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November 4th, 2008
November 4, 2008. The day I turned fifteen and a quarter, and coincidently, the day Barack Obama turned forty-seven and a quarter. Still, he was mostly likely celebrating becoming first African-American president of the United States. This was a day I will never forget, mainly because it was the first truly historic day that I have experienced apart from 9/11. It was also the first time in my life that America had elected a president who was not an adulterer or a total idiot (well second, bravo Florida). Barack Obama will probably not be perfect, or even close, but he is definitely more promising than his two predecessors.
Anyway, I remember that day extremely well. I woke up to a strange sensation of nausea and excitement. The nausea won out in the end, and my parents let me sleep in therefore missing the first four periods of the day. My dad agreed to drive me to school since he had taken half the day off to go vote.
It was a picture-perfect fall morning. The leaves were in that stage right after they began to change color, but right before they fell off to make way for winter. The bright orange trees seemed to make the already clear sky an even deeper shade of blue. The biggest surprise was when I stepped outside of the car headed toward the school and it was warm. Not a fifty degree warm-for-late-fall warm, but an undeniably comfortable seventy degrees.
I pushed the doors of my school open into a student center strangely more abuzz than usual. The rest of the day seemed to completely revolve around the big election. I discussed the importance of the day’s happenings with my Democratic friends, and informed my Republican friends that Palin and McCain were so going down. My best friend, and Republican, Steph joked that McCain had Obama beat in the looks department and I reminded her of a certain late-night comedy show skit (Hint: I can see Russia from my house!). Nobody could really focus on learning, even the teacher. They were too busy checking the web every five minutes for election updates. It was the most wonderfully chaotic school day I have had since preschool.
A few hours after school let out, my parents piled my sister and me into our Toyota Highlander to head out to Lincoln Park. It is our grand tradition to visit our family friends house for every major political event. We always cram in front of their 32-inch TV with a few of their other friends to watch all the drama unfolded (on MSNBC, because apparently we liberals are required to by law). Since we were there a mere two months earlier for Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, it was our official headquarters for Election ’08. While making a quick fast food stop on our way to the city, my mom received a call on her Blackberry.
It was John Ayers he former coworker and brother of Bill Ayers (yes, that Bill Ayers). He called to inform us that a local radio station offered him insider poll information in return for the scoop on his infamous brother. Although he did not agree to their proposal, he somehow managed to the get coveted early poll results. My mom put him on speaker so he could announce the news to our entire car. We had New Hampshire and New York, and North Carolina was looking good. Really good. The excitement only increased from there on out.
We walked in to the basement to the smiling faces of ten somewhat tipsy fellow Barack supporters. They welcomed us with a boozy “yaaaay you guys are here!” sat us down, and poured my parents celebratory glasses of champagne (even if the celebration was a tad premature). My sister and I dutifully sat on the floor, as those were the seats reserved for those under the drinking age. Nonetheless, we hardly minded our roles as the rejects of the party. The man on the couch across from use was walking the thin line between tipsy and drunk, and by the language he used when stock footage of McCain played on the TV, it was apparent that he fallen clumsily to the drunk side. Let me tell you, there is nothing more entertaining than a drunken liberal on election night given the opportunity to rant at a Republican. It is simply a magical combination that happens once every four years, kind of like an eclipse.
We had changed the channel to CNN around nine, since we found out that Keith Oberlmann during an election is a living definition of unbearable. A very antsy Wolf Blitzer announced that the Democrats had gained Minnesota and New Mexico. Nothing big, but we would take what we could get. My sister, who was completing an electoral map for a school project, sat up straight and started smiling. “We’ve gotta win. Hey dad look,” she said bringing the 8½ by 11 map over to him “if we get California, it’s mathematically impossible for us not to win!” My dad double-checked the math and confirmed her claim, but we were careful not get our hopes up. Being democrats, and Cubs fans, we were no strangers to disappointment. After an hour of mere speculation, the clock at the bottom right corner of the TV flickered from 9:59 to 10:00 PM CST and the screen went blank for a split second. The brief darkness was soon replaced by a headshot of Obama beaming next to the words “Barack Obama: President Elect of the United States of America.”
That was the hardest I’ve screamed in my entire life.
We all jumped, and shouted, and called our friends. It was a moment of brilliant confusion. I did not even realize what the hell happened until the ride home. Some of the people at the party were rushing out the door to catch a red line train down to Grant Park, but we opted to head home for his speech.
We made our way down Fullerton through the west side of Chicago. It has always been one of those streets that had freaked me out, because they had those little police cameras with the blue flashing lights everywhere, suggesting “areas of high-crime.” It didn’t help when a line of undercover cops drove by with their sirens blaring through the otherwise-quiet night. Even though I was having something of a panic attack, I peeked out the window to see what could possibly be happening. To my shock, people were lining the streets, cheering and smiling. Some were even dancing, waving their Obama posters frantically in the air. The undercover cops turned out to be simply supervising this neighborhood celebration in the streets. In fact, the majority of cops broke their usual solemn expression and smiled along with everyone else.
No longer childishly afraid, I turned to the people filling the streets, unzipped my winter coat, and pointed proudly to my Obama ’08 shirt. Then the most amazing thing happened. People started to cheer me on, cheer our car on. It was a strange, yet wonderful, sort of spontaneous parade. These were people who had nothing in common with me, except maybe a zip code, but we seemed to be caught up in the same moment together. While half-listening to John McCain’s undeniably depressing concession speech, I looked up to my father in the driver’s seat, and he was absolutely awestruck. Looking out the window at all the commotion, he kept forgetting to drive. Later, once he found the words, he talked about how when he was my age the only reason people would flood the streets in the west side was because there was a riot going on. The idea that that particular neighborhood was coming together instead of falling apart was just beyond him.
The day came to an end as I watched Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia stand in front of the crowd in Grant Park. Curled up in a blanket I tried to wrap my head around the importance of the day. It didn’t work because I’m somewhat lazy and decided I’d rather go to sleep, but in the months to come I finally grasped its significance. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would disagree with the value I place on that particular fall day, but for me at least, that was probably one of the most historic days of my life, and I got to watch it unfold on both a national and a local stage. I realize that this probably is doomed to become the annoying, exhausted story I tell my kids every November 4th; but a day like that is beyond priceless.