Saturday, July 7, 2012

President Obama Comes to Town

I survived seeing the President of the United States speak in person.  There are maybe a handful of people in the world I would have put myself through yesterday for.  Christopher Nolan is obviously one, since not only did I sit outside last summer for twelve grueling hours, I did it wearing wool.  President Obama is another.  I don't even think the Steelers or the Penguins could have drug me out in such brutal conditions - although maybe, but that's it, not even David Cook would entice me.  But, I did it, and now I can always say I saw him.  Let me tell you about it.

Let me give you the backdrop first:  for the past ten days the eastern part of the United States has been blasted with a heat wave that has cooked everything exposed to it:  grass, flowers, pets and people.  My friends back in Texas have had a chuckle or two at my whining, but one thing you cannot say about heat in the area is that it is a dry heat.  As a matter of fact, I'm always a little fascinated with the weather radar because, no matter what the skies look like outside, it registers moisture in the air that makes it look a bomb is going off and radiating out from the city center.  Those three rivers are cool and all until you are trying to do two things:  navigate around them and survive the height of the summer.  It has been unusually dry this summer, but the last few days have seen some summer storms roll in with stunning violence, which means that my grass is returning to a semblance of green instead of brown, but the humidity levels just make the heat more physical.  When you walk outside you are immediately blanketed with a layer of sticky moist that feels like it just added ten pounds of insulation on top of you.

With that setting, the President was scheduled to make a campaign stop at Carnegie Mellon University.  Outside.  Greg and I received invitations to attend.  At first it looked like we were going to be thwarted when Greg couldn't pick up our tickets on Tuesday.  I was able to get mine, however, on Wednesday and they still had his on Thursday morning, so all was well.  We were both set to go, thinking we knew what we were facing with the heat after all that time in Texas.

Wow, I have been wrong about any number of things in my life, but this ranks right up there.  Long story short, it was brutal.  The day dawned hot.  At least the mornings had still been pleasant, but by 6:00 when I walked the dogs, it was already crazy hot and humid.  They had told us we could take umbrellas, but would need to leave them outside the gates for security.  Because this is no ordinary situation and there is obviously a high amount of security logistics, the organizers told us to get there at 10:30 for gates to open at 12:00.  The President was not slated to speak until 2:10, but they kept that on the QT until that day, so most of us had no idea when to actually expect him.  About 3,000 tickets were available, and there were some bleacher seating in the back, but most of us, myself included, wanted to be up closer, so we crowded up to get our spots, our collective body heat adding to the 97 degrees with no shade and we settled in to wait.

We were allowed to bring water in and they had lots of water there, plus they were sending around volunteers with pesticide sprayers filled with water to try and spritz us, but it was like spitting into a hurricane.  The crowd was an eclectic mix of old and very young, all colors and sizes.  One father and son standing next to me had come all the way from North Carolina to see the President.  Other individuals clearly had two decades on me.  These are people who lived through times fraught with racism I can only imagine.  I wondered how many of them had been active in the civil rights movement of the 60's and what it must mean to be waiting to see a man like Barack Obama.  It must be a validation of everything they lived through and fought for.  But, they are no longer young, some of them with canes, a few even in wheelchairs.  As the hours passed, people started to feel the effects.  We saw one young girl in the VIP section throwing up into a box a volunteer had found for her (for obvious security reasons, there aren't trash cans any where near the speaker's podium).  Many had to back out from the crowd for a minute, get some air and then fight their way back to their friends.   The young boy from North Carolina finally had to be taken out of the crowd only minutes before the President finally came on.  They never made it back up to our position.  I only hope he at least got to hear the speech.  One of the women I had been wondering about made it most of the way through the speech but then finally succumbed to the heat, throwing up and then having to be helped back out of the mass.  Others were collapsing.  I know at least two ambulances were called to the scene.  Medics were making their way through the crowd trying to help the individuals who were struggling.  The woman standing next to me and I were comparing notes.  We were both a little faint and dizzy, both holding onto the bars of the wheelchair in front of us - thank God for that old veteran being there so we could lean on it or I might have been one of the fallen.  I was pouring water down the front of my t-shirt, not really caring what I was exposing.  Today I look a little like a lobster, but Greg is worse.  He forgot a hat, so he had my Terrible Towel draped over his head, but he looked like he was being boiled alive at one point.  He was also tired which didn't help, having not been able to sleep after his route, and he finally had to be one of the ones who backed out of the crowd and listened to the speech from further out.

But at last we were rewarded for this punishment and there stood the man we had come to see, looking crisp in a starched light shirt and slacks.  He was clearly hot too, but he never faltered.  He's an amazing speaker.  He didn't actually say anything I hadn't heard before or didn't already know, but I just like hearing him say it.  I know that among my friends I have a mixture of political views, ranging from left of me to Tea Partiers, so I know full well that some of you dislike his politics, but accept my absolute heartfelt sincerity when I tell you that I never, ever doubt that he absolutely has my interests at heart in everything he does, even though he and I likely will never meet.  He's one of us, the people.  He's a father, a husband, a dog owner, a businessman.  I admire him completely.  I'm glad he's in my corner.  I'll fight to keep him there.  Hopefully our presence yesterday - which did turn out some great photo ops, that sea of people crowding in a semi-circle around him - helped a little toward that goal.  But, please, Mr. President, next time you come to town, can we all go somewhere indoors?

(Ironically, the heat is supposed to break tonight and the high predicted for tomorrow is an extremely bearable 82 degrees.  Go figure.)

No comments:

Post a Comment