With President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration less than two weeks away, tickets to the big event are hotter than hot.
There are wait lists a million names long for the presidential inauguration — and even a last-minute contest for tickets reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced a last chance for folks who haven't been able to score tickets: an essay contest called "Your Ticket to History."
Chief spokeswoman Linda Douglass says 10 lucky winners will be chosen, and they'll each be able to bring a guest.
"We'll pay for their transportation here. We'll put them up. They'll be able to go to the swearing in, the parade and an inaugural ball," Douglass says.
Douglass says the essays have been pouring in, like one from a teacher that says: "The election of Barack Obama has reaffirmed my faith in this country ... and it's something I want to bring my students."
Securing Tickets From Congress Members
The inaugural tickets have been hard to come by, even for those who are connected.
Ken Oplinger, the chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce in Bellingham, Wash., is the type of guy who can get his congressman on the phone. But when he called Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) for inaugural tickets, he was told there would be no special treatment.
Larsen was having a drawing, and everyone who put his name in would have an equal chance. Oplinger says it was a pleasant surprise when he got a call in December from the congressman's chief of staff to say that he got a ticket.
"I was very excited when she told me, and of course the first thing I did was to call my wife and tell her," Oplinger says. "And I think the second thing was to jump on Facebook and change my status so everyone knew I was going."
San Francisco-based writer Chris Colin says that as soon as Obama won the election he started researching tickets to the inauguration. And he put in a call to his congresswoman, who happens to be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
"We called Pelosi's office and that's when they told us that there would be like a million people on the list, but we put our name on the list anyway," Colin says.
Colin says he plays the lottery and the odds aren't great with that either. So when he got an e-mail from Pelosi's office telling him where to pick up his tickets, Colin says, he felt like he'd won big, even if the prize is just a chance to stand outside in the middle of winter in Washington, D.C.
"We've heard there's going to be like a gazillion people and it's going to be 1 degree out and we're going to have to walk seven miles to get there, but that's OK," he says. "We're very excited."
And he should be excited. One Maryland congressman got more than 4,000 requests for tickets, and he had only 198 to distribute.
The Golden Tickets
As for the essay contest, Douglass promises the winners will be chosen based on the strength of their essays alone — and not the optional donation that can be made at the same time the essay is submitted. The deadline is Thursday at midnight.
The committee has already announced one winner, and the rest will be announced Jan. 16.
It isn't a lifetime of free chocolate, but Douglass says for many, getting a chance to attend the inaugural is golden.
"People actually are describing them as golden tickets," she says. "There is such a great sense of excitement about this. And it is optimistic. It is hopeful, it's exciting and that is why people want to be here."
And for all those who don't get their hands on a golden ticket: The National Mall will be free and open on Inauguration Day, and the swearing in will be broadcast on Jumbotrons.