Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Alrighty, where did I leave off? Oh, yeah, Muncie. Yup, home of Ball U. We were to attend a "Town Hall" with Sen. Obama on the Ball State campus and have a lunch, not a dinner, with him afterward. We would be staying in a hotel in Muncie (location undisclosed for security reasons).

Therefore.....my glamorous flight and stay in an out of town hotel and fancy schmancy dinner had turned into a drive up State Road 3 and a lunch. But, that's ok. I was still going to be dining, and having a chance to talk with, my choice for President. Still pretty cool for a little ol' girl from a little ol' hick town.

I overslept Friday, because I couldn't sleep. Too many things running thru my mind. Two of my best friends came over Thursday night to help put a gift pak together, consisting of various Rush County items (Wendell Willkie's book, a Rush County Players T-shirt and membership, stained glass ornaments, Colts paraphernalia, etc) which made me run late coloring my hair, which meant I didn't get my packing done, which meant I had to do that after work, even though I had to pick Steven up from track practice at 5......all after I worked all day Friday, too.

I am supposed to check in to the hotel by 8 and I manage to get there just about 8.....still forgetting things at home. My key is waiting at the desk, and I drag my crap up to my room. I am STARVING by this time, and there is a Mancino's just up the street, so I decide to run over there for a bite. When I step out of my room, a woman steps out of hers just a couple doors down also. We look at each other and instantly recognize one another. She is Raissa Dorff, another "selectee" from New York. We introduce ourselves and hug. I find out the group is meeting in the lobby later to eat and talk. I was going to bring my Hawaiian pizza back to my room to eat and read Chez Pazienza's book "Dead Star Twilight," but I decide I need to meet the other diners.

I order my pie and decide to have a beer while I wait. That's when I run into Paul Deery, another "selectee" from Easton PA. He had basically the same idea, but is also bringing a six pack for later. Once my pizza arrives, I grab a six pack of Mike's Hard Cranberry Lemonade and head back. In the lobby, I meet Alisha Cordell from Raleigh, NC and Ben Cherry from Albuquerque, NM. We all hit it off really well. We sit, talk, drink, take pictures and generally act like we have known each other for ages. We seem to make a really good group. We may be randomly chosen, but we mesh very well. We also start to notice more and more security. Secret Service guys (and gals) in their "Men in Black" suits and earpieces. US Marshalls in their scary jumpsuits with serious looking guns and billy clubs. They wander around, looking in the hallways, peering out the doors, going out in front, talking to the front desk staff. After a while it dawns on us. The Senator is staying HERE! With US! Alisha and I decide to take up a position at the computer at the front of the lobby, so we can see out the window. Surely enough, about 10:30 PM, in rolls the motorcade. The Senator gets out, strolls into the lobby and takes time to speak to darn near everyone in sight. Very gracious and friendly, wonderful first impression. We have to wait 10 minutes to go up to our rooms, but when we do, there are Secret Service agents in front of his door at the end of the hall. All night, I hear SS patrolling the hall, and even one on the roof. Weird, like living in an episode of "24." If only Jack Bauer were there, it would have been perfect.....

The next morning, eating breakfast, after a long, sleepless night (thanks for keeping me company, Chez) we watch the staffers and press that accompany the Senator load up and get ready to move out. They have an amazing amount of luggage. It is all laid out on the floor, and one marshall scans it with a hand scanner, while another brings in "the bomb dog." Doggie sniff, doggie wag tail. No bomb. What is really odd is that in all this bag searching, NO ONE has ever even thought about looking at any of our bags, patting us down or anything. After the luggage goes out, they start to clear out their workroom......lots of snack food and pop comes out on luggage carts.....and lots, and lots, and LOTS of BEER!!! WOO-HOO!!! We are hopeful this is for our lunch!!!

Our staffer, Herbie, comes to get us. Herbie is best described by saying he IS Michael J. Fox's character from "Spin City." If you haven't seen it, look it up. It's him, I swear. We are loaded into the motorcade in the cold wind and pouring rain. Alisha, from North Carolina, and Ben, from New Mexico, are somewhat appalled by the weather. Paul, from Pennsylvania, Raissa, from New York and I tell them this is pretty much normal....Indiana weather is like a box of chocolates....some are good, but a lot of it sucks. They have blocked off the streets between the hotel and the auditorium, so we drive like a bat out of hell. Steve, our driver, a retired BSU prof., is obviously enjoying his job! We are all laughing hysterically at the absurdity of being in this speeding motorcade, just because we gave very minor contributions (our contributions total $165, I have been told).

Walking into the auditorium is like walking into a rock concert. It is packed to the rafters with cheering fans. Huge homemade signs hang everywhere. All variety of Obama T-shirts are all over the place. Every color of face, all ages.....its a great sight to see. The Senator is introduced to a standing, cheering, screaming, singing crowd. He acknowledges everyone, asks them all to please sit, and commences to speak directly to the hearts and minds of this crowd for the next 2 hours. He has answers to the questions they ask, including a 10 year old boy, speaks without notes (although I am sure a LOT of preparation goes into his speeches) and really moves people. Black, white, Hispanic....I have never seen such a diverse crowd so moved. I have never seen older white men throw their hands in the air like a black grandmother at a revival. One older white man, gnarled with arthritis, struggles to stand and cheer with each point made. Two girls stand to ask questions about family farms. One girl points to her parents beside her...they are 3rd generation family farmers....in Indiana.....at a rally for a black Democratic Presidential candidate. If you are not from Indiana or the Midwest, I just don't know if I can convey to you how huge this is. This is an are that was so entrenched in the KKK not that many years back that a nearby town is named for it. Black populations in the smaller towns around where I live are still amazingly low. This is ...... unbelievable.

