This is what it’s like to cover the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner red carpet for Elle

You arrive at the hotel in a cab, early because you expect a lot of traffic. There is not as much as you thought there would be. You step out, blinking in the sunlight, feeling strange to be wearing a cocktail dress and false eyelashes at 5:30 in the evening. A gaggle of hopeful stargazers is clustered around the entrance of the hotel clutching cameras and camera phones. They all turn to stare as you walk by, and you hear the whisper ripple through the group like rustling leaves: “Who is that?” Finally they realize you are not anyone of note, and turn their attention back to the hotel entrance. You walk in on a literal red carpet. A crush of photographers and reporters stand to the left of the entrance, microphones dangling, jockeying for lens positions. They, too, stare at you, hoping you are someone you are not. You are with your much more glamorous coworker and her husband, who have actual invitations to the pre-parties; all you have is your business card and an printout of an e-mail from Elle.com’s editor.

You manage to finagle your way onto the list at the ABC party with minimal embarrassment, and you head to the tent. You immediately see Ty Burrell, who is wearing a tux but has not bothered to shave, holding hands with his wife while talking to Aasif Mandvi from The Daily Show. They are standing by a picnic table, at which is seated John Oliver with his wife, who is much more attractive than he is. You decide you are both too shy and not drunk enough to approach any of these celebrities. Your coworker suggests hitting the bar. You get a free glass of white wine and clutch it like you are Tom Hanks in Castaway and it is your ever-loyal only friend Wilson. You drink it way too fast.

As you’re draining your glass, your coworker tells you Tony Goldwyn of Scandal has arrived. You get another drink. Then Kerry Washington comes in. You steel yourself, gulp down the rest of your wine, and head to the entrance. They are mobbed by reporters much more legitimate than you, with photographers and cameramen; you have just your iPhone. You hover awkwardly, until finally you see Tony Goldwyn break away and head into the party. You stop him, say you are a big fan of the show. He shakes your hand and smiles, exposing teeth so white and even you are momentarily distracted. He is incredibly charming and gracious. You ask him a few questions before releasing him, then sigh in relief that the first interview is over. You look at your phone and realize you forgot to hit record.

And it continues. Some celebrities—Charles Esten from Nashville, especially—will be overwhelmingly nice to you. He will smile the TV-worthy smile that crinkles his TV-worthy blue eyes and introduce you to his mother, whom he has brought as his date. He will call himself a “local boy” and talk self-deprecatingly about getting nervous before playing the Grand Ole Opry. You will thank him for the interview and think to yourself that you’re getting the hang of this.

Until you meet the celebrities who are not quite so nice. You will touch Kerry Washington on the arm, timidly, to get her to turn around, and she will fix you with a deathlike look and give you somewhat clipped answers that come out as friendly on paper. You will attempt to approach Eric Stonestreet, whom you assume will be as happy-go-lucky as he is on Modern Family, and he will shut you down completely. You will spot Connie Britton—glorious hair flowing, blue lace dress swishing—and will follow her into the party at a safe distance, as she’s stopped every few seconds by fans and acquaintances, trying to get up the nerve to talk to her. You never will. Other people you do not get up the nerve to talk to: Hayden Panettiere. George Stephanopoulos. Sofia Vergara (though her date will stand behind you on the lawn as he smokes a cigarette, and when you try to make polite conversation, he tells you he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s smoking, then leaves, crushing his half-smoked cigarette into the grass with his heel).

You can’t get into any of the other parties—in fact, you can’t even get down the escalator—so for a few minutes when your coworker and her husband go downstairs, you are sickeningly alone. You go back to the ABC party and stand around, nervously. You are slightly buzzed, nervous. You get up your nerve to talk to Shonda Rhimes, who laughs at you when you ask for spoilers. And then it’s time for the dinner and the celebrities begin to file out of the tent, and it’s like a giant whoosh of air is sucked out of the space, like the world is a balloon deflating, and you’re left among the wilted canapés and dirty glasses, still blinking in the sunlight that somehow now seems a bit less bright than before.

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