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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Did you see me on CNN? I was the guy with the hat.

Once again, this is intended as observational and not political commentary.

I am not one to enjoy large crowds so it is not in my nature to attend an event like Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s first official appearance as running mates. Had it not happened here, where I live, I probably wouldn’t have been all that interested. I’m a pragmatic sort so knowing he selected Biden is all I really need to know before I move on to the more important matters of my personal life, like mowing the lawn. Still, it’s not every day that you get the chance to attend an event like this, let alone have it come to your hometown. So just for you, students of Liberal Studies, I set out to document this event. (That, and my wife really wanted to go so I didn’t really have a choice.)

The event gates opened at noon for the 2 pm speech so, of course, we were in line at a little past 10 am. The line was verrrrrry long – we may have been numbers 2000 and 2001 – but the line proved to be the most enjoyable time. We chatted. We watched as the line grew even longer (it’s always more fun when you’re not at the end.) I even bought an Obama campaign button from a vendor. It depicts Obama flying over a cityscape dressed as Superman with the caption SUPER OBAMA. I wasn’t sure if it was pro-Obama or anti-Obama but it was the most interesting option.

Once the line started moving, it moved quickly. As we moved closer to the gates, we were told dozens of times that we could not bring in water or umbrellas and that we should turn on all electronics. I was actually surprised at how easy it was to pass through security. When I stepped through the metal detectors, I paused and waited. What, no frisking? Don’t you want to at least look at me suspiciously? I deserve a little stink-eye, yes? I’ve had a more difficult time getting into the court house for jury duty.

We were able to get onto the lawn of the Old State Capital. We were about 200 feet stage left of the podium but we were only 15 feet or so away from, what we suspected, would be the entrance point (we were correct.) Above us, on roof-tops, were men in jump-suits surveying the crowd with high powered binoculars. What a high-pressure job: scanning the crowd for potential trouble. Then, they brought out their sniper rifles so I stopped feeling sorry for them and starting giving them a bit of the stink-eye I thought I’d deserved.

We started the two hour wait in 90 degree heat – me, my wife, and 35,000 of our closest friends. As time passed, people started wilting, then out-right sweating, then smelling badly, and then, in a few cases, collapsing. The news reported that 25 people were taken to hospitals and that ambulances had to be called in from surrounding counties. The Red Cross was allowed in and they began passing water to crowd. (A security note: if you attend an event like this, bottled water is not allowed since it presents a throwable object. The Red Cross had to pour bottled water into paper cups, doubling the time it took to bring relief.)

Finally, the candidates took the stage. It was exciting. It was interesting to be present at something that might be remembered . Did I learn anything? Yes.

  • If you are going to stand in the sun for hours, don’t forget sunblock. (I did.)
  • There is no reason to show up early. Simply come at your leisure and push to the front. (I didn’t, but hundreds of others did.)
  • When, after hours of sweating, you discover that you are no longer able to sweat, stop passing the water to others and drink it yourself.
  • It’s kind of fun to say the Pledge of Allegiance with 35,000 people while facing a building-sized old glory.

One final bit of wisdom. As we were listening to Barack Obama’s speech an African American women pushed up next to us. She was too short to see past the crowd. She wanted a picture but was having trouble with her cell phone. I helped her activate the camera on her phone and a remarkably tall man standing near us held it up in the air and snapped the picture. She ended up with a grainy picture in which Barack Obama might have been represented by 3 or 4 pixels but she inspected it and was happy. She turned to her friend and said, “Now we can say we were here and we saw this.”

I would have been just as happy watching local television news coverage, but she was right. Sometimes it is good to be able to say you were there and saw it.

See my photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29848272@N06/


Anonymous said...

WOW...what a huge monumental moment and one worth being present at. It was great that you had the opportunity to be a part of history like that and to bring us liberal studies students along for the ride (so to speak). I wish I could've been there to experience such a historical moment in time, but I'm much further away in distance, so I'll just enjoy your coverage of what happened as well as those wonderful pictures that you took while in attendance.

Thanks for sharing this with us. I'm sure it had to be uncomfortable for you, your wife, and your 35,000 other friends, lol. Yes, it was a scorcher today and I could only imagine what it was like in Springfield surrounded by such an abundance of people in the same place at the same time for the very same purpose. I'm very interested in learning about what occurred during the speech and will be looking it up online shortly. Now, arent' you glad that you were a part of history in the making? I'm sure glad that you were so we can learn from you. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that my brother-in-law was there as well. He is campaigning with Obama and his political party. I know you have no idea who I'm talking about, but I just wanted you to know that my family are huge supporters of Obama and my brother-in-law is actually traveling with his political party and working on his campaign.

Dan B said...

Kudos to you Andy for braving the elements and giving us way outside of town an interesting first-hand report. When I first stepped outside on Saturday, it was already a scorcher, and I immediately abandoned all outside activities.

But as historical fortune would have it, fortunately there was

Dr. John Gorrie (1803-1855), considered the "father" of refrigeration

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), SF author extraoridinaire, who first envisioned the geostationary communications satellite

Because of these two, I was able to sit home in air-conditioning and watch the event live on tv. But I missed in you in your hat :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Andy! I hope you don't mind, but I shared your post with my class (COM 472) as part of our voluntary introductory assignment. You can probably see it (at least for a week while there's open access) listed on my other blog that corresponds with this particular class, if interested. Thanks in advance! :)

Andy Egizi, Program Coordinator said...

Not a problem. If anyone is reading this and is new to blogging, it's probably worth noting that you're not just putting your words out there for us, you're putting them out to the world. You never know who's going to pass along your ideas to someone else. That's part of the fun.

Raisa said...

Thanks for sharing, Andy! I love the photos. My favorite are the two snipers on the roof just hanging out, chatting and hard at work. It seems like you got some pretty close shots!... I bet they are all taller in person. I'm sorry I missed it (and your 15 seconds of fame).

Kristalyn Mowers said...

Your description of the pride of the woman seeing a grainy photograph gave me chills. It is amazing how technology has evolved to give us a permanant record of where we are at any given time. No longer to you have to rely on memories, but you can have a image to help jog that memory. The one disadvantage though, is that people don't protect their photos as we used to protect our good old kodak prints. I see pictures like these and worry that they won't be perserved for postarity. The will sit on digital cards, computers, cell phone, but how many will we actually see in print? Digital information disappears so easily. Thank you for sharing your experience with those of us not brave enough to endure the heat. I also hope you get some of those neat photos printed, so if you need to jog your memory, you can.

suPerg!RL 13 said...

Great story Andy! Very historic...and thanks for the pictures.

I could just imagine the heat and the crowd, but for me, being there would certainly be worth it. I am glad that someone I know was there.