Bicycle Diaries: Sunday in the park with Barack

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14.11.08

Sunday in the park with Barack

...in Cleveland

With apologies to my good biking buddy, I should've posted this a week or two ago:
In earnest, the journey began Sunday afternoon, November 2 at 12:15. But, in all honesty, the impetus was Friday evening after it was announced that Barack Obama would be holding a rally in Cleveland, and Bruce Springsteen would be there to serenade the crowd. When I stumbled into the kitchen Saturday morning I found a note from my wife about the rally, and the special guest, and an attached note from oldest son telling all who read it that we will be attending.

Now, attending political rallies is nothing new to me, I grew up in a political household with a father very active in politics.
Attending rallies, rubber-chicken dinners and election night parties (I even managed to sneak into reserved congressional seating for Jimmy Carter's inauguration - that's a story for another time) was second nature. Besides, the thought of taking my sons to a political event was very cool, almost as cool as the excitement of their wanting to attend. The bonus: wife and kids are fans of both Obama and Springsteen.

The rally was scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. but we were urged to get there by two to get into Mall B. The rally was to take up a public park in Cleveland known as Malls A, B and C. – B was the inner sanctum in front of the podium. Taking into account that we would probably drive into traffic and have to find parking we decided to leave the house at 12:15. Adding to the complications was a Cleveland Browns football game (the stadium is located on Lake Erie and a few hundred yards from Mall C on the north side) and the Circus (playing at the basketball arena, approximately six blocks from the south end of Mall A).

This was beginning to look like a very exciting Sunday afternoon.

I motivated the troops at 11 a.m. then left to gas the car and air the tires. When I returned the oldest son was beginning to have second thoughts. He had stayed out late with friends and had a lingering headache from lack of sleep. My wife, not wanting to let this opportunity to experience history slip away, reminded him that he was related to explorers (there is a family line to Ernest Shackleton, the great Antarctic explorer, in the deepest, darkest recesses of my mother’s family) and that he “buck it up and follow in the footsteps of his ancestors.”

At 12:20 we embarked upon our journey.

We took back routes into Cleveland anticipating jam-ups on the highway but found ourselves pleasantly surprised at the lack of traffic. Our first choice of parking downtown at the Tower City parking garage turned into a reality and helped further the plans of dinner at the Hard Rock Café (located in Tower City) after the rally. Now we just had to find where we were to be to get into the rally. It was 1 p.m.

Upon leaving Tower City we were immediately met with a long line of waiting participants snaking back five city blocks from the center of town; six city blocks from Mall B. We proceeded to the end of the line and waited patiently. Sometime around 2 p.m. the line began to move as we were herded towards the park and the center of the rally. Indeed the line moved slowly. By 2:30 we had moved all of one block. As 2:45. approached a police officer drove slowly down Ontario Avenue and informed all of us in line that Mall B was filling up fast and that we would not be able to get into the rally center. He directed us to Malls A or C where large screens and speakers had been set up. Glancing up and down the line of thousands waiting to see The Senator and The Boss the officer concluded by saying, “This is a beautiful thing.”

Being the intrepid adventurers we are, we took to the streets in search of an open spot for viewing, pausing only to purchase three Obama buttons before finally landed in Mall A roughly 50 yards back from the large screen. The time is now 3 p.m. and anticipation is heavy as more crowds began to move into the outer lying Malls for a chance to see the candidate and the performer, and a chance to witness history.

It was a beautiful thing, people of all races and ages; veterans wearing their colors; parents holding their children; my wife and I with our two sons. At 3:30 p.m. things started up. All the local dignitaries gave their speeches (people like Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, mayor of a town with more population and a larger budget than the state of Alaska, and he can see Canada from city hall). Then visiting dignitaries stood up for their opportunities. Anticipation for the big moment was high. We waiting for the big arrival.

And we waited.

We waited for an hour with nothing but canned music (memo to DNC and Obama organizers: I know you want to build the moment but don’t keep the faithful waiting with canned music). However, surrounded by thousands of like-minded people is infinitely better than waiting with McCainiacs on the lunatic fringe, or whacko Palinites.

Around 4:45 p.m. we noticed spotters and sharpshooters on the rooftops. A Helicopter circled the airspace about the malls and the blimp (for the football game) disappeared. A small jet (about 727 size) swooped in to land at the lakefront airport and we assumed The Boss had arrived; shortly thereafter another jet, larger and with the O logo on the tail landed. At 5 p.m. Springsteen took the stage and started with Promised Land. Halfway through the set he sang the famous Woody Guthrie favorite This Land is Your Land and the whole crowd sang along. I may have even been a little misty thinking about how I wanted my country back from the Neocons who stole it through fear.


Then six songs and a half hour into the set The Boss sang The Rising. We all understood the hidden message and the place exploded as the man of the hour and his family strode across the stage at song’s end. It was now 5:30 p.m. My back and neck were aching, and my feet were sore from standing for 4-and-a-half hours but I wasn’t about to leave, nor was I going to move back and sit down. I had come to listen to Obama, and listen I would.

A good orator is a good orator, and a bad one is, well, a bad one.

Obama is inspiring. When he speaks he exudes confidence and hope. McCainiacs and Whacko-Palinites will counter with there being more to leadership than words but sometimes leadership is just words. A good leader surrounds him- or herself with people who understand those words, and will put them into action. It’s a matter of knowing the right words for the moment; it’s knowing when to use tough words and when to use consoling words; most of all it’s knowing when to hold your words, not fly of the handle and deliver words you (and the whole country) ultimately regret. At this point I’m using metaphors, but I’m trusting you can make the leap of faith. Let it suffice to say that when I listened to the man it instilled in me the confidence that he knows how to lead us out of the malaise now known as the Bush Presidency.

Finally at 6 p.m. Obama finished, the crowd exploded in applause and cheers, and my family departed for the Hard Rock Café. After standing on concrete for more than five hours I wasn’t sure that I could move my stiff body out of the teeming thousands and to the restaurant but the overpowering desire for a glass of beer is a motivation to action second only to the inspiring words of Senator Obama.

It was a good night, a great event, and a grand time with my family.

Just as a footnote: estimated crowd size for the Cleveland Obama rally was 80,000. Sarah Palin held a rally in Canton, OH (also part of NE Ohio and 60 miles south) where she only drew 3,000.

Don’t forget to exercise your right to vote because, in my opinion, if you don’t vote you don’t have the right to bitch.

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