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/