Tickets to Obama Inauguration Create Stir on Capitol Hill

It's an understatement to say that next week's presidential inauguration is the hottest ticket in town.

But they briefly may have been the most insecure tickets in town on Tuesday as lawmakers dispatched Congressional aides and interns to pick up the coveted ducats in a non-descript, newly-minted room of the underground Capitol Visitor's Center to tote them back to their offices.

One of the aides suggested that the inauguration tickets are like crack cocaine. And the demand has been so great, the tickets could potentially carry a similar street value.

Congressional staff routinely usher documents and letters from one office to another on opposite sides of the Capitol. But many viewed this assignment with trepidation.

"I think I need Secret Service protection, confided one aide as she was about to trek over to the ticket distribution point and courier her tickets to the Cannon House Office Building.

Another aide mentioned that "knowing martial arts" would come in handy in case she needed to fend off any potential ticket thieves in the underground Congressional tunnels.

"They trust me to be my own body guard, I guess," she added.

Perhaps to intimate would-be ticket-rustlers, Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., sent a towering 6-foot-3-inch aide to collect tickets for his office.

Capitol workers wheeled up mobile palettes stacked with dozens of boxes containing the tickets into a hallway outside the pick-up room. And then left the boxes sitting unattended while they went to bring out another stash of tickets.

"I have never had such an urge to just steal," admitted one journalist after seeing the boxes. "Just create a diversion and take off running. Pull the fire alarm."

The Joint Inaugural Committee alphabetically assigned times for representatives from each House office to arrive at the pick-up room and get the tickets allotted to every lawmaker. House members scored 198 tickets. Senate offices receive 393 tickets.

Congressional aides made their way in pairs from the House office buildings and into the bowels of the Visitor's Center to claim the tickets. Each staffer brought along a letter signed by the Member of Congress authorizing them as their representatives to collect the tickets. Joint Inaugural Committee employees then checked the letters against the staff ID badges of the aides to confirm they were who they said they were.

Inaugural Committee staff then plucked boxes of tickets from a stack against the wall and forked them over to the House aides. The aides then loaded the boxes onto hand trucks and whisked them back to their offices.

Each office received two boxes. One contained the ticket allotment. The other included maps, programs and official pictures of President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden.

There are five types of tickets, each color-coded depending on the entrance and how close guests can be to the stage: blue, yellow, orange, purple and silver. Most of the tickets are rectangular, just a couple inches high and about six inches across. But ironically, the biggest tickets (silver) are for spots the furthest away from the Capitol and are designated as standing room only. Those tickets are three-times the size of the others.

"I guess they have to do something for the people in the back to make them feel special," one aide said.

People deluged Capitol Hill with calls for inauguration tickets almost as soon as Mr. Obama won the election. Some offices set up a lottery to draw for tickets. Other offices handed out tickets on a first-come, first-served basis. In the spirit of bipartisanship, one Republican office gave out all of its tickets to Democrats. And another GOP House member made sure the Democratic opponent he defeated in the fall received tickets as well.

Some House offices began distributing the tickets almost immediately Monday. Others wouldn't allow hand out tickets until Friday or even next Monday.

"These are the most desired things in Washington," said one aide as fellow staffers began sorting through the tickets like kids rifling through presents on Christmas morning.

"Do you want to watch us as we go to the steps and try to sell them?" he joked.

Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He's won an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.