Cinderella Goes to the Oscars, Pt. II

It’s Oscars Eve, and first off, I have some bad news. The red carpet isn’t actually red. It’s maroon. Maroon, and made of what appears from a distance to be chintzy velvet. I know. I’m disappointed, too.

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The second bit of bad news is that the Kodak Theatre and its chintzy maroon velvet carpet were swarming the day before the big night, not with celebrities or even flies but with something far less exciting than the former and far more annoying than the latter: tourists.

Dozens, maybe even hundreds of them. But they weren’t alone. They were with a flock of a different feather, one that’s just as bothersome: journalists. And their cameras. And their microphones. And their press credentials. No wonder there wasn’t a star in sight. I’d stay the hell away too, if I were famous and it was the day before what is affectionately referred to around here as the Biggest Night in Hollywood.

The third piece of bad news is that the Kodak Theatre is housed in what can only be described as a cheesy indoor/outdoor mall crawling with the aforementioned tourists and journalists and blasting loud Top 40 music.

It has a lot of chain stores (most closed) and a lot of chain eateries (most open). There are security guards at all the possible entrances to the red (maroon) carpet, so you just have to catch little glimpses of it from various lookout points.

Speaking of the Biggest Night in Hollywood, they sure do get a lot of play out of it here. Posters, full-page magazine ads and billboards serve as friendly but in-your-face reminders to watch Sunday night as the BNH unfolds live on ABC at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m.

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel — which is nice and far away from the Kodak scene — my father and I set out in the rental car on what turned out to be a rather long journey to the Academy press office (at the Renaissance Hotel, which is — are you getting all this? — in that Kodak complex) to pick up our tickets. The whole way there I kept envisioning the following scene:

Me: Hi, I’m here to pick up my tickets to the Oscars.

Snooty Academy Press Officer: I’m sorry, I think I misheard you. You what?!

Me: I have two tickets to the Oscars that I’m supposed to pick up.

SAPO (laughing loudly and condescendingly for three full minutes, then regaining composure and clearing throat haughtily): I’m terribly sorry, Miss. You must be mistaken. We don’t have any tickets for (looks me up and down disapprovingly) you. We don’t just give tickets out to anybody (read: nobody), you see. There has obviously been an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Me: But … I came here to write about it … My company is paying for me … I faxed back the RSVP form … (Feebly show my invitation.)

SAPO (more cackling, with a pitying look): I’m sorry, Miss. Good day now. You know the way out?

A day earlier, as I waited for my shuttle at LAX, the van operator asked me what brought me to Los Angeles. When I explained that I was going to the Oscars, his reply sounded eerily like something my film critic source Andy Jones had told me the previous week (click here to read my first Oscar blog), so much that I wondered if there was some sort of cultish brainwashing that happened here around this time or if it really was true that a seat at this event is as rare as a parking spot at Christmas.

“There are people all over town killing themselves for tickets,” the van guy said.

And now, here I was, casually, brazenly, in a devil-may-care sort of way just waltzing up to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences press office and asking for MY tickets. The gall. The absurdity. I felt at once delightfully bold and utterly ridiculous. The whole thing had a decidedly farcical air about it.

Though we’d been duly warned by people in the know and by the Academy itself on its Web site about a maze of road closures, we were pleasantly surprised that none of them — at least today — prevented us from driving just past the red carpet and the theater entrance into the underground parking garage of the Renaissance Hotel.

We ascended on one escalator after another until we were in the hotel and on the third floor, where the press office was. We first went into a room marked Press Credentials, though that didn’t sound quite right.

“Hi, I’m here to pick up tickets to the show tomorrow,” I told one of the women behind the desk.

“OK, so you need your credentials, right?” she said, typing a few keys on her laptop. Behind her was a row of chairs with people in them having their photos taken. The Press.

“No, I’m actually going inside, to the show,” I explained. Again, the reaction.

“OH,” she said in a friendly but “well, excuse me!” kind of way. “You’re going IN to the SHOW. I see.”

“Unless I’m reading the invitation wrong!” I added in a cheerful, self-deprecating, “I know, I don’t believe it either” tone.

“Well, let me just make sure we don’t have you in the computer,” she replied. They didn’t, which in this case was a good thing.

So we were sent down the hall to the actual press office, which was shockingly small, considering what a PR machine it’s required to be.

I handed over my license, my invitation, my RSVP form, all my major credit cards and promises of my firstborn. A friendly chap collected all these items, tapped away on his computer and then disappeared into an adjacent room.

On a table against the back wall were various press releases about the ceremony and large cardboard posters bearing the same Oscar photograph that was on my invitation. We took two of those. Later, a tourist would comment on them, wistfully.

The friendly chap returned a few minutes later.

“I’m calling up to her to bring them down,” he said conspiratorially. I pictured a hidden room high up in the attic with a floor-to-ceiling steel vault where the Academy kept The Tickets, which were clearly their version of the Holy Grail.

More minutes ticked by. My heart thudded against my chest. I still expected to be turned away, ticketless and alone.

Finally, another young woman came in clutching a long, important-looking envelope. The same publicity photo was on the front, with a clear label marked “”

The tickets! My tickets!!

“I was just calling you to tell you they were still here,” she said, smiling.

What happened next was a blur. I think I signed for them. She Xeroxed my license. With trembling hands, I opened the envelope. There they were, nestled innocently inside. Two tickets to the Oscars, one with my name written in black ink, the other marked C. Donaldson-Evans Guest. Kodak Theatre, Third Mezzanine, Section: Right, Row: J, Seats 15 and 16.

I saw with surprise that they were $50 each (FOX and I weren’t charged). Rather obviously, they informed the holder that attire was formal and they were valid only Sunday evening. We were probably in the rafters and everyone would look as big as the head of a pin, but I didn’t care. We were in. And my quick-thinking father brought binoculars.

I let out a maniacal, triumphant guffaw once we were out of earshot and heading back down to the garage. I felt dizzyingly euphoric. My dad put the envelope — which also contained a booklet of stern-sounding instructions about tomorrow, including the warning that no cameras or camera phones would be permitted into the theater — safely in a buttoned inside pocket of his jacket.

We snapped some photos with the red-maroon carpet in the background (did I mentioned that the life-size golden Oscars lining it were all sheathed in plastic, poor things?) And then we were off.

“Do you have the tickets?” I kept asking all the way back. Sometimes the reply was “Oh, you mean I wasn’t supposed to sell them?” (You know dads and their jokes). Sometimes there was a sigh and a “Yes, Catherine. They’re in the same place they were the last time you asked.”

When we returned to the hotel, we stashed the precious things away in our room safe. Tomorrow, we will unlock it and take them out. They will get us ringside — OK, nosebleed, but does it matter? — seats to the Biggest Night in Hollywood.

Stay tuned Monday for Catherine's account of her night at the ball!