Wilmington Whistle Stop

“Are you sure you want to go?  Really sure?”

“Absolutely, one hundred and ten percent, couldn’t-be-any-more-sure sure.  Are you sure you want to go with me?  You don’t have to, you know.”

“Well, I’m not letting you go by yourself.”

So went the conversation between my mother and I as we bundled up to leave the house.  It was a frigid ten degrees outside, and for the first time in my life I was willing to brave the cold and stand outside for hours with an unruly crowd just to get a glimpse of someone famous.  You see, friends, Barack Obama was coming to town.  My town.

I wasn’t even planning on going home this weekend.  But when I heard the newscaster on NPR announce that the President-elect was recreating Lincoln’s whistle stop train ride from Philadelphia to D.C., and stopping in my home town to address the crowd at the train station that was not ten minutes from my parents’ house, my mind was made up.

Saturday morning was cold, the kind of cold that made one want to bundle up under sweatpants and a blanket in front of the TV and a warm, crackling fire with a hot cup of cocoa and be thankful that one did not have to venture outside.  My answer to standing for hours in that kind of cold is layering.

bundled upRemember Randy from A Christmas Story?  He was the little brother who was bundled up with such a thick snowsuit that he could barely move.  That was me, my friends, having decided to sacrifice fashion for comfort.  Before leaving the house, I had put on long underwear, a long sleeved t-shirt, a turtleneck, a hooded sweatshirt, yoga pants, jeans, three pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, a newly-knitted hat and a thick scarf.  To complete the ensemble, I slipped into my dad’s snowsuit.  Since my dad is a good six inches taller than me, the crotch of the suit came down to my knees, and the bottoms of the legs had to be rolled up to prevent me tripping.  The whole getup made me look about fifty pounds heavier than I actually am and I could barely move, but brother, was I warm!

And so, armed with an arsenal of extra scarves and a few blankets, my mom and her friend rolled me into the car and we were off.  Luck was on our side as we found a prime parking spot in a parking garage that was normally closed on weekends, but had opened to provide free parking for the event.  I waddled two blocks to the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, just outside the Wilmington train station.

Before we could enter the park, we had to pass through a white tent, eerily reminiscent of the isolation tent at the end of E.T., where we emptied our pockets and were screened by security.  Being clad in metal zippers and snaps, I set off the metal detector and had to be patted down and waved over with a hand-held metal detector.  The security agent working me over finally realized that I could barely move underneath all my layers and was probably not a threat to the President-elect’s safety, and suppressed a giggle as he waved me through.

The park had opened up to the public at 9:30 that morning, and we were told by the parking garage attendant that there were about 500 people waiting to get in.  Although we arrived nearly an hour and a half later, it didn’t seem as if many more people had arrived since then.  The majority of the crowd was packed closely towards a decorated platform that had been set up next to the train station.  I was honestly surprised that there were not more people there.  But, the way I figure it, the morning could have turned out one of two ways: either there would be thousands of people waiting to get in when the park opened and we would turn around and go home, or the cold would be too bitter for most people and we would have the park to ourselves.  Fortunately for us, the latter seemed to be true.  And so, we took the opportunity to claim a vantage point near the top of a slope a couple hundred feet away from the platform. A nice couple let me place my blanket next to them on a bench, on which we planned to stand.  Mom and Linda laid their blanket below a tree a few feet away.  Then the waiting began.

People gradually trickled in, milling about and shaking hands with strangers who shared their excitement.  I spent the next two and a half hours snapping photos of the scene and watching several people shiver as I tottered about in my warm costume.  I tested my camera aiming technique from my perch upon the cold, metal bench.  I turned down the opportunity to purchase Obama/Biden t-shirts, buttons, badges, stickers, hats and lollipops, opting instead for a free, handheld American flag, which I planned to wave fanatically at the most opportune moment.

I had read in the newspaper that morning the list of items that were not permitted in the park.  Besides the obvious guns, grenades and other weapons of mass destruction, on the list were dogs, bicycles, and thermoses.  However, I did see several people carrying thermoses, no doubt holding steaming hot coffee.  Upon reflection, it was probably best that I did not bring a hot drink with me that morning.  With my lavatory track record, I would have had to pee within a half hour, and I was not about to negotiate five layers of clothing in a distant, arctic port-a-potty.

