Editor's note: While TLT as a general rule stays away from politics, we thought this in-person recap of President Obama's Election Night at McCormick Place would be a suitable exception.
Halloween was proceeding as the last umpteen Halloweens have: harried children hastily getting into costumes and rushing through what would otherwise be known as dinner, had there been any chewing involved. In the midst of monster madness and the ding-doing of doorbells, my phone made its familiar GTalk jingle sound. That sound means Ryan (@RyanK) has something to say to me. I responded with a detailed version of the events taking place in Suburbia. There was a bit of small talk before he asked me what I was doing next Tuesday. "Lemme look. It seems I have a movie premiere thingy on Wednesday, but Tuesday looks good." Still not knowing what he had up his sleeve, I carried on with the Halloween revelry. Amid more chitchat, Ryan, who works as a Developer on the Obama Campaign Tech Team, casually mentions he can bring two guests to President Obama's Election Night Event in Chicago. That is, if I'd be interested in that sort of thing. Uh? Let me think. Okay. Done! YES, I want to go! It only got better from there. I would be allowed to bring my beloved Nikon, not the big lens, but still, it would be allowed to join me on my presidential adventure.
So the week carried on as most weeks do. Finally, Monday arrived and Guest Number Two, Michael Knox (@mknox999), and I ventured downtown to Obama Campaign Headquarters to procure our much coveted credentials that Ryan had secured for us. I still can't believe he picked us. Happy, excited, grateful, and giddy like . . . well, like ME, we chatted with Ryan and collected said creds. I made some silly remark how we were "special" because our badges said Special Guest. I assumed everyone is special at these sorts of things.
Obamarama was set to start at 7:30, so we decided to have dinner downtown before the event. Since I
frequent the Millennium Park Garages
for their ease and central location, The Gage
is my go-to dinner and drinks location. On this Election Night, The Gage was all atwitter with the after-work voter crowd. There was no room to fit two more bodies in a timely fashion. Plan B. I love The Park Grill
. It's nestled under The Bean and behind what will soon be the ice skating rink. This place is the epitome of the hidden gem: upscale, but not bank-breaking. The food is plentiful, tasty, and the service is outstanding. Dinner for two with wine was under $60. Sated, we grabbed a cab and headed down Michigan Avenue to our destination. Oddly, our cabbie had no idea Mr. Obama was going to be there.
When we rolled into McCormick Place
on Election Night amid thousands of other guests we quickly learned there was, indeed, a hierarchy of Guests, Special Guests, and Honored Guests. No Guest could figure out how we were different. Special and Honored Guests got a different coat check. Special Guests used the escalator, while Honored Guests used the stairs. Guests seemed to wait in longer lines. Once through airport style security, replete with metal detectors, metal detecting wands, dogs, and a myriad of police and other people brandishing firearms, we found ourselves in a room filled with Obama merch, concessions, and lines to stand in front of a sign proclaiming you were present at this Election Night event. Of course, I made Michael get in line for the equivalent of a Political Prom photo. Believe me when I tell you I was not the only party-goer eager to take the posed photo. I bet other people used that for their Foursquare check-in pushed via Instagram. I cannot be the only one!
After the long, long, long wait to have our requisite, staged and somewhat blurry, photo taken, we ventured into the main area of the event which was held in the Lakeside area of McCormick Place. I haven't been at a national political event since 1984. I was a teenager then, and I was sure Ronald Reagan was definitely not "my" president. That changed once I felt the energy in the room, listened to him speak, shook his hand, and took in as much of the political spectacle that I could. In those moments I realized that it's not just about who "your" president is, it's about who "our" president is, who is in charge of overseeing our great nation and how big and how powerful we are as a country of people. We are far more than just a nation with tanks and bombs and deficits and strife. Needless to say, I was ready for the buzz of the crowd to wash over me this time around. This time around I wanted to be there and support this man as our leader.
The room was stark, and in this wide open space we found our dividing lines. Guests here. Special Guests here. Honorable Guests here. Off to our respective barricaded queues. Special Guests were routed past the Guests and paraded through a maze, past the glare of dozens of news crews covering the event. At the end of the maze we were deposited into an area that allowed for us to stay standing on the floor with an unobstructed view of the President or a seated area beneath a gargantuan flag. Of course, I wanted to be in the thick of things. All around us were young, old, men, women, gay straight, transgender, Asian, White, Black, Hispanic . . . I felt like everyone was represented. It was truly an awe inspiring sight to behold.
There were big screens for us to watch as each of the States announced its winner. The crowd would come alive every time Mr. Obama or any other Dem won. There were also loud cheers and much clapping for the passing of recreational marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado and same-sex marriage in Maryland. The energy was tangible. It was a nail-biter of a race, too. It seemed to take hours for Romney to concede, but concede, he finally did. He was very gracious in his speech to the Nation and to the Obama camp. I think it was the best speech I've heard him give. It seemed heartfelt. So, we think Mr. Obama will take the stage soon. Everyone is eagerly awaiting our President.
A curtain on the stage opened and there were (I presume) the Honored Guests seated on bleachers waving American flags, as a variety of popular music blares through the convention center. (I wondered the whole time who picked the music. Lots of 70s music and quite a bit of it from Detroit. As a native Detroiter, I found that interesting.) As we waited we heard roughly 10 songs. Some of them were fun, some of them evoked a little Mitzi dance, some of them I sang loudly in poor Michael's face, but after a while I was wearing out. My feet were in so much distress I had to remove the cute shoes and lose my three-inch vantage point. People around us, sat on the floor, others were yawning. I even mentioned I thought maybe Mr. Obama wasn't even in the building. After much speculation and sore feet, the President and his family finally made their appearance. The crowd was back at full attention! Mr. Obama gave a moving and genuine speech about his plan for our country. His plan is that we are all in this together and that the responsibility falls on all of us to help reclaim what is great about our country, to help move forward with jobs and family and business and military. He is a charismatic public speaker and has the ability to make you feel as though he's your friend talking directly to you, and together you can set things right!
What struck me most was not Mr. Obama's great plan for our country or his well crafted speech, but his
family. I noticed how his daughter, in the midst of it all, tugged on his suit coat to get his attention and the way he leaned down to hear what she wanted to tell him. I noticed how Michelle hugged her husband. Not stiffly, like the First Lady, but from behind, the way that only people who are intimate can embrace. Those actions spoke louder than any of the words he said about family, and how much he loves his, and how he loves our country.
When the festivities concluded we made our way through the sea of humanity toward the taxi line. This line was roughly two hours long, snaking four times before heading out the door. We stood in line for roughly 30 seconds before deciding to give it a miss and risk finding our own cab. Rebels with a cause: we need sleep. Even two blocks south of the venue there was jostling for cabs. It seems cabs in Chicago were not apprised of the McCormick Place's organization of taxi lines. They had no idea they were supposed to pull into the semi-circle to pick up fares. This was the only part of the evening that was less than well choreographed.
Sore feet and all, it was a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience right here in our great city of Chicago that I won't soon forget. Many thanks to Ryan Kolak for generously sharing his tickets with us and to Michael Knox for being a wonderful friend and trooper, standing through it all with me. I am truly lucky to have such good friends and to live in a city rich with culture and alive with history in the making.