Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Obama in L.A.

A couple weeks ago, I got an email announcing that president Obama would be keynoting a fundraiser on April 19 (yesterday) for senator Barbara Boxer, who is running for reelection this year. The event was taking place at the California Science Center just south of downtown L.A.

Now, I’d seen Obama speak before at the 2005 American Library Association conference in Chicago, a year after his galvanizing speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. More than a few of my colleagues predicted then that he’d run for president in 2008.

But I, of course, hadn’t seen him speak yet as president. So I immediately bought a ticket. Tim was working, so I was on my own.

On Sunday, I got another email detailing event logistics. I was to enter the parking lot at 39th and Figueroa and then follow the crowds to the Science Center. Protesters were already demonstrating by the time I got there, but I was so intent on following the directions that I didn’t pay any attention to their shenanigans. When I emerged from the parking lot, hundreds of people were already queued up. The email had suggested “business or business casual” as appropriate attire.

“Boy, if nothing else, Democrats certainly are a handsome lot,” I thought to myself as I admired men in their pinstripe suits and several women in what looked like cocktail dresses. Obviously many of them had paid the $17,000-a-plate cost for eating dinner with the president that evening--a price tag far too rich for me, so I was way underdressed.

Although people seemed perfectly happy to wait on line, there was lots of confusion over exactly which line we should be waiting in. The man directly behind me asked if this was the V.I.P. line. Wondering if I was considered a V.I.P., I told him how much I paid for my ticket. He then showed me his, which had cost ten times more than mine. He was far more a V.I.P. than I was! I told him I’d save his place in line if he wanted to go ask someone. Turns out, we all--except former governor Gray Davis, whom we saw glad-handing folks as he bypassed everyone on his way to the head of the line--had to stand on line according to the first initial of our last names. A-L to the left and M-Z to the right. Mr. V.I.P. pointed out basketball great Elgin Baylor and his family standing toward the end of the A-L line.

After about 45 minutes, we finally approached the first rung of security. Names checked-off, we were then directed to tables where we showed our “valid government-issued I.D.s” and got our hands stamped. We then proceeded through metal detectors as our belongings were inspected and cleared. Next stop: up the stairs to the Wallis Annenberg building, where the event was being held. V.I.P.s went to the right, while the rest of us veered left. I had assumed we would be in some sort of auditorium where we’d be seated the entire time. But no. Although V.I.P.s got to sit at tables on folding chairs, the majority of us had to stand. By the time the event finally got underway, several fancy-dressed women had removed their beautiful high-heeled shoes. I may have been underdressed, but at least I was comfortable!

The venue was odd: an open hangar-like area with a small, shallow pool in the middle. The podium, which I couldn’t see at first through all the V.I.P.s, was projected onto a medium-sized screen at the front of the hall. To the right was the podium, not too far from where I stood. People were noshing on hors d’oeuvre (meatball sliders--gag!) and drinking wine (open bar), so I quickly planted myself within clear view of the microphones. After a few minutes, a man came out to address the crowd. First up: vocalist India Arie, whose voice was lovely, but inaudible. Between the horrible acoustics and people yelling, it was impossible to hear anything.

Democratic party chair Tim Kaine then introduced Barbara Boxer and the excitement really began. We cheered everything she said--even if we couldn’t hear!--but it was no secret why we were all there. Within minutes, Boxer stopped talking and suddenly Obama appeared. The crowd went wild as I held back my tears. It was wonderful just being in the room with him.

The acoustics continued to be bad, plus there was an annoying heckler who kept yelling about repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Still, we were all thrilled to be there in Obama's presence and encouraged him with our cheers. I clapped loudest when he talked about education and healthcare. (Click here for a transcript of his entire speech). I was especially pleased when he briefly mentioned the importance of science, so wrongfully maligned during the dark ages of the Bush administration.

I moved toward the door as soon as Obama started to wrap-up. Despite sore feet (“If I would have known I was going to have to stand for four hours, I would have worn comfortable shoes,” one man commented), everyone was jubilant.

“I’m happy we came,” a woman cheerfully said to her husband, “even if we couldn’t hear everything he said!”

Other people were looking forward to dinner with the president in a building nearby.

“See you there!” two lucky men yelled as they parted ways.

I zoomed to the parking lot, hoping to beat traffic.

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