese bar. While I nibbled on a mushroom, I got word of a lavish ball that was taking place at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Gratefully, I quickly headed to coat check, grabbed my fur, and rushed out the door at 10:30 p.m. to a ball more suitable to my taste. No good food! No A-list guests! Taxi! 

Ashley D. Diggs

Special to the AFRO