Jennifer Meyer
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Touched by Obama

By lunchtime nearly 100 people were lined up in front of Mac Court. Most sat in folding chairs, books and blankets on their laps, faces raised to the springtime sun. Fanatics, I thought. Willing to sit for eight hours to get a front-row seat. I wanted to see Obama, but not that badly. Besides, I was voting for Hillary.

photo by J. MeyerAfter dinner, I said to my partner, “Let’s just go. Maybe we can still get in.” Kate was too work-weary, but she dropped me off with my bike after dinner. The line was thousands strong. It wrapped in both directions around the long block and into Hayward field. Whoa. I’d never seen a crowd like this on campus. With my camera bag slung over my shoulder, I rode my bike along the line, stopping to snap pictures in the waning light. I felt giddy with the hugeness of it.
Somewhere in the masses I found two friends of mine huddled over a crossword puzzle and a cup of coffee. “Hey, Anita! Hillary!” I skidded to a halt. “Can you believe this?”

“Amazing, isn’t it? We’ve just been here an hour, and look,” Anita gestured at the line snaking behind them.

“Do you think we’ll get in?” Hillary asked. “How’s it look up ahead?”

“Massive. Hard to imagine all these people fitting inside. So are you voting for him?”

photo by J. MeyerHillary took a quick look around and cupped a hand near her mouth. “We’re Hillary supporters, actually.”

I shrugged. “Me, too.”

“It’s the experience thing, really,” Hillary added. “Besides, how could I not vote for someone named Hillary?”

Anita nodded toward the space in front of her. “Park your bike and join us?”

I cut a glance at the people behind, but instead of a territorial glare, I got a smile. Every face around me, in fact, was smiling. People chatting with strangers, calling out to friends, sharing takeout. This was a crowd like none other I’d seen.

“That’s okay. I want to ride around some more, get a few more shots before dark.” I’d already given up on the possibility of nose-bleed seats. I just wanted to be a part of this phenomenon, ride around grinning and soak it all in.

Just then the line started to move, and cheers rose. “Oh! Here we go!” Hillary exclaimed.
I circled the block a few more times. The line grew shorter and shorter then came to a standstill. If I waited, I might catch a glimpse of Obama’s arrival.

photo by J. MeyerI was by the gates of Hayword Field when I noticed security guards setting up barricades by the empty soccer field. I pedaled closer, just as a crowd began streaming down the hill. I parked my bike off to the side and stepped up to the barricade. I should have locked it, I thought, just before the swarm pressed in around me.

It was dark now, and getting colder. I zipped up my jacket and put on gloves. The field was lit up and security bustled around, setting up a platform and more barricades. “What’s happening?” I asked a woman next to me.

“We couldn’t get in,” she said. “They’re going to have him say a few words outside before he goes in.”

I couldn’t believe my luck. The platform was a good 50 yards away, but here I was, sawhorse at my belly, with a wide open view. I pulled my Nikon D80 out of my camera bag and took a few practice shots. People next to me edged aside.

“You’ll really get a good shot with that,” said a woman with a CoolPix.

“I hope so.” I’d scraped and scrimped for this camera, and it was a good one, but I still fumble to find the best settings. And the lighting here was terrible.

“Let the kid up front,” a man said, and a mother urged her child forward. I inched back and guided the boy in front of me.

More jostling as a cameraman from the local station nudged in behind me. I glanced back at the TV lens and held my ground. A kid, yes. TV crew, no way. Besides, I’m short. Once he set up his tripod, he had a clear view over my shoulder.

photo by J. MeyerAt last there was a flurry of movement on the far edge of the field. Cheers rose in a wave as Barack strode across to the platform. He was wearing a long wool overcoat and a wide smile. I zoomed as close as I could and snapped photos as he spoke. Nothing I hadn’t heard before. Hard times. Coming together. Need for change. The words themselves sifted through me, but what stuck was an overall sense of him. Honest and earnest and just so real. Integrity beamed off of him, and whatever he was saying, I found myself believing in who he was. It was almost too cliché, but there it was, rumbling to the surface. Hope. Something I hadn’t let myself feel in a long time. Oh, my God. Could he really do this? Take this disheartened country and turn it back around?

