There were a lot of rumors flying around Friday before the Obama announcement. The official word – the only official word – was that tickets were not needed for entry to the free event. There was some buzz about free ‘souvenir’ tickets being given out by ‘some groups.’
In the afternoon, my sidekick at work, JP, was on the phone to a friend or two and to her mother, and there were rumors and rumbles that there was some kind of VIP section or “A-level” ticketing. Later she gleaned that a friend of hers was working on getting said tickets just in case and she would try to get me an extra one and would leave me a message about it that night (while I was at gig with J). She did – her message was that tickets were in fact necessary so *whew* she’d gotten some.
The next morning I got up about the usual time I’d go to work and got out of the house a bit before 8:00. I figured I’d park in a nearby garage if I could, and if it was full, I could drive four blocks or so more and park in the lot at work and walk. Although a lot of streets were closed, oddly there was a lot of space left in the $3 garage. I had jeans, two long-sleeved tee shirts, one short-sleeved tee shirt, and a sweater, along with a scarf, my leather coat with liner, earmuffs, and two pairs of gloves. And those hand warmer packet things – one (uncomfortably) in each shoe, one in each glove, and the rest in my jean pockets (one nestled alongside my camera). I started walking the two blocks; first I came to the street that was closed to auto traffic, but then the next block was closed to foot traffic as well (except credentialed media, I think).
Street full of satellite trucks and such:
Anyway, I did walk around the block to find the end of the line, and … I thought the line would be long, but dude. It was like down the block, around the corner, to the end of that block, around the corner again, and on to a point a block or two north of the starting point. HOLY CRAP.
I called JP to try to hook up, and she and her friend A. (who I quite liked, and who reminded me of another friend) were two or three blocks away and just getting there on foot. Meanwhile I was overhearing confused murmuring about tickets, this is the yellow and red ticket line, that’s the white ticket and no ticket line, and JP said she had red, which was the end of the line I had found. Yes, there were about three of those lines. Holy crap. I walked JP to where I was (“I’m at the corner of fifth and adams, I’m at the, I’m between the library and museum!” “Which side of the street?” “I’m at the southeast corner … wait, there’s a cop car in the middle of the street, I’m just gonna go stand by that!” “We see the cop car!” “I’m waving my earmuffs!” “We’re in the bank parking lot!” Etc. etc.!). I met her friend and they gave me a ticket and we got in line behind an older woman who’d brought rather a lot of homemade stuff.
She was very nice. We’d heard that you couldn’t bring signs in, which turned out to be true – they had a bunch of signs they passed out later, for uniformity, I suppose. It certainly wasn’t for safety; more about that later!
Although the gates weren’t supposed to open for like 45 minutes, the line was moving the entire time – I think because it was so long, there was just that much scrunching together to do. Sen. Durbin’s office had free donuts and coffee at certain points, but I didn’t want to have to pee!! That’s for sure. The hot pads in my shoes didn’t work very well. They’re supposed to be air-activated, and if they stop working you’re supposed to take them out and give them a shake, so that was really the problem. Plus they got compressed from being walked on, of course. The ones in my hands very probably saved my life, and I could cradle my camera and keep it from freezing too. Jesus freaking H. Christ on a pogo stick, was it cold.
We shuffled and shuffled and shuffled, people streaming past us toward the end of the line the whole time, people hawking buttons, and media, media, media. Cameras walking up and down the lines, people taking photos, print media trying to get their frozen pens to work, many of them gravitating to the woman in front of us. Hundreds of press people, all getting the person-on-the-street, what is it about obama, why are you out on such a cold day, etc. You know when you see a live news report and there are people walking past in the background? We walked past TEN THOUSAND interviews. I’ve never seen anything like it. This might sound pretty lame to those of you from bigger cities – which I think is all of you – but I’m a farm kid who went to a small college and lives in a small town where nothing ever happens, yo. This was huge. Huge to me and to this town.
When we got close to the gates at last, there were long tables set up where we were supposed to leave our coffee. And signs, large bags, etc. There were a lot of coffee cups left there, but lots of people just ignored the directives. You were supposed to have bags searched, too, but people just kind of held up their empty bags in the direction of the staffers, who peeked and nodded. No patdowns. I’m not a big fan of being patted down, but seriously, as bundled up as we were, I seriously could have taken in a machine gun or a machete. It was really kind of worrisome. There was security of the “don’t rush the stage” variety, and the “FBI on the roof” variety
… but not so much the “don’t bring in a pistol” variety.
Turns out the grounds were divided into standing sections, color-coded by tickets. Ours really were like the second-best section. Looks like the official word was correct in that tickets were not needed for entry, but if you didn’t have a ticket, I’m pretty sure you’d be on the opposite side of the building (that is, the building between you and the podium), and there weren’t any video screens up, either.