Following the question and answer period, we are hustled out of the crowd and into the inner sanctum of the auditorium, passing numerous guards and deputies. Alisha asks each of them if they are voting for Obama and tries to convert each one who is undecided. Again, we are never searched or questioned. We are with a charming young lady named Katie, who is a campaign staffer. She "lives on the road." We end up deep in the bowels of the auditorium (in the severe storm shelter area!) where we are introduced to Arun, who is in charge of the "new media" team. He will be videotaping our meal. The table is being set and looks wonderful. Simple, yet delicious. There is a table for us to set out our things to be signed, and another where we can set any gifts we have brought. I set down my very carefully prepared gift, and my few meager items to be signed.....the sign, bumper sticker and bumper that was in my room when I checked in and my 3 black T-shirts. Of course, the cool silver Sharpie I bought for him to use to sign them with is still on my kitchen table. I am hoping they will have one. Everyone else has brought numerous copies of his books, photos of family members, or other items to be signed. Not me......damn!

After quite a bit of wandering around the room nervously, we are suddenly inundated by press. TV cameras, still cameras, boom mics, people with little notebooks.....I am waiting for Rosalind Russell or Cary Grant to rush in, snapping gum and one liners. They will stay with us for the first few minutes of our meal, then they will leave us with just the Senator's media team. Moments later, he arrives. We all stand, shake his hand, and introduce ourselves. Our seats had been chosen for us....by whom I don't know, but I owe them a kiss. I am seated at his right hand. He asks us all to sit and relax, while he grabs the tray of sandwiches and starts to serve them to us!!! Raissa, who, as are most actresses in NY, is also a waitress, says she needs a picture of this for work! Finally, he sits down. He tells us to please eat, that he definitely will, because he is starving, and not to worry if we get lettuce in our teeth, because they can edit that out.

We go around the table and introduce ourselves and tell a little about ourselves. I am last, so don't get to talk as long. I won't go into detail on that, but it bugs me now. We talked a lot about education....how standardized testing at the beginning of the school year is wrong, cutting arts programs is detrimental, and how we have to help improve the schools. But, we all also agreed, without strong parental backing, all the better schools in the world won't help. We also talked about making college more affordable, as well as assisting everyone in getting affordable healthcare. We talked about a controlled way to get out of the Iraq war, how important it is, in a global community, to have communications with not just our friends, but with our enemies, too. We talked about improving the economy. I noticed a black bracelet he wore on his right wrist, and saw the name of a soldier on it, a date and Iraq, but wasn't sure what it was. I have since looked it up and found out it was given to him in February by the mother of a soldier who was killed. That says a lot to me.

I have told several people.....you can fake being personable and charming and honest and caring and so on in a big crowd. It is a lot harder to do in a small crowd, sitting 2 feet from someone for an hour and a half. He is not faking it. He was wearing no makeup.....not a big deal, but I do theatre, and for someone to have just come off of the stage under all those lights to not be wearing makeup is pretty daring. He seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say, even to the point of kicking back in his chair to listen, talk and relax a little, very unselfconsciously picking cucumber slices out of the salad bowl and nibbling while we talked. He did not seem to be thinking of the next 25 things on his calendars, but really concentrated on us. We did ask him how he intended to stay in touch with people like us if (when) he is elected, and he has a plan to do that. I would love to see that implemented. Our voices get lost all too quickly after the inauguration.

After we finished eating, we all got pictures taken with him, as a group and individually. He took time to sign everything everyone brought....with the exception of my black shirts. No one had a silver Sharpie. He felt bad about it, and asked me if it was ok if he took them with him, he signed them and he could mail them back to me. Um, yeah, sure! What am I going to say? NO????? Are you freaking kidding me? PLEASE!!! So, he did. His "people" came to get him, so all of us ladies hugged him goodbye (HE KISSED MY CHEEK!) and he was off.

So, thus ended a great day. I didn't go into a lot of detail about what we talked about, but let me assure you.....his answers were sound. I was completely convinced that he is 100% for real. He seems to be a very compassionate man, who really cares about people, and this country.

And let me address one more thing......that whole "bitter" comment. Those of you who know me know that I live in a very small town, pop. approx. 6000, primarily a farming community. As I said earlier, this is a real God and country, bleed Republican red kind of place. And you know what? People here ARE bitter. Jobs are gone. One factory in town just left for Mexico, another in a neighboring town, too. Another factory on strike. Another factory on hold. Super Wal-Mart decided not to come here. 5 0r 6 businesses closed just since the first of the year. I also work at a church. Giving is way down. Attendance is fluctuating madly. Calls for assistance and for someone to talk to are skyrocketing. We have a fairly decent size Hispanic population, and aside from them and the few blacks in town, mostly they hate everyone who isn't like them. Oh, and to paraphrase a line from "Hot Fuzz" "every farmer and their mum" owns a gun. So you know what? In the experience of someone who lives out here, in the small towns, in Middle America, HE IS RIGHT. Hillary and McCain can say he is being elitist or whatever, but that tells me they have not listened to a damn thing anyone has told them during this whole long campaign. Well, that's good to know. Guess we shouldn't listen to you, either.

1 comment:

Sloaner said...

Hey Bon! What a great experience. You represented us well. Even though his politics are way too liberal for my taste, he certainly seems to be a charming, articulate man. We could certainly do worse (picure Kevin Nealon's subliminal "Hillary" here, lol)in the White House. One of your comments does have me perplexed. What town near here was named after the Klan?