Barack the Vote, or morning in Springfield…
Last Friday night, I decided to take a road trip. You see, earlier in the week, I received an email saying that Barack Obama was going to make an announcement in Springfield, IL. The event was open to the public and those who would like to attend should make a reservation.
Everyone and their grandmother knew that Mr. Obama was going to make his announcement. This was something I didn’t want to miss. I sent an email to my local peeps to see who might be interested. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm was dimmed by the notion of driving down to Springfield (3.5 hours away), for an announcement that was to take place at 9 AM. Not to mention the fact that it was going to be held on the steps of the Old Capitol building. Outdoors. At 9 AM. In February. With a temperature of 3 degrees. Fahrenheit. I can’t say that I blame them. Not everyone has the glow of the political process at work to keep them all warm and toasty.I made a reservation anyway, hoping against hope that one of my not so patriotic friends would have a change of soul. Evidently, I was mistaken. Unwilling to make the drive alone, I contacted several organizations here in Chicago. Wouldn’t you know it? Email after email said that there was not enough interest. Try that org. Can’t get a full bus, try this senator.
So, that idea went out the window. I went on with my days, still toying with the idea of making the drive. Then at a poker game on Friday night, somewhere between going all in and waiting for the next hour and a half for the better poker players to finish out the tournament, I thought “What the heck?”
I went home and did a bit of research on Springfield. I figured that if I was going to make the drive down there, I might as well get my day’s worth. I copied down the directions, set all of my “This American Life” podcasts to unplayed, updated my iPod, and was fast off to bed. I was up three short hours later for my drive.
Somewhere between sun up and d’Artagnan telling me that it was -7 degrees did I realize that I probably should have packed a hat. Or at least some coffee. Morning is not my brightest moment of the day, and who cares. I was on my way to witness history. By the time I reached Springfield, it was 8:30 and all was well. There was a free parking lot set up at a municipal building, and no problems in sight.
I reached the gate and waited on line. There were was a pretty long queue to get through security. Even in the early morning daze, we could make the undercover cops and the sharpshooters. No harm, no foul. While on line, there were volunteers offering Obama stickers, free donuts, coffee, and hand-warmers. You know, the kind that you get when skiing. Can I tell you how much I love Barack Obama?! Everyone there was giggling, excited, and mucho chatty. Apparently, waking up early, getting thrust into a sun warmed 1 degree morning, entering a high security area, and given free caffeine and sugar makes folks giddy. Heck, I was no exception.
We get through the bag check and relinquished all of our beverages to a very apologetic staff. They said something about “No projectiles.” Okay. 
Then there is a volunteer saying, “All those with yellow tickets, on the line behind me. All those with red, to the center gate.” Wait a minute. TICKETS?! Nowhere in the confirmation email did it say anything about tickets. And this was the confirmation email sent out by barackobama.com. Now, I am a little confused. Three hours of sleep, a drive just as long, and a cold, cold day and I am useless. Couple that with my beverages being taken away, and I am completely at a loss. I go up to a hapless volunteer and say “I am not sure what the tickets are that everyone is talking about, but I was sent an email saying that I was putting my name on a reservations list.” Her response, “I have no idea what you are talking about. If you don’t have a ticket, you can’t go in.” Um…
Obviously, that young woman had no idea what she was talking about. Off to the center gate I go. Perhaps another person there could help me:
Volunteer: I don’t know what you are talking about, but you are the second person to tell me that. Wait in the “no tickets” line.
Me: You mean the one that is stretching down the block and around the corner?
V: Yeah. That one.
Me: I don’t think so missy. I was told that I was to be put on a reservations list.
V: Do you have the confirmation?
Me: Um. no. (reason number 428 to get a printer) But I shouldn’t need one! I drove a very long way, and now you are telling me that I can’t get in?
V: Sorry. Why don’t you talk with my boss?
[Enter large butchy woman with angry look on her face.]