All of a sudden, I realized that the park had become very crowded.  Fumbling through thick gloves, I managed to pull out my watch: it was nearly 12:30.  The train from Philadelphia would be arriving any minute.  I stood up on the bench and saw that there was barely a free space between myself and the stage.  The crowd began to cheer as someone walked up to the podium.

The next twenty minutes or so was filled with speeches by the mayor and the governor-elect, a prayer by the archbishop of Wilmington, and a dance performance by some kids who were inappropriately dressed in matching sweatshirts with no coats.  One of the kids bravely sang the Star Spangled Banner, unaccompanied, to an appreciative audience.

After all the pre-speech speeches, the station master of the Wilmington train station took the stage.  After a short speech, he introduced Vice-President-elect Joe Biden, who, after a short speech, introduced Barack Obama.

I have never heard such a roar from a crowd.  The noise was deafening, but I didn’t care, because I found myself screaming along with them. The people who had pushed up behind our bench suddenly began clamoring to get up with us in hopes of getting a better view.  I took photos for several people below me, since, although the stage was slightly blocked by tree branches, I had one of the better views.

After waving to the crowd around him, Mr. Obama made his way to the podium.  He spoke, and a revered hush fell over the entire assembly.  I did not realize until that moment the great power of the man’s baritone voice. It was calm and soothing, yet insistent and confident.  I immediately fell under his spell.

The address focused on why he chose Joe Biden as his running mate, how grateful he was to us for electing him, and what he promised to work for while he held the position as President.  The address was short and succinct, but terribly moving.  Every person in the park seemed enraptured by his words.  

One of my favorite moments of the morning came just after Mr. Obama greeted us.  In a move that made him an even greater man in my mind, he acknowledged that that day was his wife’s birthday, and he apologized profusely to her for making her stand outside with him in the dead of winter. Everyone broke out in a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”  I almost broke into tears at the thought of the obvious love between this couple.

Almost without warning, the foursome turned and walked off the stage and headed back towards the train.  Again, the crowd went wild, cheering madly for the new President.  I stepped off the bench and waited for my mom and Linda to gather their things.  We slowly made our way to the entrance of the park, where the white tents stood, emptied of the tables and metal detectors. We waved to the train as it left the station, slowly departing for its next stop.

Between my digital Canon and my film Minolta, I probably took about 300 photos that morning.  I’m slowly sifting through the digitals, picking out the best and gradually posting them to my Flickr account.  I can only hope that the film photos turn out well.

The official count in the paper today put attendance at a little over 8,000. Gang, I am the least likely person to voluntarily place myself in a situation like this.  At any other time, I would have listened to the weather reports and watched the address on TV.  So I’m sure you’re asking yourselves right about now why I chose to endure two and a half hours in sub-freezing temperatures in the midst of a congested horde just to hear a man speak for ten minutes.  My answer is this: because I feel very strongly about this man. For the first time in my life, I am interested in what a politician has to say, and not only that, I believe what he has to say.  I believe that this man can do great things for our country.  For the first time in my life, I passionately support the man who has been elected President of the United States of America, and with the knowledge that he will lead our country, I have never been more proud to be an American.  I simply couldn’t pass up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch a glimpse of him and to hear him speak directly to me in person.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mike
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 09:37:40

    Wow. I wish I could have been there.

    It was pretty incredible. I wish you could have been there, too.


  2. jonsquared
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 12:24:29

    awesome! what a treat, i’m sure!

    Such a treat…I’m still stunned that I had the opportunity to be there. Definitely not a day I’ll forget.


  3. Megan
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 12:29:13

    That is so amazing! Totally better than my Obama cookie. 🙂 And something you’ll never forget, I’m sure.

    The only thing that could have made it better would be if I had an Obama cookie, too. 🙂


  4. tam
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 21:29:56

    once in a lifetime moment right there. amazing!

    i love the shot of him at the podium. very nice!

    I couldn’t believe that shot came out so well. Usually zooms of that magnitude on my dinky little digital camera come out too grainy.
    Thanks for stopping by!


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