Beg, borrow or steal a ticket for the ball

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The Independent Online

This is beyond the pale. Some of us have been on our knees to high-ups in Washington in the hope they might – just might – be able to snag us a ticket to one of tonight's inaugural balls and now we read that Rod Blagojevich, the disgraced governor of Illinois, has two. And he isn't sure if he'll use them.

This is the man who is accused of trying to sell Barack Obama's US Senate seat to the highest bidder. But if that plan didn't work out so well, how about selling those tickets, Blago? You could make a tidy consolation sum.

Wretched in many ways – the crowds, the security lines, the terrible food (or absence of it) – the balls manage still to retain their mystique. For those of us who know what an endurance test they can be, still we yearn to score that ticket, for bragging rights if nothing else.

Not all the balls are equal, meanwhile. Some were eve-of-inauguration events scheduled for last night and I was scheduled to be at a couple, the Green Ball and the Huffington Post pre-inaugural ball. (We sadly had no leads on the Hip-Hop Ball or the Black Tie & Boots Texas Ball.)

But it is tonight that the serious, high-octane revelling will begin. And anyone who is anyone will be telling you that though all the other fringe balls happening all over town may sound like more fun – they are going to one of the 10 "official" inaugural balls.

This matters because these are the only balls that Barack and Michelle will attend. The Obamas will find themselves restricted to spending barely a few minutes at each stop. Enough time to say a few words and possibly dance a few steps.

While tickets to most of the official venues were theoretically available for $150 (£100) apiece, most were spoken for before they went on sale. The best bet tonight might be the Neighbourhood Ball, a first-of-its-kind affair where tickets were free and a large number were reserved for residents of Washington. This is the one ball that will be televised live, so that is where the Obamas will try to stay the longest.

In 1988, George (the elder) and Barbara Bush had to make 11 official balls and stayed at each of them for an average of four minutes. Bill and Hillary Clinton did a little better, staying up right until 2.15am.

There were 4,000 of us crammed into the entirely unglamorous walls of the National Armoury that night for the New York-Washington Ball. At long last, a side door swung open and a Marine Corps band swept Bill and Hillary on their way to the stage where members of the E Street Band were waiting. Bill was handed a saxophone and off he went with a few bars of "Your Mama Don't Dance". It was over in seconds as the spectacle of Barack and Michelle dancing together will be. The crowds will go home grumbling about the traffic, the queues for the cloakroom, the thirst and the hunger – but still they will be happy. Because they got tickets and they were part of Barack's Big Day.