But hang on a moment. The whole thing didn’t happen. I think you’re all imaginary and that I’m just dreaming this – no! I’m in a coma, that’s it. I’m actually in a hospital bed, tongue lolling out of my head after an airborne chair knocked me out at a Mötley Crüe reunion gig - and in the corner a TV is playing footage of two ageing white men shouting each other down in a Presidential debate. I’ve seen through the matrix and I’ll tell you how I found out, and how you can too – at around 8pm on election night, CNN beamed into their studio Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas and he went onto explain how his mother was proud of his work and that he, and he alone, had energised the young people in the country. This was a dream, no reputable news organisation would do this and he was a goddamn hologram.
So relax, lay back, hope for the adrenalin injection to your veins to come soon and all hail your future President Mitt Romney.
But if it is real…fuck.
I leave the brutally desolate Parthenon Hostel, a place so empty of life that you could walk down corridors wrapped in nothing but a swastika flag and you wouldn’t hear a peep. On the streets, everyone seemed calm; an eerie calm that is usually the precursor for enormous disappointment. I pick up a Chicago Red Eye and read an article testifying to the power of youth voters. Youth voters - the 18-25ers, the dopeheads, the slackers, the numbskulls… criminals – are always meant to influence elections; and they mean to do it every time, but there was just like this other thing that was goin’ on and…etc. The article points out a lot of statistics are saying how young people with nothing better to do than talk to pollsters are definitely going to vote.
But it’s late in the day for voting and none of the young folk I see have the luminous glow I was led to believe came forth from Democrat voters. If Obama had seen these youths out of the window en route to his ritualistic basketball game, he’d have been throwing airballs all afternoon. Their careless, easy, outgoing posture; the lusty skin; the hopeful eyes – it must have seemed like a goldmine at rallies for the last two years. Today it looked careless and vacant, like they were heading to friends to play on their Wii while being too busy reading up on celebrity murders and movie premieres to go and vote. This is the generation that downloads its music for free – what if they just stay home and wait for him to be given to them? I was getting The Fear, coming up in rashes and boils; I wanted to grab the first young person in suspenders, tight jeans and a trilby and smack him round the head with a billy club, screaming “Vote! Vote! Vote!”
Before I turned into David Byrne in the song ‘Animals’, I headed to Grant Park. This is where the voters headed, I realised. The city had been left to the drifters and the boneheaded and everyone else had gone to the riverside greenery. Yesterday you could walk through to the press section but word is they tired of being bothered by unprepared, unprofessional and unpaid writers. The cordons around the park, however, were manned by good-natured cops – there are no helmets or clubs here, and they’re asking how people are. The atmosphere suggested two groups of people who thought the night would go how they wanted, and both got it spot on.
I joined the end of the Plebs’ Non-Ticket Holder Queue #1. I talked to a young guy in an elaborate gold-on-black Obama t-shirt straight from the School of Hip-Hop T-Shirt Design – the face of Obama gigantic and spreading down to the waist. He explained how this queue goes to the north of the park, and ticket holders head south towards the main stage. He asked me if I were American who I would vote for. “Nader.” This comment fell flat and I succumb to buy an Obama pin – if Shit Broke Loose I’d use the 2” needle to fend off assailants.
Coming down the queue I see the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt, looking somewhat confused in that election dead-time between the candidates going undercover and the polls closing. When I saw him again he had a big sloppy grin on his face as his cameraman took footage of two poodles in Obama t-shirts. I didn’t know the BBC was this hard-up – I’d have pretended to be a Bob Barr Spokesperson if they were having such a hard time getting meaningful interviews. One of the dogs started barking, noises to the effect that he was Republican and wished to be freed of these terrorist sympathisers to wreak havoc amongst these pinkos.