We were, from the podium, straight away from the speaker’s left hand, and halfway back, if that makes any sense.
I was surprised to see that the podium was in the middle of the grounds instead of on the steps, but I suppose more people could see him that way.
We stood around and froze for a while. Here are some of us.
There was a ‘fluffer’ tossing hats and things out into the crowd and warming us up beforehand. A church choir sang a song or two. “America the beautiful,” I think. Then there was a very long pause of like twenty minutes before Debbie Ross, a well-known local singer, did the national anthem. It was really nice; I always think of her as kind of an oversinger in the Hazel Miller mode, but she did a very pretty rendition, and everyone hushed right up (unlike for the church choir). Then another long pause, more fluffing and hats being thrown out (good distance on some of them, but nowhere near me!) There was music, and they handed out piles of signs from the front of the crowd to take one and pass them back.
Finally our state’s senior senator Dick Durbin came out to introduce Obama. I’m a big huge fan of Durbin; he’s teriffic.
He kept it surprisingly short. I think the activities were less, and less continuous, just because of the cold. Then he introduced Obama, and “City of Blinding Lights” started up. (I hope he makes that his campaign song!) We couldn’t see very well, and we didn’t see him at first; he, well, he kind of did a Bono and came from the side of the building rather than down the steps. OOH! WE SEE HIM! He did a lot of smiling and waving and some hand shaking and went to the podium. Even though there’d been staff fluffers, the cheering and chanting during the speech were spontaneous. O! Bam! A! from the far side of the yard until he laughed at us. Then he speechified, and if you’re interested, you’ve probably seen and/or heard the speech itself already. We couldn’t really see all the time, but once in a while we could get a glimpse.
We cheered at the appropriate places. The sound system could’ve been a little louder. Every time we cheered, we missed the next few words or half sentence. Couldn’t be helped. We were all holding our cameras over our heads, and people agreeing and amending and nodding and hell yeah and WOO WOO WOO WOO. It was only about a 20-minute speech, very considerate in the cold. He sounded just a little hoarse. What I liked was hearing him find his rhythm, like at the convention, and getting into his tempo and everything. He really gives good speech.
Afterward he waded down into the crowd to shake hands and press the flesh for quite a while. We craned, trying to decide whether he’d gone. When he’d gone closer to the building, we squeezed through a barricade into the main section from our secondary section. He wasn’t there anymore, but you know. I saw that his kids had come out onto the steps of the old capitol and were waiting for him there for the family goodbye wave stuff.
They were cute, all bundled up, the little one looking like her gloves were far too large, the big one helping fix her hat. Obama went and stood with them and waved for a while, then went toward the building (ducking behind those pillars out of sight), to fetch his wife, Michelle, and they all posed and waved to the crowd for a minute.
It was funny because “I Got You” was playing and it was kind of a James Brown moment, he’s gone, no, he’s coming back.
Then we started to shuffle out. The grounds are enclosed by an iron fence, with just a few gates. I’m so glad nothing happened. Seriously, it took twenty minutes to get out of the gates, and if there’d been a scare, or a health emergency, or someone had burst into flames, we could have all been killed. It was kind of a clusterfuck in many ways, from the security going in to the disorderly departure.
At one point I glanced over and saw that the governor was out shaking hands and talking to people, but there weren’t many people looking; nearly nobody even noticed. Who’s the governor next to His Obamaness? (That’s Gov. Rod Blagojevich on the right, walking away.)
There were anti-abortion protestors on a side street, the “bloody fetus sign waving” type, and one could just hear them chanting during the speech, but when I watched it on TV you couldn’t hear them on the broadcast; they weren’t much of a distraction.
My favorite sign was one that said “Lemmings for Obama.” I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a supporter.
I staggered back to my car and called J and came home. He turned on the electric blanket so the bed was warm when I got there. We usually sleep with the blanket set on one or two if it’s really cold, but on 5, I still couldn’t get warm. Finally J turned it up to like 8 and I took a nap and got my equilibrium back. Toward the end, my face had been so painful, I was worried about frostbite. I held a hand with the hot pack in the glove over my face. Later I was pooped, from shivering and from being so tensed up against the cold; I felt like I’d been mountain climbing!
It was really a fun, awesome event. I’m glad I went. I hear a lot of people say they’ve never felt this way about a candidate before. I felt very similar about Clinton, who motivated me to become a voter. The campaign’s just begun, and I also very much like John Edwards, not to mention Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, but Obama, he’s something very special.
I realize belatedly that my pictures made the crowd look more overwhelmingly white than it was. I think I just happened to be standing in a section that was pretty white, but the crowd generally was a mix – race, age, gender.
Thanks for reading all this.