Sunday, February 15, 2009

History in the Making, Part I

This post is a long time in coming. I have been waiting to write this when I had ample time to record one of the most historic moments of my life, America and even the world. Of course, that time has never come. So while this post won't be the immediate reaction-type post I would like, it'll have to do. In the scheme of things, a recollection from a few months later is better than no recollection at all. Here we go.

Andrea was the one who told us to sign up for the tickets. Die-hard Obama canvasser as she was (let’s be honest, she didn’t talk about anything else before, or after for that matter, the election), she was one of the first to get the email that tickets would be available. Within seconds an unread e-mail appeared in my inbox. I have devoured few emails as I did this one:

Ashley --
Thank you for signing up to receive a ticket for the Election Night event at Hutchinson Field in Grant Park, Chicago.
Your ticket will be emailed to you on Monday, November 3rd, between 6:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Each ticket is personalized for the ticket holder and is non-transferable.
You must print your ticket and bring it with you to the event. Each ticket is valid for you and one guest.
The Democratic Party

The Democratic Party had decided to hold a rally in Grant Park the evening of Election night to celebrate the probable election of Barack Obama to the Presidency – and I was going. Tickets sold out within two hours. Stragglers in our group found themselves in the black hole we like to call a waiting-list, and clamoring to be someone’s guest.

The next day tickets were selling on E-bay for hundreds of dollars. I don’t think anyone got off that waiting list.

In the days leading up to the election the Tribune predicted over a million attendees to the Grant Park rally. Native Chicagoans constantly recalled that infamous Bulls victory in the ‘90s. “People were flipping cars, lighting stuff on fire – someone died!”

Considering the heavy racial implications of the first black candidacy, I began to question the judgment of attending a free, public, millions-in-attendance event in the heart of Obama-land itself. What if he didn’t win? If people reacted that way when the Bulls won, what would it be like when the supposed savior of our nation was not elected? We decided that if, on election day, it seemed like he wasn’t going to win, we weren’t going. My parents were extremely pleased with that decision.

Come Election Day, there was no question in our minds exactly who was going to win. I don’t know if that’s because were living smack-dab in the middle of Obama-nation, or if that’s because the Tribune focused solely on Chicago’s own first black candidate, or if that was apparent to all Americans Democrat or no. In any case, there was nothing that would keep us from that rally.

Except, of course, that we had class. The week before we had asked Dr. Bacote if we could move class earlier in the day so we could make it downtown in time for the rally. The rally started at 8:30, an hour to get downtown, an hour to get ahead in line…6:00 should do it.

That morning the Tribune reported people waiting in line outside Grant Park since 5:00 AM. FIVE. AM. The line grew steadily throughout the day. If we left at six, even though we had tickets, we were never going to make it. Watching Emily call Dr. Bacote and asking him to cancel class was one of the most awful things I’ve ever done. In a few minutes, he called us back, and agreed. Maybe he realized no one would have shown up if he had actually refused. Either way, it was a very gracious act, and I am forever grateful. There’s no way I would have missed out on this rally and had to tell my children, “Yes, I was in Chicago, and had a ticket, but I went to class instead.” We were going.

At 4 p.m. fifteen of us were standing on the platform, Starbucks and ticket in hand. We hadn’t eaten dinner, hoping to eat once we got down there and had secured a spot in line. That L ride from Lawrence to State/Lake was one of the most apprehensive hours of my life. I was about to see history made. I hoped. (What if he didn’t win? No, he will. He will. Otherwise, Lord help us in the mob.)

We arrived at Grant Park and saw no line. They had already let ticket holders through the first checkpoint. It was 4:45 – the rally wasn’t due to start for another 4 hours! People swarmed at the gates, asking for extra tickets. “I flew here from California!” “I’m from Florida!” “I flew all the way here from Germany! I love Obama!” Rayna, in fact, had an extra ticket, and so for the rest of the night we had a stranger as the sixteenth member of our party. Of course, by the end of the night, no one was a stranger.

It was good we arrived when we did because we were among the first 200 people at the Park. My buddy Ashley Hepburn and I passed through two more security checkpoints. Suddenly we were at the gates, breathless with excitement, so pumped…to wait.

And wait.

We played countless games of spit. Dinner was no longer an option. Neither was peeing – once you were in, that was it. Damn that grande coffee.

I’m not sure what time it was, but eventually they opened the gates. Honestly it was difficult to maintain dignity as we “walked” through the queue to the security checkpoint and walked through the metal detectors. Grown men and women were literally running through down the pavement in order to secure prime Obama-viewing spots in the park. Finally we were all on the field. We staked our ground about 200 yards from the podium with an enviable view of the jumbo-tron. Now it was 8:00. The results weren’t even due in for another hour. I was starving, thirsty, and tired of standing, not to mention dying to pee.

1 comment:

Victoria said...

I am glad this is part one because I was like WHAT she can't leave it off like that. Will she ever get to pee? haha...

best line:

"Of course, by the end of the night, no one was a stranger."