Thursday, November 06, 2008
U.S. Election Night: The Hottest Ticket in Town
For probably the only time in our life, we had tickets for what the British newspapers were calling "The Hottest Ticket in Town": the Election Night party at the U.S. Embassy in London.
Given the time differences between the U.K. and the U.S. this party was not for the faint hearted. First of all, it didn't start until 10 p.m., which is usually only about half an hour before I usually go to bed on a weeknight. Second, you had to be committed to staying pretty late, given that the first results-- for Kentucky and Vermont-- were posted at midnight (GMT), but the results from many of the states wouldn't be known for hours later.
But in the end, staying up all night and still going to work the next day was totally worth it, not only because the party was fantastic, but also because our man won and made history.
As you can see from above, CNN's hologram technology was deployed so that partygoers like me and my friend Anne could get their picture taken with Barack Obama. OK. It wasn't actually a CNN hologram, but a more old-fashioned cardboard cutout, but I think the results are pretty impressive. They had cardboard cutouts of all the candidates so that partygoers could get their picture taken with them. As you can see from above, John McCain is peeking over Obama's shoulder (really he should have his Sad Grandpa face on), as is Sarah Palin. From what I saw-- since we spent most of the night stationed next to the cutouts since it was in the room with the large electoral map-- Obama was the most popular cutout with whom to have your picture taken, with Palin lagging slightly behind him. I don't know if this portents the 2012 election, I'm just reporting on what I saw. A few people, out of sympathy or perhaps irony, got a picture with McCain. But Joe Biden was like the ugly sister going to the school dance: nobody paid any attention to him, and by the end of the night, he had been pushed all the way into the corner: ignored and unloved.
Before the party, they said that many "celebrities" would be there, but I was pretty dubious. I said I'd only be impressed if I bumped into Gwenyth Paltrow. As it happens Gwenyth was at a film premiere in Paris, so I didn't see her, but I did see dozens and dozens of well known people. I spent most of the night staring at a person thinking, "I know this person. Where do I know him/her from?" and then mentally circulate through all the possibilities only to come to the realization that the person I was staring at was a member of cabinet or a television reporter, including former Cabinet minister Ruth Kelly, former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, Nick Robinson, the chief political correspondent of the BBC and Janet Street-Porter.
At one point, when Anne had gone wandering through the party, I sent her this text: "I've just spent the better part of an hour standing next to an Oscar winner." Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who won an Oscar for "The Color of Money," whose last movie was "The Perfect Storm" with George Clooney but is now a London resident, was there with her husband, the Irish director Pat O'Connor. I couldn't remember her last movie, so handily Mr. MarathonMum had his iPhone, so we could IMDB her. I can't quite decide if doing an Internet search on someone who's standing right behind you is rude or resourceful, but we did it anyway. I never did get a chance to chat with her to talk about being from the Chicago suburbs, but let me tell you with authority: she looks absolutely amazing for 50.
Josh Hartnett, currently appearing in London in the play "Rain Man" was apparently there, but I didn't see him-- though I did see a picture of him the next day and he had been in the room where we spent most of the time. Perhaps I had been downstairs listening to a live set of Squeeze greatest hits sung by a member of Squeeze.
You read that right. Squeeze songwriter and frontman Glenn Tilbrook was there, singing all of my favourite Squeeze songs. Our friend Chris, who was a rock star in a former life, even got to go up on stage and SING WITH HIM. Later in the evening, as we were getting ready to go (at about 3:15 a.m.) I had a chat with Glenn and I told him that I really loved all of those songs, and they took me back to high school and university. He was lovely.
They did have some party food to nosh on, but the real culinary winners were the temporary franchises of Burger King, Subway and Starbucks set up just for the party and serving all guests for free. Burger King really did work its magic at about 2 a.m. when my energy levels were flagging-- nothing like a free Whopper to perk you up. The presence of Starbucks also insured that I DID get my free cup of coffee after all, so that was something.
The real highlight of the evening was watching result after result go Obama's way. We hung in there for as long as we could, but left after they called Ohio to Obama, figuring that it was now in the bag. When we got home at 3:45 a.m., we put CNN back on, hoping that more results had rolled in, but none had. We finally capitulated to the siren song of our pillow just after 4 a.m. (I now know that if I had hung in there for probably just another 10 minutes, I would have seen them declare Barack Obama the next president of the United States.)
An hour and a half later, it was time for Mr. MarathonMum to head to work. Not surprisingly, he had slept through his alarm, so he asked me to go downstairs to tell the driver he was running late. I got to the car, filled with joy because of the result, and told the driver-- who happened to be black-- that Mr. MarathonMum would be right there.
"No problem. That's OK," he said. "When I got to the house this morning, I knew you were a nice family because you have the Obama signs in your window. He won! He won! He won!" For the next minute or so, this stranger and I jointly celebrated the fact that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.