Before I knew it, his short speech was over and the Secret Service was escorting the candidate not off the field, but over to the crowd. I clicked madly as he came closer, then closer. His eyes were directly on me. Okay, okay, maybe it was the TV camera at my shoulder. But I let myself believe it was my eyes he had latched on to. Until I realized that my eyes were hidden behind my camera and if I didn’t put it down and be here in this moment, I was going to miss the best part of the night.

photo by J. MeyerObama stood directly in front of me, taller than I’d realized. His right hand dangled at his side, ready for the shaking, but we were all too dumbfounded to realize it. Were we supposed to step aside? He chuckled, and the awkward moment disolved. I shot my hand forward, and he took it.
I wished I’d taken off my glove, but I could still feel his grip through the stretchy fleece. His smile zinged through to my feet, and when he squeezed my hand, signaling the appropriate time for release, I couldn’t bring myself to let go. In the long stretch of a second, I searched for something to say that would prolong the moment, but the only thing that came to mind was, My God, you’re good looking. I pumped his hand again, but sharing was inevitable. After I let go, he worked his way through what was now a sea of outstretched hands until, at the far end of the field, he was hustled into a silver SUV and driven off.

photo by J. MeyerThe throng dispersed quickly after that, joyous and animated. “Can you believe it?” “I didn’t think I’d get to see him.” “I shook his hand!”

Only then did I remember my bike. I made my way back to where I’d left it, telling myself If it’s gone, it was worth it. A bike for a handshake. Good enough. But when I got to the edge of the field, there it was, still teetering on its kickstand, pannier bags and all. Normally an unlocked bike on campus doesn’t last five minutes. But here, tonight, it only made sense that my trust in humankind was rewarded.

I stand-pedaled home, bursting to share my experience. At a stoplight, a car honked. None other than Hillary and Anita. “I shook his hand!” I called out.

“Me, too!” yelled Hillary, waving both arms out the window.

“Unbelievable!” I shouted after them.

At home, I reenacted the whole scene out for Kate, then called each of my siblings, who were already avid Obama supporters. At 11:00, Kate and I eagerly watched the local news. There he was, talking outside. There he was, walking across the field. There he was shaking hands. “My hand,” I said. “That’s my hand, shaking his!” I was like a teenager at a Beatles concert.
“Are you still voting for Hillary?” Kate asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered. It was like having to choose between Mandarin Chocolate and Cappuccino Crunch at Prince Puckler’s. I wanted both.

Over the next few months, I got online political. I watched speeches on YouTube, got regular updates from, read editorials and blogs, and bantered via email. By the primaries, I was more than just starstruck. I knew Obama had what it took, and I was watching the movement spread through the nation.

By fall, I was volunteering for both Obama and Mayor Piercy, and I reveled in the excitement of it all. I watched national debates like a football fanatic glued to the Rose Bowl and delighted in the comic relief offered by Saturday Night Live, which I hadn’t stayed up for in years. (I still credit Tina Fey with tipping the election.)

By October, I was truly elated. “He’s going to do it,” I said to Kate. I hadn’t felt this kind of high since standing in line at the Multnomah County Court House to apply for our marriage license in 2005. “Obama’s going to win.” Kate looked at me like I’d just spoken the forbidden words that would break this spell of tentative hope and doom us to Republican victory.
“Look,” I said. “If Obama loses, you’re not going to be any less devastated than me. But in the meantime, you’re missing out on this. This wonderful happiness of possibility. Can’t you just let yourself feel it?”

I spent Election Day volunteering for Obama. A friend and I drove around southwest Eugene, knocking on the doors of Democrats who hadn’t yet turned in their ballots. When I got home, Kate was in front of the TV with a glass of wine. A nervous wreck.

“You’re bumming me out,” I said. “Come on, this is the good part.”

photo by Dick SteinWe went next door to our neighbors’ “We’re Blue, Are You?” election party. There were TVs in both the living room and kitchen, laptops to check on local results, tables laden with food and drink. We’d only just arrived when Pennsylvania was announced. “That’s it,” Dick insisted. “We’ve got it now.” But the rest of us weren’t so confident. We cranked up the volume and leaned in closer. When Ohio fell to Obama, the party really began. The group hooted and cheered with every state gained, looking at each other with incredulous joy. One woman’s son called from Grants Park, and we all listened as he shouted to her from the scene we saw onscreen.

At 8:01, the election was called. The din in the house was deafening. Kate and I hugged, and I swear I could hear shouts and champagne corks across the nation. I could feel the world’s happiness, tingling under my skin.

When Barack and his family walked onto that stage, hand in hand, the room stilled. The world stilled as the immensity of this moment sunk in. But it wasn’t triumph Obama showed. When he looked out over that massive crowd, his emotions were clear. Gratitude, humility, respect, and honor. They were beautiful, this family. A people’s Camelot. And when he kissed Michelle, I glimpsed the kind of love we all hope for. This was our country’s leader. Until now, I’d never truly grasped the meaning of that word.

“It’s for real?” Kate leaned against my chest and whispered in my ear. “They’re not going to take it away?”

I laughed, then twisted forward and saw her wrinkled brow. She was serious. A victim of political PTSD. The last election had been stolen from us. Our marriage had been voted away from us. We know what it’s like to have things given, then taken away. But this victory was indisputable.
“It’s real, all right.” I pulled her close. “No one’s going to take this one away.”

© Jennifer Meyer. To reprint, please ask for permission.

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