The gates to the Outcasts’ Non-Ticket Holders Grant Park Bonanza were opened and the queues bounced with eagerness. Inside, I took up position, aimed myself squarely at the JUMBOTRON and realised too late I would not eat now until after this election was over. Our choice of broadcaster was CNN, and every few moments they would show aerial shots of Grant Park and the crowd would go wild. Only three times did they follow these maniacal and hysterical shots with those from Phoenix, Arizona, apparently because they were getting complaints that it was simply too hilarious and elderly relatives were having a hard time breathing. The first time they had cut to the McCain hotel gathering, the Phoenix Boys’ Choir were in full swing. Fresh-faced, chubby lads singing about Our Lord while the Republican Party unravelled seemed to sum up the bizarre course of McCain’s campaign. The next time - maybe an hour later when Obama was nearly assured victory - the carpets were piss-stained, howlin’ mad socialites threw highballs around, lobbyists got in fist fights and there was rampant incest – and all to a live performance of ‘Born To Boogie’ by that meatheaded toad Hank Williams Jr.
And oh! how we laughed when CNN cut to Dana Bash at McCain headquarters finally.
“Dana, do the people know what is happening there?”
“Wolf, they do not, the news is not being broadcast here, not since the early positive results.”
This could be an avoidance of reality not seen since Babylon Zoo, or…Fox News came off the air to untie the limp frame of Sean Hannity from the noose above the news desk. After 8 years of giving the finger to dissidence, why start now accepting the choice of the public? We’ll hole up here, y’see, and we’ll just say McCain is President, y’hear – they’ll have to bring the troops in to stop us! GOP ÜBER ALLES. Hey, Williams! We didn’t say stop playing, y’ cheap rascal!
Early on, exit polls showed 62% had voted on the economy – they may as well have called it for Obama then and there. As it was, two moments stand out clearly. The first was Pennsylvania being called for Obama – such a huge state and one which I had felt being there wasn’t leaning McCain. Watching him in Wallingford the crowd seemed demoralised and defeated. It was the difference between running for a train you felt you could catch and leaving one you knew you couldn’t. No one there believed they could catch this train and they received a drubbing accordingly. The crowd in Grant Park booed McCain’s victories but it was the half-hearted calls of a victorious crowd, and occasionally quite witty, if a little puerile: “Wyoming, Why?!...U ‘tard!...more like Arkan-sucks!”
The second moment I will never forget – it was not the actual announcement of his election, but the realisation minutes before that it was coming. At 9:55, some state somewhere was called for Obama with little fanfare and bumped him to 220. The crowd, one section at a time saw California closing in 5 minutes and then it was a done deal – 55 sweet, juicy electoral votes straight from Schwarzenegger-Hollywood Country with a note attached, reading, “Terminate the election; hasta la vista; that’ll be all folks.” No louder cheer have I heard than when the ever-rotund Wolf Blitzer announced victory. A man in a Cold War Kids t-shirt nearly fainted. The music kicked up and as ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ played (not included: Blue), the motorcade carrying the President-Elect came past the park. Maybe it was s steam on that cool night, but I’m sure I saw smoke coming from the main car – I believe being given the reins to your country would throw anyone off the holy road of former smoker.
John McCain came on and the initial unrest in the crowd was replaced by a deep shock at seeing someone concede a Presidential race, many thinking it had been consigned to the past. The tragedy of his campaign is that he happened to attract his supporters. I wanted to see that infamous temper rise up when his crowd wouldn’t refrain from booing the President-Elect in a concession speech. “Yeah, boo-boo, you mindless, knuckle-dragging idiots! You lost me an election! He was meant to be the radical, and you all turn up with pitchforks to my rallies!” At Wallingford, he also struggled with the crowd. Every bit the soldier, he struggles with personal adulation and fights back against it – and, not forgetting, the first time in his life a rowdy mass of people confronted him he had most of his limbs broken. I sometimes clapped alone to McCain’s speech – an essentially decent man who strayed this year and hired the Bush election machine to win him the power that at 72, I believe, he desired with the horny lust of a 15-year old. Graciousness doesn’t do the speech credit – with that, and an appearance on SNL in the last week, it was McCain circa 2000 back from the dead. I have no doubt that had he ran a campaign that allowed him to be the witty rapscallion that he always seems to be, he would’ve won.
