Dad, for reasons comprehensible only to himself, had purchased two tickets to a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, featuring an appearance by President Obama, to which he had no intention of going, despite the fact that it was to be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, which is next to his office building. Instead, he gave the tickets to me, and left me with the task of finding a guest. I decided to invite my coworker, Irene, a self-described "Obama junkie."
The event was supposed to start at 5:00, but Dad had warned me that we needed to get there early if we wanted to secure a decent vantage point, as it was sure to be crowded. We left the museum at 4:30, and when we arrived at 4:45, the security line had stacked up throughout the underground Pedway system for an immense distance. We ended up standing in line for nearly an hour, before making it up to the Secret Service checkpoint, where they confiscated our umbrellas, tossing them in a pile behind the check-in table for "safe"-keeping. (Thankfully, my umbrella is brown with turquoise and orange raindrops printed on it, so it was easier to find in the pile in the end of the night. I was incredulous that I got it back at all.)
The event did feature free cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, but Irene and I were so preoccupied with scoring a good spot that we did not partake of much. I thought I had found a decent spot, off to one side, and behind some petite women, landing me in the second row of people. Then the wait began in earnest. No amount of uplifting pop standards of the 80's and 90's could have distracted me from standing on my feet in one spot, afraid to move for fear of relinquishing my treasured viewing spot, for nearly two hours as we waited for the President to appear. Annoyingly, the woman standing next to me had brought her 10 year old daughter to the event, whose incessant whining gave voice to what I was already silently thinking to myself, "My feet hurt! I'm tired! I want to sit down! I want to go home! Why is he so late? I'm bored!!!"
Just when I thought I couldn't stand any more, they trotted out a slate of speakers to encourage us to continue our grass-roots organizing for the President, and to continue to support him. As one of the five speakers put it, "We can't leave him to do it alone!" Finally, as Lovie Smith, coach of the Chicago Bears orated to the adoring crowd, a wave of VIPs filed into the open area in front of us, obscuring my hard-won line of sight. Even though I was standing three feet away from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, I couldn't help but be crushed.
I had been on my feet for almost three hours. My toes were tingling, my bad knee was bordering on collapse, and I could scarcely see. Yet when the first strains of, "Hail to the Chief" came over the speakers, the crowd erupted in cheers and applause. Hundreds of arms popped up wielding cameras, and even I found myself straining on the tiptoes of my tired legs and craning my neck to catch a glimpse. I may have been miserable, but I was not immune to the Obamania.
Check out the VIPs who came and obstructed my view. I guess this is what $250 buys you in the world of political appearances.
Most importantly, I did manage to get this one decent picture, right before my camera battery died. It almost looks fake, doesn't it?
The President spoke mostly on the topic of health care reform, about which he was quite stern, but he also commented joyously on the White Sox's perfect game, pitched earlier in the day by Mark Buehrle. Although his oratorical skills are widely recognized, in person, it is difficult not to be struck by his articulate, thoughtful rhetoric. After eight years of George W. Bush, it is endlessly refreshing to observe the return of intelligent leadership in America.
Impressed as I was, my excitement paled in comparison to that of the audience. People love this man. People are proud to have him as their leader. The crowd reacted to his speech with the sort of call and response that is usually reserved for church. Cries of "Amen!" and "You tell it, Barack!" rang out from across the room. Although not quite as full of naked ebullience as the election night celebration in Grant Park last November, the energy of the crowd was a rare thing indeed.
Still, I found myself wondering, "Was it worth it?" After a long day at the office, was the chance to see the president speak for ten minutes, at a distance of a hundred feet, through a forest of heads and cameras, worth it? Surely I was being ungrateful?
Then, later that evening, when I was comfortably ensconced in my favorite chair at home, my mom told me a little story that Grandma had told her for the very first time, earlier that day. When she was a little girl, roughly five years old, her father had dragged her to Alton to see FDR at a whistle-stop tour. She sat atop her father's shoulders, and saw him in the distance, and she couldn't have cared less at the time. All these years later though, it's something she still remembers, and it's a story she could pass down to her daughter, and granddaughter. It's too early to say, but it's entirely possible that Obama will become the FDR of the 21st century. Maybe someday, I'll be able to tell my grandchildren that I saw him with my own eyes. On that day, it will have been worth it.