What happens when you mix Hollywood, Washington, and Silicon Valley? You end up with something approximating the incredibly strange scenes at Tuesday night’s Google inaugural ball. It included scenes such as Google CEO Eric Schmidt jostling for space in the VIP corner with senator John Kerry and actor brothers Ben and Casey Affleck. You get half the crowd nudging one another about spotting Craig Newmark of Craigslist and the other half whispering about spotting newly minted and controversial Illinois junior senator Roland Burriss. And don’t forget actress Glenn Close hanging out in the game room—probably the only time that an event at the swanky and regal Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue has ever seen a game room.
The real way to tell that you were at an inaugural ball was the lengthy line for the coat check that made senator Chuck Schumer guffaw when asked if he wanted to wait and check his coat.
The ball, the first for the search-engine giant, is part of the company’s expanding local presence, though one challenge of adapting to Washington rules is that the food—which typically at events in New York or Silicon Valley is over the top, delicious, and plentiful—has to abide by the city’s strict lobbying-ethics rules, which meant in this case cold, make-your-own miniature burgers, baskets of soggy fries, and passed miniature pork sandwiches served with five potato chips. The open bar, at least, was easier to get to.
The ball, which by its “unofficial” nature meant that neither the President nor the Vice President was in attendance, created an unexpected level of buzz for those it did attract—everyone from John Cusack, Sarah Silverman, and Arianna Huffington to Washington stalwarts Wolf Blitzer, Heather and Tony Podesta, E.J. Dionne, and David Corn to new-era players such as Chris Hughes, cofounder of Facebook and Obama’s online strategist. One of the few balls without any live music, the ball instead had a DJ to keep the dance floor moving.