Monday, May 19, 2008
Wild Weekend Part II
The wow factor continues as 75,000 people snake through downtown Portland, in and out of shade and the record-setting 90 degree weather to see and hear Barak Obama speak. Katie and I go with niece Rose, her husband Eric, Annika,5, Naomi, age 3, and their newborn, Soren, about 4 months. Everyone knows that history is in the making. There are very few traffic cops, yet the mood and demeanor of the crowd is fairly laid back despite the heat, the constant cries of the hawkers, and the long wait. We get in line about 12:30, Obama is scheduled to speak at 2:30. At 1:30 there is movement and we wind and wend our way to the river's edge. Along the way we pass some notable folks. The 70+ gentleman behind me looks like a retired navy man. He is wearing a tee shirt that says "Barak is my Homie." A huge selection of Obama faces is available for purchase on tee shirts. He looks like everything from a smiling Alfred E. Newman to a stern faced Malcolm X. Two very Irish looking kids are selling green shirts with shamrocks on them. The text reads O'bama O'eight.
Around one corner and Jimmy Hendrix appears. The hat, the guitar, the face; a reasonable likeness. He is in demand for photos. "I don't have any money," a young man regrets. "That's all right Jimmy says, the next guy might give me $100." I give him a buck and he gives me the brother man greeting and moves on down the line.
Eventually we get inside Waterfront Park and wait for the appearance of the Obama family. The Willamette looks like McCovey cove with Bonds at bat. All types of kayaks, small personal water craft, a jet ski or two, and a few yachts. The county sheriff has two boats present, but they seem as eager to hear the speaker as everyone else.
The crowd waits and bakes. Some Oregonians are the whitest people I have ever seen. You'd think more would know about sun screen. A 40 year old skateborder who looks like a refugee from Telegraph avenue is shirtless and reddening by the minute. Sunlight flashes off his piercings and the blue letters T R U T H tattooed vertically on his left arm make his body as red white and blue as the flag sticking out of his hat.
Obama doesn't disappoint. "This is the most spectacular setting for any rally I have ever seen," he tells the crowd. He orates. We listen and punctuate with applause and cheering at all the right intervals. Most of us have heard every word already but we know that history is shining down on us too.
On our way out, we chance to pass behind the staging area where a small side street is blocked off. Obama stands outside his bus and is briefly visible. Fifty people sprint his way, most of them young women. It's all very orderly and over in a minute.
The crowd is diverse. For Portland, and Oregon, in general, the crowd is very diverse. They are Black, White, and Latino, they are Asian, some Native Americans, and of course, many people of mixed backgrounds. While definitely young, I saw a man about 90 walking alone, carrying a cane and a water bottle, and a look of determined delight.
The kids are tired. We explain that it is an important day and they seem to get that.
In this time of new technology it's important to note that every appearance of a candidate, every ball game, every rally has a sound track. When Obama left, there was no encore, just another stop along the way. There was, however, his music, Signed Sealed, Delivered. He's ours.