Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Springfield Daily Gazette

7:30 a.m. Leave the house. Buy water, an extra umbrella, fruit and oatmeal bars.

8:00 a.m. Drive to Springfield. Get lost (briefly) — a back road is involved. There is no simple and direct route to Springfield.

10:00 a.m. Arrive in Springfield. An instant parking space in a downtown lot! It's open to the public today, courtesy of Horace Mann Insurance. Why are there easy-to-find spaces? Where are all the people?

10:05 a.m. An answer to the first question never materializes, but the people — many, many people — are already waiting in line, an astonishing line that already wraps around a city block and snakes back and down several other streets. (NPR later reports a crowd of 35,000.)

10:05 a.m.–11:00 a.m. Elaine and I stand in line. We talk with people around us, some from Chicago, some from Springfield. One of our cohort is a blues fan from way back. He and I begin to talk about Canned Heat and the Incident at Kickapoo Creek. The line is getting longer and longer. It moves a little now and then, into and away from shade. Vendors move past selling buttons, shirts, and towels (towels?) with Obama's likeness. None of these items are official campaign merchandise, which is available at a handful of white tents. (Hint: look for the union label.)

11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. Things move more quickly. We round two corners, cross a street, walk another block or so, and present ourselves for security checks. No bottles, umbrellas, or folding chairs. We are glad that we left our umbrellas in the car. We sip a little water before surrendering our bottles. Everything comes out of pockets for inspection. My compact Zebra pen arouses some interest. "It's a pen," I say, and demonstrate by uncapping it. It's okay.

[Things abandoned on the way to the security check. Why an Altoids tin? Click for a larger view, though doing so won't answer the question.]
12:00 p.m.–1:40 p.m. Waiting outside the Old State Capitol, in the street beyond the Capitol grounds. We talk to people around us, with pauses to endure the sun now and then. National Guardsman on rooftops watch the crowd through binoculars. A woman from St. Louis wonders whether Bruce Springsteen will be a surprise guest (he's playing in St. Louis tonight). We decide that his presence would add too great an entertainment element and undercut Joe Biden. A student who worked for Biden during the primaries is especially happy to be here. Elaine and I talk at length with a lovely couple from Bogotá, Colombia. They came to Springfield in the 1950s, planning to stay for a year, and never left. They offer remarkable stories about the city's history, its better days and worse.

The well-mannered crowd insists on manners. There are several outbreaks of polite chanting to get a news cameraman and several civilians to step down from the fence surrounding the Capitol grounds. These anti-social climbers are obscuring what would otherwise be splendid views of the podium. "PLEASE MOVE THE CAMERA!" And the cameraman moves on! "DOWN FROM THE FENCE — PLEASE!" This chant doesn't work so well. One guy remains on the fence for the entire time. I think his name must be Dick. Yes, he is a Dick.

It's hot, with occasional overcast skies and blessed breezes, and no sign of rain. "Is that rain? Oh — I think my body is making its own rain."

Behind us, a choreographed outburst for Candy Crowley of CNN, spotted on the press risers: "WE LOVE YOU, CANDY!" It occurs to me that I have never seen Candy Crowley in profile before this afternoon.

1:40 p.m. The event begins. The father of a serviceman killed in Iraq leads the Pledge of Allegiance. Springfield's mayor, two campaign volunteers, a minister speak. The minister's invocation reads like a lengthy to-do list for God. (Why not?)

2:00 p.m. Illinois' senior senator, Dick Durbin, introduces Barack Obama, right on schedule (I think). Obama speaks and introduces Joe Biden. Biden speaks and introduces Michelle Obama and Jill Biden. The crowd is fired up and ready to go, applauding and roaring, and cheerfully booing every reference to the worst president in history and his policies.

Not far in front of us, a young woman becomes unsteady while Joe Biden is speaking, and those around her help her sit down in the street. The call goes out in all directions for water. A bottle is passed back; a cup is passed forward. She drinks from the bottle; someone suggests pouring water on her feet; she's soon able to stand. There's a quiet round of applause.

It's odd: watching such an event on television, it's so easy to concentrate on what's being said. The speakers are in your face, so to speak. In person, it's different: there's more to pay attention to. It's like the difference between listening to a recording and attending a concert. Make that a concert at which you can only rarely see the musicians performing. So I'm looking forward to watching some of the endless replays of this afternoon's speeches on cable news. But I'm very happy to have come, and to be able to say that I was here.

[The people, yes. Click for a larger view.]
When the speeches were over (circa 3:00 p.m., I think) and the Obamas and Bidens began to greet people close to the speaking platform, Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" came over the loudspeakers. Then some sort of rock and roll, and then the song I'd been waiting for, Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher." And then it was okay to leave.

[Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe and Jill Biden wave to the crowd. Click for a larger view.]
A related post
Great News from Springfield (from Elaine's blog)

comments: 4

Elaine Fine said...

The Altoids can was probably empty, and certainly made of metal!

Michael Leddy said...

Empty — I didn't think of that! The heat melted my brain.

Gennie Netz said...

It is interesting to see news personalities at such events. We saw Bryant Gumbel in a news booth on stilts at the German Reunification Day in Berlin. He was kicked back in his chair, just watching the crowds. My husband called "Hi, Bryant!" and BG leaned forward in his chair, looked over the edge and asked, "What are you guys doing here?" Always on the lookout for a story, I guess.

Michael Leddy said...

I wonder: could he have thought that he'd perhaps met you before? I've read that politicians are always careful to say "Good to see you" (not "Nice to meet you"), just in case they've met you before. BG's greeting reminds me of that.