Sen. Barack Obama's campaign officials gave the town of Highland, Ind., only 36 hours to prepare for a visit by the presidential candidate to Wicker Park, a beautiful park across the street from our subdivision and a couple of blocks from our home.
I and several residents I spoke to earlier in the day thought scheduling a rally on Halloween night to be little odd. A neighbor called me from work to check on traffic in the neighborhood. Working from home on the 31st, I reassured him that town workers driving golf carts down the street were busy hammering signs proclaiming "resident parking only" every 20 feet. Large, yellow, flashing construction signs you see along an interstate work zone alerting drivers of delays ahead were stationed at the four entrances to our subdivision also alleviated his concerns. Local police and volunteers also were checking IDs of drivers entering the subdivision. Those, if any, that got in were likely scared off by the convoy of tow trucks idling on our streets.
With only 36 hours to prepare, the town of Highland did an outstanding job of keeping order and ensuring a safe night for what years from now will be considered an historic event. Quyen and I had planned to go to Grant Park in Chicago on election night, but I didn't want to pass up chance to see Obama so close to home.
We took Dylan and Matthew to a Halloween party and trick-or-treating in the neighborhood just south of us. We were invited by our friends Jenny and Stephanie. Jenny, the daughter of local politician Indiana State Rep. Linda Lawson, hooked us up with VIP tickets to the rally. (Thanks again, Jenny!)
After the trick-or-treating, Jenny and Stephanie followed us home so they could park in our driveway and avoid the crowd. Quyen was a little under the weather. Since we planned to attend the Tuesday night celebration rally, she decided to stay home with the kids.
Jenny, Stephanie and I set out for the park about 30 minutes before the scheduled start. We ran into a number of people walking toward the park who were visibly excited about attending the rally and seeing and hearing Obama speak.
Once inside the park gates, attendees were corralled through the club house where buttons and T-shirts were on sale. Exiting the back doors, we followed the crowd down a paved path to an area where makeshift crowd-control barriers kept the crowd in an organized line, moving zig-zag toward the metal detecters where all electronic devices had to be turned on for security checks.
Having VIP tickets, we were allowed to bypass the zig-zag area and go straight to the metal detectors. Sure, our pace was quickened by our own excitement, but walking from our house to the park and past security to our spot inside the rally took us only 15 minutes.
I didn't see the tickets until it was time to use them, but Jenny had only two. Had I known that Jenny was going to sacrifice her spot in the VIP area for Stephanie or me, I would gone to the general admission area. Jenny insisted that Stephanie and I take the tickets and go inside. She said "have fun" and disappeared into a sea of thousands. (You're the best, Jenny, thanks! I owe you!)
VIP tickets must have been handed out with candy for the trick-or-treaters because there were thousands of people in the area that included two bleacher sections and standing room only that surrounded the stage. Stephanie and I made our way forward but couldn't get closer than about 100 feet from the stage.
A number of local and state politicians, including Sen. Evan Bayh, former Indiana governor and an early contender for Obama's running mate, as well as Pete Visclosky, a U.S. congressman who worked at my father's law office years ago.
The five or so speakers got on and off the stage in only 30 minutes. After Visclosky wrapped up and exited, a few campaign workers began preparing the mic for Obama's arrival. The crowd erupted when music began to play, but it was premature. Another song began. Then another. And another. Some parts of the crowd began to chant for Obama. The crowd was eager for him to take the stage. Several men who I believe were secret service personnel climbed to the top rows of the bleachers to ask people to lower their Obama signs, perhaps to ensure for the TV cameras a clean sight line to the Obama campaign Web site that was at the bottom of a large Obama sign behind the top row.
Finally the senator arrived and the crowd reacted feverishly to his entrance. Arms went skyward to cheer or to take pictures and video. With my camera in hand, I just hoped to get a few good shots.
Obama takes the stage after several local and state politicians had warmed up the crowd of 40,000.
He began by acknowledging the Indiana politicians in attendance but was interrupted by a member of the audience who had fainted not far from the podium. He threw a bottle of water in his direction and asked for an EMT to assist individual.
Much like in his televised speeches, Obama was passionate when he encouraged the audience the vote early in the four days before the election. He was eloquent when he talked about his tax plan and ideas to help the economy. He emphasized that in four days we had an opportunity to affect this defining moment in history. The crowd roared. So did I.
I took dozens of photos at the rally, hoping the distance or that bright light wouldn't affect the focus. For the closeups of Obama, my camera was at its maximum zoom but I think they turned out ok.
All the people in this photo were in the VIP section. We're standing about 100 feet from Obama.
Obama in usual form.
My favorite picture of the bunch.
Obama acknowledges the crowd.