November 8, 2008

I could hardly work Tuesday evening because of all the excitement. I don’t even know how they expected us to do anything. I came from lab at 5 (where we had decided to all go downtown together) when they were having the pre-election discussions and projections. I attempted to do some archaeology reading while watching tv. At 8, Petra called and said she didn’t want to go because there were too many people. Sarah and her boyfriend were still up for it, so we agreed to meet at 8:40 at the 52nd street bridge. Obama won Ohio as I was leaving, and apparently once you win Ohio it’s in the bag. The bike ride downtown was nice – a beautiful evening, 60 degrees, and the trail is really great. At one point we saw a bunch of bikers standing at the side of the road cheering, so we swerved off to see what it was about – the motorcade was driving by! We all cheered for the tons of police cars, black secret service cars, and black SUV probably containing the Obama family. After they passed, we kept going. It took about 40 minutes to get downtown, probably a little longer than it would have because the route north of Soldier Field was blocked off for security. (We were redirected by friendly(!!!) policemen.) Once there, we locked up our bikes to each other around a pole since there were no available bike racks left (later I saw some people had lashed theirs to the ornamental chain railings in the park, hidden among the ivy). Sarah and I stood in line while Declan went to explore other entrances. Eventually someone noticed that I had a backpack and therefore must not have a ticket, and we were in the ticket line – so we moved off to find another place. As we were walking, we heard an announcement that sounded like “The new 44th president of the United States…” but we couldn’t believe it since it was only 10 pm – the California polls had barely closed. We stopped and looked confusedly at each other for a minute, and then asked a few people around, who confirmed that they had, in fact announced it – just a projection, but enough of a landslide to be definite. We got really excited, of course, and started running towards the entrance to the ticketed section, hoping to sneak in. They were all waving tickets in the air, so I grabbed a piece of newspaper from the ground and waved it around. Unfortunately, this ploy didn’t get us in, so we headed for the free-for-all non-ticketed entrance at the other Congress Street bridge. We managed to get a decent spot, not too far from the Jumbotron, and soon McCain gave his concession, and then Obama his acceptance (forever known as “the puppy speech” to me). What really struck me was the amount of respect the crowd had. It was amazingly large – 75,000 ticketed guests, estimates for overall between 250,000 and 1 million (we’ll never really know) – and, you know, it’s Chicago, the city where all news, good or bad, is greeted with riots. But when the speeches were going on, everyone was silent. There was applause for McCain after his speech (although brief boos when Palin made an appearance) and riotous applause for Obama, but nobody pushed or shoved or yelled, and the feeling in the crowd was of such joy and excitement. It was surprising to see the particularly unhappy and small crowd in the auditorium where McCain spoke compared to Grant Park – I mean, I can understand they were unhappy, but it seemed to be seating just for campaign contributors. We had cheers of “yes, we can” and then the crowd suddenly broke. On the way back to the bikes, we saw Michigan Avenue swarmed – absolutely filled with people, and music playing, and people singing. Later I heard from Chris that the streets were completely packed from Michigan to State and all the east-west streets along the length of the park. Unfortunately, they had closed the lakeshore trail going south for security, so we had to take King Drive, notorious for its sketchiness, speeding drivers, and potholes in the bike lane. Every so often a car would drive by with its windows down, honking and yelling “OBAMA!” which was actually more frightening than exciting, as it usually happened when I was swerving out to avoid a pothole. We got home at 10 to 1, all in all an exciting evening, and I couldn’t walk for the next few hours because I had just biked 15 miles. (Fun fact: Chicago has a Blues District that starts at 46th St and continues south indefinitely. They only put signs up on King Drive, not any of the useful places where tourists go.)

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