Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Night: November 4, 2008

How to write about last night, the night America elected Barack Obama its next president? How to write about the feeling at all, and particularly how to do it on no sleep and adrenaline alone?

I woke up two hours before my alarm yesterday—Election Day-induced insomnia. The day did not feel normal on any front. Traffic was especially light on the way to work in the morning; was everyone in the voting booth? I made it to my polling place in the afternoon. There was no line, which was almost disappointing because I had wanted to feel the energy of thousands of other voters [ironic foreshadowing]. When I punched my ballot for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, I welled up. And I well up again as I write this. I collected my "I Voted" sticker and pressed it to my chest with my hand over my heart like how you stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school.

At the gym afterward, I watched on multiple TVs as the clocks counted down the moments until the first polls closed. I was agape with the thrill of it all, mouth open. The woman on the elliptical next to me instigated a conversation with: "It's magic, isn't it? He was born for this."

At home (after AAA rescued my keys from my locked car), I showered and climbed into my themey red and blue outfit, put on my "I Voted Democrat" party hat, and watched as the results came in. They called Pennsylvania for Obama. It seemed like it was over before it started, but I don't have the stomach for fourth-quarter nail-biters anymore; I'd much prefer a blowout, and it was really happening. I ate Indian food and cried while Anderson Cooper tried to wrangle his infinite throng of commentators.

AE, LP, and DL (the photographer of that shot up there) came to the house with champagne. We piled into the car for the short drive to the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza where the official California Democratic Party party was happening. There was space for 7,000 and nearly three times that number of RSVPs. We arrived at 7:15, 45 minutes before the local polls closed, and stood patiently at the front of the line and waited. ABY came late from work and joined us. The girl behind us in line wore an old Betsy Ross-style flag she'd stitched into a Project Runway-style dress. Her date wore an "Obamarama" shirt. AK and DF were in line, but saw an intractable access problem shaping up and left. ABY would eventually bail too.

It was the first blustery night of the year and we were in coats (and we are never in coats). It felt like Times Square on New Year's Eve, only better because everyone was in a good mood, and New Year's Eve always seems kind of hellish.

I checked email on my phone. In sequence I got emails with these three subject lines from The Los Angeles Times:
"Breaking: Ohio Goes for Obama"
"Breaking: Virginia Goes to Obama"
"Breaking: AP Calls Election for Obama"

The cheers ran through the crowd, along down the line like the wave at a ballgame, or a pocket of water in a crimped hose. It felt like the energy went through my physical body in much the same way. People hung out of their hotel windows above us, waving flags and cheering. News choppers shone their beams in a clatter overhead.

We waited and waited in line, and eventually the fire department showed up en masse. No one else is getting in. We are at capacity. We are sorry, but we are at capacity. I need you all to move back 25 feet.

I tried every angle I could think of—which is really a lot of angles—and we did not get in. We waited, tried to be patient, sometimes failed at that, got frustrated, I wondered how exactly I would file a story about the event without seeing its innards, we tried to stay positive, we cheered sometimes. Then we got cold and went back to my house.

We opened the champagne and a few bottles of wine. I broke a glass, cleaned it up. I heated up some edamame and samosas. We watched Obama's victory speech on YouTube, and savored some CNN, plus the Stewart and Colbert special on Comedy Central. It looked grim that Proposition 8 would be defeated, and we were regretful about that, but we were elated and proud of Americans overall. We toasted to president Obama, and someone said: "We have the coolest president ever." I filed my story: "Democrats Swarm Hyatt for Massive Public Obama Party."

This is about as chronological and structurally dry as a story can get, but I had to put it down before I forget it. I don't ever want to forget it. The night America elected Barack Obama.


amanda bee said...

I almost left a comment on the subject of candles and soaps, which was going to be that I had to learn that lesson, the lesson about putting pretty candles in candle holders and lighting them (though, um, most pretty candles that find their way to me actually go straight into the re-gifting stash).

But I think that is somehow related to my paralysis with respect to Tuesday. There's some Obama pins around, and I think we're going to frame the campaign poster Noah brought home from his GOTV day in Philadelphia. But I can't figure out how to write anything down about electing Obama. Because part of me just wants to bask in it.

I wasn't expecting to be so overwhelmed, but it started pretty early in the day. (I should stop here, since I've realized that I know how to write about it now and I'm going to cut and paste this). I waited almost an hour to vote and I've never stood in such a good natured line. The woman behind me (who was wrong, but I didn't want to argue with her) was worried that the guy in front of me with the Obama t-shirt could be turned away from the polling place if he didn't zip up his jacket. The whole line got involved in conveying her message forward (she was a few voters behind me, he was a few voters ahead). We knew Obama would win New York state, but still people were shaky nervous about getting his jacket all buttoned up. The woman in front of me told me that she normally waits until midday to vote because she can and there's never a line at noon, but she just couldn't stand it anymore. All day, everyone around me was bursting at the seams. I don't know if it was confidence or anxiousness or just vague seam-burstingness but it felt like that first hot day in spring (a thing you maybe have forgotten about by now, the end of winter and how exciting that is) times about 100. And that was all before a single poll closed.

amanda bee said...

I forgot the thing I was going to say, which is that I had to learn that lesson, because I spent my childhood saving precious things in shoeboxes and if I didn't figure out about using things instead of acquiring them I'd be drowning in shoe boxes by now. And then I was going to say that I'm glad I learned it before I got some super cheesy email about how you should just burn your candles because you might get hit by a car one day.