The beautiful first family came onto the stage – smiling kids and a husband and wife who seem to love each other deeply, rather than the typical political marriage of convenience, of the, “These are my policies and this is my wife,” variety. And then came the Big Event. And well…you’ve all probably heard it hundreds of times. It was equally gracious – you may think it was only one line about his opponents, but close aides tell me that’s all he could afford before his nose would shoot out and impale Oprah. Then a beautiful moment came when Jesse Jackson - a man who ran for President twice and stood with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - was seen utterly stricken by emotion, biting his thumb with tears streaming down his face.
The speech came to an end and…what do we do now, Barack?!
We wandered away towards the bridge leaving the park. U2 was playing and it didn’t seem as particularly appalling as it usually does. The streets were filled like rivers, people from one sidewalk to the other – cheering, chanting and hugging. An elderly white woman and a young black man embraced in an urban park after dark – they would have ran for their lives in either direction had this been any other night. Lonely, foreign political junkies were swept into groups, but refrained from singing, “Yes We Can,” remaining sceptical of its worth till the joyous end. I jump into an open sandwich bar and when I came out, the streets were emptier and there was a calm that always follows the storm.
Walking home I give out 3, maybe 4 dollars, to a couple of homeless people needing a fix or a train fare, or whatever - it wasn’t my concern. I thought back to the homeless people of New York, carrying their lives in laundry bags on the subways. It’s hard to avoid the racial element in this – you’re more likely to be homeless if you’re black in this country. Some people are still excluded from the political process and who knows what will happen to them when Obama takes office in January – my gut says the same people will be asking for change when he runs for re-election, and who knows if they’d care what had happened the last four years.
Furthermore, Obama no longer has the Fallen Rockstar Syndrome to fall back upon, the condition that keeps JFK, RFK and George McGovern encased in a permanent “what if?” He could be your favourite band that sells their songs to Apple – yes, they need to make a living but it hurts nonetheless. It’s important, if only to retain sanity in the next four years, to remember what the editor of The Independent wrote a few days before the election – America is another country, after all, and decisions will be made for the good of her people rather than those abroad.
I left the next day – Chicago was relaxed, people made eye contact and smiled and there seemed to be a satisfied glow in the streets. I head West on the California Zephyr train and sit amongst what appears to be the Mormon community of Utah and Colorado. Their appearance and speech is so bizarre, being around them is like living in Sims land with the balding characters from Guess Who? There are cute Mormon girls of a limited gene pool, adorned in white bonnets, who would be damned eternally for a brief encounter with a Godless Jew. A Peter Beardsley look-alike spotted me eyeing his daughter and I can now say, reliably, that at 21:59 on the 5th November my soul has been projected as hell-bound. But they are harmless - and a minority - and I feel comparable with those who voted against Gay Marriage on November 4th in feeling anything but acceptance for them. Some people can like U2, definitely, and I can let that go. Yes We Ca…no, can’t do it.
When night falls on the flat farmlands of Illinois and Iowa, it truly descends into a deep darkness. We go over the Mississippi River, the star of Huckleberry Finn. The story of an escaped slave that is sometimes racially insensitive, it now seems archaic. I think of a couple who asked me take a photograph of them back at Grant Park – it’s night and I aim the camera roughly towards them. But when the flash comes I see held in the tiny camera screen a beautiful, happy, smiling African American couple in perfect light, Obama speaking behind them on the giant screen. Whatever this may turn out to be, it is certainly vindication for middle-class African Americans. Still, on taking office, Obama will be the most violently despised President in recent memory, without having done anything but be born mixed-race. I don’t believe in a God but I hope Obama’s introduces that yahoo out there with a gun and a lot of hate to the front grill of a Greyhound bus.
Oh, unpleasant thoughts. Must end this positively. Obama would want it that way, so would McCain – too much futile anger has expired in these last two years. Well…there’ll be grandstanding from many people, the media will state just what a generational shift this all signifies – but we’ve had good Presidents before and gone back to god-awful ones so I don’t see this as the enlightenment. No, I’m reminded now of the late Hunter S. Thompson who died in this last electoral cycle and who was missed dearly in the process. Fear and loathing, fear and loathing – for at least this election, it seemed to be trumped for something else and that must be the positive end.
That is if it all happened, of course.