At nine o’clock this morning I approached my boss with a question disguised as a statement: “I’ll understand if the answer is no, but I’d really like to go to the Obama thing this morning.” I said it with a pinch of man-pout and a hint of pleading in my tone… because I have no shame. I stayed until ten, tying up some loose ends, then took off for home. I grabbed the old camera, threw on a pair of shorts, stuffed in a few snack bars and a package of peanut butter crackers for good luck, and headed out for something I hope will be a little piece of history.
Barack Obama was in Dunedin today, filling the stands at Knology Park. The speech wasn’t anything special. If you’ve been watching the news you’ve probably already heard most of it (if not all) before. But I wasn’t there just to hear a speech. The shy guy wanted to try his hand playing against type. He wanted to participate in a rally.
I parked a couple miles up the street, at the former headquarters of AC Neilsen (it’s been vacant since they left ten years ago). Standing in line for the shuttle bus to the stadium, I got to talking with a Canadian citizen living in the U.S. She couldn’t even vote, but here she was, getting set to wait for hours… just to hear Obama speak. It was one of several pleasant surprises… and it kept with a trend in my life. I’ve yet to meet a Canadian I didn’t like. It’s kinda weird that we were heading to the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays. That probably means something, I just have to figure out what it is. The bus dropped us off in front of the stadium, which would have been perfect if there was no line. The line stretched a mile or two… back the way we came. You might think I’d be discouraged at this point, but it was quite the opposite. I thought it was great. I was surrounded by thousands of like minded, enthusiastic liberals. It was like having ten thousand friends, all in the same place, and we all had the same birthday – today. It was fantastic. We got the chance to see almost every one of them, making our way to the end of a VERY long line. If you know me, you probably know I’m a quiet guy. I brought my Palm along thinking I’d have a lot of time to do some reading. I didn’t touch it. I didn’t even think about it.
Three quarters of the way back to the end a back-hoe stopped next to us. My new Canadian friend called out to the driver, “Hey, are you going this way? Can I get a ride?” He was, and she did.
“Hey John, I’ll save you a place… and hey, could you take a picture?!?”
It takes forever for my old camera to turn on.
I spent more than two hours in line. If that sounds like a lot, it wasn’t. The conversation with the folks in line around me was smart, interesting, and constant. We talked blogging, economics, photography and Canadian politics… among other things. Forty-five minutes into our wait we caught sight of the stadium filling up – way off in the distance. When we were just getting off the bus we had a run-in with a VIP who took a little too much pleasure telling us the short line wasn’t our line. Seeing the stadium fill up I said to our group, “you know, those folks at the front of the line will feel awfully silly when they find out they’re filling up the stadium starting in back and working their way forward.” I admit it was wishful thinking, but I was in for a bit of a surprise.
The overflow was standing room only – on the field around the podium. We weren’t more than forty feet away.
It was indescribable. Well, not for sheltered little me anyway. I was on the phone with Cheryl, gloating a little, and she had a video feed on her PC trying to pick me out. My new Canadian friend was yelling, “tell your friend you’re standing next to the blonde.” I’m laughing, “um, this is my wife.” “Oh, well I’m married too so she doesn’t have anything to worry about.”
Cheryl found that a little too funny. A guy could develop a complex.
Anyhoo, it’s hours later and I’m still a little blown away by it all. No, I didn’t go because I think Obama is some kind of later-day Jesus in shirt-sleeves. I know there’s more to picking a candidate than listening to rousing speeches. But I’ve also already made up my mind. I’ve been worrying about this election for months and I needed a little excitement. That’s what rallies are for, and I got what I needed. Some folks scoff at Obama’s “celebrity,” but I’ll tell you what… if you don’t see how someone can get excited by a candidate who shares your views, can speak about issues intelligently and eloquently, and has a real shot at winning, maybe there’s something wrong with your candiate. Where’s the harm in inspiring others into public service? What sin is committed believing government is more than just a mechanism to separate people from income? How dare he inspire others to care for those less fortunate.
One of the folks I met in line bought me an Obama towel and a pin (I only brought enough money to pick up some water on the way). When I said they didn’t have to do that, they responded, “I can’t let you go to something like this and not have something to bring home and remember it.” This was a perfect stranger, and it typified the day.
Now lets go out there and win this election. The bandwagon looked pretty full this afternoon, but there’s always room for more.
**Update: my new Canadian friend (who wanted to wait around for the bus rather than walk back) sends me this picture, telling me about a hand shake I missed.
Well, so much for being perfect ;-)