Obama VP announcement event an exercise in inspiration, and survival
Or perhaps it was more an exercise in perspiration.
"I survived the Obama VP announcement". I wouldn't doubt if that pops up on tee-shirts sometime soon. And if you were there, you'd know that getting through it without succumbing to heat stroke is a legitimate source of pride.
There's something decidedly snakebit about Obama holding events in Springfield. First his announcement those long 15 months ago, held in arctic temps, and now this event which resembled walking across the Sahara dessert, if the Sahara was plopped down in the middle of the Amazon basin.
Over and over I tried to find words to describe the experience for those who stood in the intense heat for 5 hours or more to see (maybe) Obama speak, and one word kept coming to mind over and over.
It was just brutal. The heat was brutal. The wait in line was brutal. The standing for countless hours was brutal. The maddening slowness of the process was brutal. For many, it was a struggle just to keep from passing out.
Afterwards everywhere you looked were people who were beet red, drenched in sweat, and looking decidedly in distress. It was an ordeal, to put it mildly. In talking to a woman who was sitting on a bench afterwards using an inhaler and looking on the verge of heat stroke, I learned that she'd been inside the perimeter and on the grounds of the Old Capitol, packed in shoulder to shoulder. She said she witnessed people passing out cold (well, not cold...) and dropping to the ground many times, and that the EMS crews couldn't even get through the crowd with stretchers to carry them out.
I spoke with an EMS worker after the event who looked about to pass out himself. I asked if they had any air-conditioned spots where they were to take those suffering from heat exhaustion, and he said they didn't.
There was a constant parade of ambulances arriving and leaving near the end of the event. Of course they couldn't get any closer than a block or more away due to the security perimeter. And amazingly, when the weather was known to be this severe, there were NO water stations, misting stations, or any other common preparations that any large outdoor events routinely have.
For some reason the Bataan death march kept coming to mind.
The morning in Springfield started hazy and warm, and then as the haze burned off, temps steadily rose higher and higher until they hit the mid-90s. And with near 75% humidity and direct sun, the conditions were at absolute perfection for making the event nearly unendurable for those who waited in line to get wedged into the secure zone.
And it didn't help at all that I'd not slept the night before, and left at a little after 5:30 a.m. and driving through pea soup fog and mist to arrive in Springfield at 8:15. Everything went along pretty well, aside from sweating buckets, until the caffeine wore off. Then it was a grind.
Just by getting a sense of how long the line had become, I told others that the line had to be around a mile long. I was very close. According to a map program with the ability to measure distance, the line stretched for 1.08 miles. And that was WHILE the line was moving. The fact that they were admitting people to the secure area literally one at a time ensured that the line would get very long. It sure did.
I'd guess that people had to spend an hour and a half, at minimum, standing in line before they got herded into the secure zone. And that's assuming the line was moving at the time. I'd estimate that there were a couple thousand people already lined up hours and hours before they started letting people in. (Somehow I don't see this happening at a McCain event.)
Many people went directly to the intersection where they had heard was the entrance, and asking police there, were told that the end of the line was somewhere out there, then had to wander for blocks and blocks trying to find it. So people had to walk nearly a mile just to get to the end of the line!
Yet despite all that, despite being fully aware of the length of the line and how it was barely moving, if it was moving at all, and despite the devilishly scorching heat and blanket of humidity, I didn't see one person decide to call it a day and leave.
Everyone got in line and endured it all. Old folks, young folks, families with little kids, groups, people entirely by themselves, every race, religion and creed, size, shape, color, and social/economic status, you could possibly imagine. The most diverse crowd I've ever seen. Hair gelled country club types in their cotton Dockers behind urban African-Americans, behind redneck union members, behind 60ish suburban grandmas, behind young families, behind Asians, Latinos, Muslims, executives and the unemployed, behind hicks from the sticks, who were behind urban yuppies. The young and obviously fit and athletic to the infirm and handicapped, on crutches, in wheelchairs, on scooters, or limping along with a cane.
They all wanted to be a part of something.
After a couple hours in the broiling sun, I ducked in to a hotel bar to get some hydration and escape the pounding heat. To my surprise, it was almost deserted. Everyone was in line. But I got to sit with a front row seat, with a picture window and about 30 degrees temperature the only thing between me and the two rows of lines that shuffled past.
Talk about a people watchers paradise. I could have sat there all day in air-conditioned comfort, watching at thousands and thousands of people all walked past right in front of me, all while watching the event on a big screen TV.
But I didn't. I suppose for the same reason all these people came from so far and endured so much. They just wanted to see Obama, and if that wasn't possible, just being nearby and listening would due. No one wanted to miss it. Everyone wanted to show their support just by being there.
I was so wiped out after the event, looking sort of like a dripping wet plum tomato fresh out of the oven, complete with soggy clothes, that I could hardly see straight. And then of course, after a day spent trying to cling to my patience and retain consciousness, I ended up spending over an hour in a three lane, bumper to bumper traffic snarl just to make it from downtown to I-55, clipping along at about, oh, 1/3 mph or so.
Sometimes I could have sworn we were actually going backwards. You get the picture. Well, hell, here ARE a couple pictures.
This doesn't even show half the traffic jam. Click to enlarge and see the cars stretching off so far you can't see them.
Looking out the windshield was frustrating. Instead of seeing how many people you were behind, it gave a little psychological relief to look in the rear view and see all the poor souls you're ahead of.
And there were even more cars behind than ahead of me. The line of cars stretched back to downtown beyond the distant smokestacks.
The distance from downtown to I-55 is only 2 miles. It took close to an hour to cover that distance. There wasn't a traffic cop in sight, and no effort at all to ease the congestion.
Hmmm. I seem to be starting at the end here for some reason.
I shot about a mungogingdillion pictures and video clips, and I hope to write a full account, but for the moment, here's a graphic I put together primarily to show a friend who didn't attend, but perhaps it will give you, dear reader, a better picture of the scenario.
The yellow star indicates where I eventually ended up, to my great good fortune. It was outside the pen where people were packed like sardines (and passing out left and right), and on a side street with little restaurants to get a sandwich or drinks, and smack dab in front of a huge jumbotron video screen... the best seat in the house. And on top of that, though the area was far from crowded, there were about 3 or 4 guys constantly circulating around passing out free bottles of water to anyone that wanted one. And everyone did.
And I hadn't waited on line for countless hours, been forbidden from bringing in any drinks, even water, or had to empty my pockets and go through the metal detector hassles, in order to be packed shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people in the sun with no shade to be had, no room to breath, let alone move, only to find, a many hundreds did, that they ended up where they couldn't see Obama at all anyway.
Click on the picture below so you can see it large enough to read and see details and get an idea of what it was like. Those familiar with Springfield will realize just how incredibly long the lines of people were.
Here's a couple shots of the lines, though they obviously show only a small part.
As you can see from the map above, the lines doubled back on themselves on several blocks. This shot shows the point where the line doubled back the other way.
In the background, you can see the last home stretch of the line as they (FINALLY!) get to the checkpoint, which is behind the paddy wagon and under the yellow awning.
Notice the white van in the above picture. Here's the view looking down the block including that same van.
The above shot shows just one block length... the line stretched 15 blocks.