Pilgrim Path

This blog is the work of a seeker and poet. Walking stick in hand, I head out into the world, not of the world, but in the world. My words and my friends carry me along and light the pilgrim path of spiritual journeys.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


A PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF AN HISTORIC NIGHT FROM SOMEWHERE VERY CLOSE TO GROUND ZERO

I live in Chicago. Last Friday night, upon leaving work, I drove over to Lake Shore Drive, headed south on a gorgeous fall evening and exited at 57th Street. I passed the beautiful example of classical architecture, The Museum of Science and Industry, and continued heading west into the den of one way streets in the neighborhood called Hyde Park. This Chicago neighborhood is home to the prestigious University of Chicago and a collection of Divinity Schools and Theological Seminaries. It is also home of the Seminary Co-operative Bookstore of which I am a member (shareholder). Later that evening, I had tickets for a performance of the Guarneri String Quartet at Mandel Hall on the campus of the University of Chicago. Prior to the performance, I would share dinner with my former pastor at a wonderful Italian restaurant in Hyde Park named “Picolo Mondo.” But, since I arrived in Hyde Park early, I took a pleasurable stroll through the warren of narrow aisles of bookshelves deep in the bowels of a gargoyle-festooned brick building. All this is to give you a feel for the neighborhood where our President-Elect Barack Obama currently lives.

Last night, I had to attend my Old Testament class at Loyola University on Michigan Avenue until 6:45pm. In some ways it was good to be isolated from all the hoopla connected with the Presidential election. However, at 6:30pm, a “whoop” from one of the other classrooms down the hall piqued the curiosity of the entire class. Nevertheless, we continued plugging away at the lesser prophets.

I’d made arrangements earlier in the day to meet some friends at a bar on the north side of Chicago to drink, eat and watch the votes roll in. On my way to the bar, a friend of mine who had decided to “stick close to home” sent me a text message that read “I am getting nervous.” Despite being tuned in to National Public Radio on the drive over to the bar, I was convinced my “stick-close-to-home” friend had access to some private poll data that would eventually result in my having to find a new country to call home.

As is the case just about any night of the week on the trendy north side of the city, parking spaces were at a premium. The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, combined with “parking” if not “road” rage, caused me some extreme distress. By the time I got to the bar, I was in need of major calming down. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness in the bar, I glanced up to the television screen only to see that no states had been “called” for either candidate yet. (Note to self: do something about the drama queen friend who gets nervous without reason.)

Finally some states with minimal Electoral College votes began falling into the red and blue categories. There were no discernable trends except that black suits on grey haired CNN anchormen look very good. Soon the watch on my wrist began moving closer to 8pm CST (it’s REALLY dark out!) and yet more polls would close. WOW! Minutes later, about 12 states were projected with a slight edge of 7 states going for Obama. However, those 7 states had much larger electoral vote totals than those for McCain. I texted “stick-in the-mud” to see if he felt any better. (He did.) It would be a long stretch until the next poll closing at 9pm, so it was time for a burger and a coke and a lot of jokes at the expense of Julie’s Irish boyfriend, Tony. (He claims the only word I spoke last night that he understood was “arse.”)

Soon 9pm rolled around and a disappointingly small number of states closed their polls. It seemed we were destined for a long night, yet again, even though Obama had a substantial lead in “called” states and electoral votes over McCain. Obama had just over 200 electoral votes. I spotted a newspaper section on the table where we sat and noticed an electoral map of the United States. Determining that California, Washington and Oregon polls would close at 10pm and that their combined electoral vote totals would put Obama over the top, I breathed a half-hearted sigh of relief.

Tired and distracted, I barely noticed when my watch neared 10pm. In what seemed like seconds, however, CNN’s explosive graphic “Barack Obama Wins Presidency” appeared on the television screen. All 3 western states had been “called” for Obama! A major “whoop” and a sustained round of applause erupted from the bar patrons. Soon pictures of celebrating Americans at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, wildly ecstatic supporters in Grant Park in Chicago just a few miles away and citizens of Kenya jumping up and down in joy meshed into one joyous view of a world well-pleased with this result.

Modern political courtesy (if one can use those two words in the same sentence) dictates that the victor should not make an appearance until after the losing candidate concedes. John McCain, et al soon appeared on a stage outside the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. I listened intently. Who was this man speaking these words? This was not the erratic, awkward, spiteful man who had campaigned and slurred and “that-one’d” Barack Obama. John McCain spoke words in a manner befitting the strong, patriotic, service-rich public servant that he is. I figuratively wept that the political campaign season had morphed this man into such a caricature. It was simply one of the most moving concession speeches I’d ever heard.

In what seemed like an interminable wait, my friends and I sat in mostly silence in the middle of a rowdy bar, taking measure of what had happened with the election of Barack Obama. The television screen filled with images of a diverse crowd of people in Grant Park. At one point, the camera settled upon the image of a very worn, much older Jesse Jackson with moist eyes and tear stains down his cheeks holding an American flag. Could he have ever dared to dream that 40 years after standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee seconds after Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot to death that he would have the opportunity to stand among tens of thousands of fellow citizens stunned speechless by the election of a young African –American man to the office of President of the United States?

Obama’s speech was yet to come. My mind turned to my friend and neighbor, Lance, whose job as a sergeant with the Chicago Police Department involves, to a significant degree, security, crowd control for major public events. This would be the largest and most important event he had been assigned to since moving to that area of the Police Department. I worried for him and the burden he carried to make tonight’s event appear as relaxed and natural and carefree as possible.

Soon Barack, Michelle, Sasha and Malia appeared on stage and everyone in Grant Park and at the bar erupted in applause. Barack began speaking and while his words were well-considered and deep and true, they also gave me pause, even while listening to consider the significance of what I was seeing. It was as if I was watching two television channels at the same time. Despite my joy at his words, the harsh reality of my concern for his safety, exacerbated by my knowledge of Lance’s work, wished for him to cut his speech short and to go home and enjoy his victory. A definite shift had occurred in the evening. While still joyous at Barack’s victory, the old History teacher in me was taking stock of the perspective of time, as well as realizing the major work we all have ahead of ourselves.

Julie and Tony had left a bit earlier, so only Brian, Philip and myself were left. It was getting late; we all had work to go to in the morning. Brian had ridden his bike over to the bar, so we said our goodbyes with sincere hugs. Philip had taken a cab, so I offered him a ride home. We began walking toward my car. I took one last look back at the bar where we had lived through an historic night. The bar’s name was simple, and one I’ll always remember. It was: the Bar on Buena. It's all good!

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6 Comments:

Anonymous robert said...

Great entry, Rich! Quite a night to remember....
Robert

7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for coming up to the Bar...I am so glad I got to see History happen with you at my side!

-Brian

7:33 PM  
Blogger Gretchen said...

So I finally bellied up to the bar...

Lurved reading this account. It's nice to be able to share some hope together, too. My kids were glued to the TV. I like that. They care who's in and what's going on.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Kirk said...

Rich:

Your account was wonderful. I especially resonated with your comments on John McCain's concession speech. I too felt the real John McCain was finally there for all to see. Although you didn't mention it, McCain was also impressive in his attempts to redirect the childish attitude of his supporters. Finally a great moment for him.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very beautiful account of the evening. I wish I would have read this sooner.

-Bill

9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sending me the link. I am glad we could share that momentous evening! I will never forget it :)

Julia

10:43 PM  

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