Me: I was just telling this woman that I was put on some reservations list. If you could just point me in the right direction, I am sure we can get this straightened out.
Butch: Look, I do know what you are talking about, but we messed up. All of the tickets have been distributed. Sorry about that. You really should wait on line before it gets any longer.
[Connie feels sad, dejected, and a little dumb]
Butch: [beat] Wait. Don’t tell anyone. Go in. If anyone asks, you are a VIP.
Well. HOT DAMN!
In I go without a care in the world. Everyone is bubbling with enthusiasm, and a bit high from the cold weather. I met a number of awesome folks who were crazy excited to be there. It really was wonderful. Music was blaring, strangers were joking, and people were sharing accessories with one idiot who did not come dressed in arctic appropriate gear. By the time the main event takes the stage, everyone was insane with excitement. At this moment, a dude takes advantage of the requisite crowd press to stand directly in front of me. My enthusiasm dims slightly, albeit briefly.
Now I understand that tall people have every right to be there, just as much as we short people do, but really. As soon as Mr. Obama took the stage, he decided that he wanted to be right in front of the girl who was 5’1″. He is literally head and shoulders above most of the crowd. Then he decided that he wanted to put his kid up on his shoulders. To be honest, there was so much delightfully wasp-ish passive aggressive sotto voce grumbling going on, I couldn’t be too upset. A nice woman said that I could stand by her.
The morning began with a woman singing a beautiful rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Apparently she had been singing one too many times at sporting events. At the “O’er the land of the free” line, she paused. She was expecting the usual cacophony that usually breaks out, but instead, there was a solemn silence. In response to the silence, she giggled as did everyone else. You better believe that she got one heck of an ovation when she finished.
Following a local gospel choir, Illinois Senior Senator Dick Durbin came up to say a few words. Thankfully, he comes from the school of “give the people what they want and don’t start stumping.” He was brief and to the point. Definitely the kind of Senator that no nonsense Illinoisans love. He introduced Mr. Obama to U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” blaring. For those of you that missed it, you can catch it here.
There were chills that had absolutely nothing to do with the weather.
Barack began, “Let me begin by saying thanks to all you who’ve traveled, from far and wide, to brave the cold today. We all made this journey for a reason. It’s humbling, but in my heart I know you didn’t come here just for me.” If you listen very carefully, you can here me yell “Yeah we did!” Part of history, baby!
In all seriousness, it was absolutely amazing to be there. I can’t say enough things to reflect my awe of this man, but suffice it to say, I honestly felt that I was witnessing the first steps of the next president. Oh darn. Is my enthusiasm showing? Well great! I haven’t felt this kind of wide-eyed enthusiasm for the future of politics since my misguided foray into the world of Nader back in 1996. And now, 10 years later, a wiser and cynical Connie can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Audacity of Hope? Well, watch out world, because it is contagious.
After Barack’s speech, nobody was ready to go. There was a buzz in the air, and everyone was kind of hoping for a spontaneous rally. Maybe a pep talk from one of the many politicos on hand. Perhaps a word about Baracking the Vote from Clooney. Anything. Instead, that was it. Music was blaring, and people were dancing in the shadow of the Old Capitol.
The mikes were off, and nobody was up on the stage. Then, there was a bit of cheering. Dick Durbin came down to shake a few hands and hightail it to somewhere warm. A few more folks made there way through the crowd to sprinkled cheers. Not to be outdone, Governor Rod Blagojevich followed suit. In a moment that was at once brilliant and completely Springfield, somebody said, “They sent out Rod. They must really want us to go home.” Following that statement, everyone turned around and exited in an orderly fashion.
And that, my friends, was my morning in Springfield. The afternoon, well that is another story.
 – Unlike the rest of us, the press corp was allowed to bring beverages into the event. Following the event, the entire press ghetto was a mess. There was garbage everywhere. Seriously, the place looked like the morning after Taste of Chicago. Vast right wing conspiracy, or just a bunch of slobs?