MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Now to the hottest ticket in Washington, D.C. There are huge wait lists for the presidential inauguration and even a last-minute contest for tickets. It's as if Willy Wonka were coming to town.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY")
U: And now details on the sudden announcement that has captured the attention of the entire world. Hidden among the countless billions of Wonka bars are five gold tickets. And to the five people who find them will come the most fabulous prize one could wish for.
BLOCK: If only inauguration tickets came in chocolate bars. Tamara Keith reports on the frenzy for tickets.
TAMARA KEITH: Ken Oplinger is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in Bellingham, Washington. He's the kind of guy who can call his congressman and actually get him on the phone.
BLOCK: So, I called Congressmen Rick Larsen from the 2nd District in Washington, where we live.
KEITH: And Oplinger was told when it comes to inaugural tickets, there would be no special treatment. Congressman Larsen was having a drawing. And everyone who put their name in would have an equal chance. So Oplinger says it was a pleasant surprise when he got a call in mid-December from the congressman's chief of staff.
BLOCK: I was very excited when she told me. And of course, the first thing I did was to call my wife and tell her, but I think the second thing was to jump on Facebook and change my status so everyone knew I was going.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KEITH: San Francisco-based writer Chris Colin says that as soon as Barack Obama won the election, he started researching tickets to the inaugural and put in a call to his congresswoman, who happens to be the speaker of the House.
BLOCK: 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.
KEITH: Colin says he plays the lottery, and the odds aren't great with that, either. So when he got an email from Congresswoman Pelosi's office telling him where to pick up the tickets, Colin says he felt like he had won big, even if the prize is just a chance to stand outside in the middle of winter in Washington, D.C.
BLOCK: We've heard there's going to be like a gazillion people, and it's going to be one degree out, and we're going to have to walk seven miles to get there. But that's OK. We're very excited.
KEITH: And he should be excited. One Maryland congressman got more than 4,000 requests for tickets, and he only had 198 to distribute. Oh, and his own ticket was included in the 198. Now, the Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced a last-chance opportunity for folks who haven't been able to score tickets. It's an essay contest called "Your Ticket to History." Chief spokesperson Linda Douglass says 10 lucky winners will be chosen, and they'll each be able to bring a guest.
BLOCK: 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.
KEITH: Cue the music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "I'VE GOT A GOLDEN TICKET")
BLOCK: (As Grandpa Joe) (Singing) 'Cause I've got a golden ticket...
KEITH: It isn't a lifetime of free chocolate. But Douglass says for many, getting a chance to attend the inaugural is golden.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "I'VE GOT A GOLDEN TICKET")
BLOCK: (As Grandpa Joe and Charlie Bucket) (Singing) And with a golden ticket, it's a golden day.
BLOCK: People are actually describing them as golden tickets. There is such a great sense of excitement about this. And it is optimistic. It is hopeful. It is exciting. And that's why people want to be here.
KEITH: Douglass says the essays have been pouring in, like this one from a teacher.
BLOCK: (Reading) The election of Barack Obama has reaffirmed my faith in this country. This inauguration, more than any other in history, is history, and it's something I want to bring my students.
KEITH: 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 January 16th. And for all those who don't get their hands on a golden ticket, there's always the National Mall. It will be free and open on Inauguration Day, and the swearing-in will be broadcast on JumboTrons. For NPR News, I'm Tamara Keith.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "GOLDEN TICKET/I WANT IT NOW")
BLOCK: (Singing) For me. 'Cause I've got a golden ticket, I've got a golden twinkle in my eye, Now, I never had a chance to shine, Never a happy song to sing, But suddenly half the world is mine, What an amazing thing.