Where to even begin on this... perhaps one of the reasons it has taken me so long to write about this extraordinary evening is there are few words to describe how cool this event was. I have said this many times since and still maintain it.... whether you are democrat or republican or don't even vote... seeing 100,000 people or more who all believe in change, a new beginning, and are optimistic for the future was amazing. I will start by saying thank you to Marc Alghini because without his help, I would not have been there at all. Thank you. Marc called me that day and said he had an extra plus one, access to the field with the other 69,999 people who had been given tickets via a random lottery on the web. I jumped at the chance and we agreed to meet at 7:30 on Congress and Michigan. I finished up my photo shoot for Bar Louie's 2009 Calendar (more on that in a future post) in the south loop and headed back to Wrigleyville to drop off my camera bag, lights, and everything else. As the NBC national nightly news came on at 5:30 leading with a story about Grant Park.... Marc and I both called each other at the same time, as we were both watching where we would be in a few hours and both agreed.... get your ass in gear... we need to get down there. I promptly left my apartment and caught the southbound EL. Just the atmosphere on the EL was electric... It was like going to a rock concert... everyone wearing OBAMA t-shirts, American flags everywhere and smiles on people faces. Without too much detail.... we met up, and headed into Grant Park.... and were just early enough to actually line up in the last row, between some metal bike racks and the overflow press area. Behind us were news photographers from around the globe covering the event, yet not willing to pay for the prime media access right in front of the podium.
We stood for hours, shoulder to shoulder with people from all walks of life, old and young, including a pregnant woman who was happy to have the bike rack to sit against when the standing became too tough. It was surreal... added to by the fact that it was unseasonably warm on this early November evening. To this day, I wonder what election night would have been like had the weather been Chicago brutal as it could have been... or had the outcome of the election been different. As it was, it was one of the most peaceful, happy gatherings I have ever been in the midst of. We all know how the night turned out... and I am sure by now you have seen the pictures and images. This next part of the story is where it truly took a unique turn... and went from surreal to out of this world. I hate to also say, that as the clock approached 11pm and Obama's speech... Marc, the one who granted me the golden ticket... actually had to leave, to fight the river of people and flow upstream as he had to be on-air at WXRT that night at midnight. I watched the speech in a crowd of new friends, united by our bond of experience.
After the speech was done, the tears of many shed... I stood there watching the crowd disperse and knew that the wait for the EL would be long... I figured I would hang out, photograph the people and enjoy the warm evening. No plan... and no expectations. As the masses attempted to leave... all of a sudden, a few people realized they could easily hop the bike racks separating us from the media area and providing a quicker exit to the street. I watched in amazement as approximately 30 people hopped the bike rack and walked leisurely to Columbus Drive and beyond. Fully expecting at any moment police or secret service to tackle them to the ground as Brian Urlacher would an opposing quarterback. Nothing. No one stopped them.... So.... as I was carrying my big zoom camera lens and DSLR.... I figured, what can I lose. 34, 35, 36 and then the 37th or so person to hop the little bike rack was little ol' me. All of a sudden, being the same as backstage at a concert... I made up a story in case someone did stop me.... "my pass is right here under my sweatshirt, wait... no it must be in my camera, bag.... wait... I must of lost it.... I will leave right away.... sorry." I walked around, and witnessed thousands of media filing their stories and the news talking heads doing reports to destinations across the globe. I kept walking and looking... enjoying the sites and sounds as things wound down. As events would have it, I walked around, and found myself at one point RIGHT in front of the podium where Obama had just accepted and given his speech. To tell you about where I was.... imagine where Oprah stood and watched from. From there, I ventured around the side of the stage and into the VIP pathway that kept the VIPs of the evening apart from the media.
About a minute after wandering into this path... I noticed a group of secret service gathering and getting ready to move. To my surprise, Obama emerged from the "Guests of Biden" tent and began a slow walk to another tent. A small group gathered along the fence to shake the hand of the President-Elect.... and I did the same. On the night he was elected, about 12:45am of his brand new day... I shook President-Elect Barack Obama's hand. Amazing. I left after this, as you can not get anything better.... and basically called many, woke up my parents, and walked almost the entire way from Grant Park back to Wrigleyville.... maybe I should say... floated....
I have attached a few of my favorite shots from that evening here. The #1 shot is right after I shook his hand, I captured this black and white shot of him walking alone... Can you even imagine the thoughts going through his mind at this point. I added via photoshop the image of Lincoln and the American flag. Additionally the phrase that is the theme of his inauguration.
Another of these images is from that night... with a great line from his speech that I found through my friend Katie Marta. I just thought it fit well over the image of Obama speaking, with all the American flags in the air. Enjoy.
Enjoy. Bring on the future... it is so bright... I gotta wear shades.