So here was our logic: given the small turnout Obama got in Toledo yesterday, and given the fact that it was Labor Day weekend, and the fact that the gates opened at 8:30, we figured we'd be okay arriving in downtown Detroit around 7:45 or 8 am. We were wrong. Sure, there were complicating factors that may have swelled the crowd -- the annual Labor Day Parade, the last day of the Detroit International Jazz Festival and a Tigers game.
At no point did we imagine that we -- me, Chris, our friend Maggie and her friend Sarah -- would take our places in line at 8:30 and would patiently snake our way around downtown buildings in the beating sun until nearly 11 am only to get nowhere near the entrance gates. And only to experience the entire breakdown of the crowd system after a volunteer told us that they simply didn't have enough volunteers to control the crowd anymore.
The mood, at first, was pretty exhilirating. It's an exciting time, obviously, in politics and we were buoyed by the notion of getting to see Barack Obama in person, if he only seemed a speck in the distance. The crowd was enormous and the mood pretty good, overall. But the whole thing seemed strangely uncoordinated. Given how many people were lining up and given how the line was looping around downtown, we commented repeatedly that it was a miracle that people were behaving in such an orderly fashion.
However, by nearly 11 am -- the time at which Obama was scheduled to speak -- we were nowhere near the front of the line and it was pretty evident that we weren't going to get inside. It was as though most of the crowd realized it at the same time and there was a pretty big rush to volley for positions in front of a big screen and that was as good as it got for us.
We were hot, tired and thirsty and we waited until nearly 11:30 for Obama to take the stage following brief introductory comments by local labor leaders. It was still thrilling to see him on the screen and to know that he was somewhere, you know, over there. Obviously, today's speech was supposed to focus on labor and unions and Obama did make a few remarks about supporting the American worker. Then he said that while he had planned a political speech, today was not the day for political speeches, given Hurrican Gustav's approach to the Gulf Coast. Instead, he asked us to share a moment of silence and to remember the spirit of giving and togetherness and all that good stuff.
The AP says it was a ten minute speech, but only if you count the pauses for applause, some intro banter and the moment of silence. I think it was closer to five. Which, if you had rolled out of bed at 7, as I did, and waited for three and a half hours, could be a bit of a disappointment. Or if you had been in line since 5 am, which many of those who did get into Hart Plaza did.
And it was over. Just like that. The majority of the crowd seemed to be pushing their way over to the Jazz Festival. Some were headed to the Tigers game. Others, like us, were done for and just wanted to get home and hydrated. Am I glad I went? I suppose I am. It's just not what I thought it was going to be. Maybe I was ridiculously naive in thinking I'd catch a glimpse of the man I believe will be our next president.
I will say that it was a particular kind of thrill to be among those throngs of people of all different ethnicities, ages, etc. And there was a lot of -- dare I say it -- hope floating around the joint. If those people are willing to come out and shuffle along in line for hours on end, then surely they'll all make it to the polls to vote. In which case, I guess we'll be seeing a whole lot of change, which will more than make up for not seeing Obama in person.