Sunday, November 9, 2008

The night America changed

Just four days earlier, on Halloween night, Obama made a stop only a block or so from our house at Highland's Wicker Park. I attended with a couple friends, while Quyen, feeling under the weather, stayed home to tend to Dylan and Matthew, who also was feeling out of sorts. Because of Obama's nearby stop, we nearly decided to stay home election night, nixing our plans to be in Grant Park. Ironically, though, it was because of Obama's rally in Highland that prompted us to make the trek into the city.

We had signed up for tickets about a week before the election. Quyen, an employee of Hyatt, booked a room for us so we didn't have to make the 40-minute drive home. We take the kids everywhere, so we felt it was important to bring the kids to Grant Park. We worried that the ban on strollers and blankets would make for an early night, but Mother Nature cooperated that night. The weather that day was 74 degrees and sunny -- an outstanding day for early November in Chicago.

We thought we were in for a long night when Matthew cried in the car all the way from our house to the hotel. Once out of the car he was fine. We checked in, got situated, gave Matthew a bottle and we headed down to catch a cab. We arrived at the Congress Parkway entrance to Grant Park. Getting out of the cab, I noticed a few Chicago police officers standing on the sidewalk and took Dylan to meet them. Telling your kids that police officers will get misbehaving boys is a sure-fire way to keep them in line. And Dylan was a good boy -- all night.

Soon after putting the fear into Dylan, we were in a mass of people waiting to go through the first of several security checkpoints. I lost count how many times we had to show our ticket and ID. We then walked east on Congress, slowly, then south on Columbus Drive, slower still. The street was one long line of people, sidewalk to sidewalk, thousands of people. It was a lot like standing in the roped-off lines at the airport to have your ID checked, but without the roped-off lines, and with thousands of people. I gotta hand it to the city of Chicago and other security folk as they had an excellent plan to keep the line moving despite the number of people.

Every now and then the crowd would start chantinng "Obama! Obama!" Dylan would join in, too, without being coerced. Later, though, I was a little embarrassed when he started chanting "John McCain! John McCain!" I couldn't get him to stop without saying that the police officers would come get him if he didn't listen. After that ended, I passed the time by asked Dylan about his favorite things. What's your favorite color? "Red" What's your favorite animal? "Elephant." I had to ask Quyen what the heck the teachers were teaching him at day care because he was starting to sound like a republican!

Once we got through the the last checkpoint, the one with the metal detector, we finally made our way into Grant Park, in the area just south of Balbo Avenue.

We found a comfortable spot on the northern end of the area, away from the elbow-to-elbow crowd, but near the large jumbotron TV screen showing CNN's live updates. With every state Obama secured, the people erupted in cheers as if their hometown football team had just scored a touchdown in the superbowl. The air crackled with electricity each time numbers ticked in Obama's favor. The people in the crowd were amazing, as we expected, because we were all there for the same reason.

The anticipation of the crowd soon gave way to jubilation when CNN declared Barak Obama the next president of the United States. The mass of humanity erupted with a deafening roar, signaling once and for all that change had finally come. People jumped, yelled, hugged and cried. It's a moment we'll never forget. I hope it's a moment Dylan and Matthew will recall with pride one day when they're older, telling their friends they were there.

The street-wide line awaits to pass the second checkpoint. Off in the distance is the third checkpoint.

We're finally in and we're excited — excited that Matthew is in a good mood.

Yay, Matthew is finally asleep! — for now. Dylan behaved all night.

The huge TV (left) showed election updates throughout the night and provided us with a view of President-elect Barack Obama, who later spoke on the flag-lined stage in the background (right).

Quyen's beautiful, blinding smile is all I see in our only photo with the four of us on election night Nov. 4, 2008, at Grant Park in Chicago.


Alex Rushmer said...

Awesome, just awesome. In every way.

Anonymous said...

WOW! I don't know why I never read this back is fantabulous, the writing is great and the story is wonderful. I love that you guys went there and shared one of the most amazing, historical moments in history.

Ciao, Christy