Thursday, November 06, 2008


Michigan Ave after the rally in front of our hotel.

I should have written yesterday to tell you about our election night in Chicago but I'm still trying to digest it all and process it. I can't. It's just too much. So I'll give you some highlights/observations and we'll go from there.

For now, I'm walking on sunshine, bouncing off the walls. Life is good. Change happens.

-The best moment was when we were standing on Michigan Avenue waiting to get into the park. We went late deliberately, not wanting to stand in the crowd for hours, and mistakenly thinking there would be no line at that point. Instead, at 9:30 when we left our hotel we found a line, five people wide and about three blocks down. We got in line and everyone was pumped. Cell phones were on and friends were texting to keep us up to date. We knew victory was close. All we needed was for the California polls to close. There was a roar coming from the park and everyone wanted to know what happened. A man leaned out of a hotel window across the street and shouted "He took California!" and everyone started going crazy. Hugging. Crying. Laughing. Another few minutes passed and the woman in front of us looked up from her cell phone and shouted, "They're calling it, they're calling it! We did it" and then we really heard the roar from the park and even though the street was closed a few cars snuck through with people hanging out the windows, waving signs, screaming "We did it, We did it!" and we hugged and cried again. Horns honked and everyone screamed. It was unreal.

-We stayed at the Chicago Hilton and Towers a storied old-school hotel and as I hoped it was full of reporters and movers and shakers. When we got out of the car in the parking garage three vans full of TSA agents were unloading. They smiled and joked with each other. One of them said hello to me and I asked "Hey, you going to keep us safe tonight?" "You know we are!" The party was on.

-Grace and I stopped in the hotel gift shop to get a snack. We paid $3.99 for a bag of cheezits. Next to the cash register was a basket of McCain buttons. The sign on them said 99cents.

-The Defender, a black Chicago newspaper, was hosting a big party upstairs and we saw Jesse Jackson and several other black politicians I recognized. Everyone looked like a journalist with their perfect faces and being followed by cameramen. I can't remember ever being somewhere where it was so obvious that you were in the middle of something big. The kids and I waited over an hour to be seated for dinner. Jesse and his posse came out of the restaurant and we just hung around watching people come and go in the hotel lobby. More than half the crowd was black. At one point a white man in a suit walked by and I was struck by how out of place he looked. It's a new world.

-We finally got seated for dinner. Kenny Mayne a reporter for ESPN was sitting next to us. I only recognized him because he has been on Dancing with the Stars. A few people approached him for a picture. He was gracious. Every few minutes the crowd in the lobby bar would erupt into cheers and Atticus would run out and then run back to tell us the news, "He took Pennsylvania!" The food was tasteless and I was too excited to eat. It was one of the best dinners I ever had.

-When we got to the park we stood on the edge of the sea of people with a clear shot of the Jumbotron. A man gave an invocation. We said the pledge of allegiance. I haven't said it in years-- it's my silent protest of the man in the White House but I said it Tuesday. When it was over a girl on her boyfriend's shoulders shouted to the world, "I've never said that and meant it before tonight!" A woman came out to sing the national anthem. I don't know who it was but she didn't know the words and we had to laugh at her mangling of them. And then, a voice came over the loudspeaker and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the first-family elect of the United States of America" and the crowd went wild and the crying really started in earnest.

-Barack spoke. You saw it. It was solemn. It was great. The crowd was jubilant, triumphant, but subdued, weighed down I think with equal parts disbelief and the heft of the moment.

-When it was over we all turned and went as quietly as 150,000 people can go into the night. Later at the hotel bar we sat and watched more returns, dazed at what we'd seen. Two British journalists started talking to us. They wanted to know why the crowd was so civilized and where had everyone gone? It was nearly 1:00 and the street was almost empty. Jeff and I thought about it long and hard. Finally, I summed it up, "This is the city that works. We had our party but we're all getting up and going to work tomorrow. Jeff will go to work, I'll take the kids to school. That's what we do in Chicago-- we work."

And as it turns out, that's what our president-elect did too.

Godspeed to Barack Obama.

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