Thursday, September 20, 2012

Journey to the FLOTUS

This past Monday morning, I stood in a very long line for a very long time with my friends M and J, with whom I have a history of hanging out in long lines. Two hours and fifteen minutes later, we each held the coveted prize--a golden ticket (well, blue, actually, but there was a Willy Wonka golden aura about it) to see the FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, speak at the McLendon McDougald Gymnasium at NC Central U on Wednesday.

In the dozen years I've lived in Durham, I haven't spent much time around NCCU, and I've always gotten there by car. On Wednesday morning, I learned the NCCU gym is a mere 2.5 miles from my house, so I decided to walk there, both to avoid parking and to see the sights more purposefully than I could by car.

As I walked south on Mangum St., I thought about all the photo ops I was missing because I was too lazy to pull out my camera. Had I had my camera at the ready, I could have photographed the license plate of the idiot in the big white truck who almost mowed me down in a downtown crosswalk because he was too busy using his cell phone to actually look at the road. I hope that you, dear reader(s), are not reading this blog post on an iPhone while driving, because that would be really irresponsible of you.

As I headed south out of downtown, pondering the impressive number of times I have survived near misses and wondering what the likelihood is that I'll eventually be done in by a cell-phone addicted driver, I was finally inspired to take my first picture. I had never seen the medallion for the Seaboard Air Line Railway before, since it hangs on the north side of a bridge on a one-way street running northward, and I had never been through the underpass heading south on foot.

Further on, having dodged on-ramp and off-ramp freeway traffic, I turned onto Lakewood Ave. and paused to appreciate the large mural that honors the historic Hayti district and the history of Black Wall Street.

After short jaunt down Fayetteville St., I arrived at the end of a very long line at NCCU at 10:45am; the gymnasium doors were to open at 11:30. Friends N, J, and M eventually joined me in line. Here they are at 12:03pm, still another hour and 36 minutes from the door:

While we waited, my friends modelled the proper way to use e-devices. (Note they are neither driving nor mowing down pedestrians in right-of-ways.)

I have several more photos of people standing in line, but none of them effectively capture the length of the line nor the length of the wait. We finally made it to the gymnasium doors at 1:39pm, whereupon we went through security. We had been warned en route multiple times by multiple volunteers, starting about an hour out, to HAVE ALL ELECTRONIC DEVICES ON! (The volunteers had to shout because they were communicating with a mile-long, noisily convivial line.) Thus, as we entered the gym, I had my cell phone and camera ON and OUT of my tote bag (HAVE YOUR BAGS OPEN!). The security guy hurriedly told me to put all of my metal on the table, so I laid the phone and camera before him, as they both contained metal and they were both ON. Did I mention that they were ON? I'm good at following rules. I wanted the security guy to acknowledge their ONness, but he didn't really care, and my friends suggested I should control myself or I might get us in trouble. Anyway, just so you know, they were ON. Finally, we headed into the arena.

This picture shows N and J watching one of the many FLOTUS pre-speakers speak.

Congressman David Price was one of the pre-speakers. He said some inspirational things about voting, education, and the POTUS, etc. etc., but, well, N had to be someplace else by 3:10pm and it was already well after the FLOTUS was supposed to have started speaking at 1:40, so we were glad he kept his remarks brief.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell was another pre-speaker. A few previous pre-speakers had already led us in the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem, and there were another couple of pre-speakers beyond that, one of whom spoke twice. We suspected the delays were so that the security folks could clear another few hundred ticket holders.

To pass time between pre-speakers, the crowd did the wave a few times--really well, too, the best I've ever seen it. I tried getting an antiphonal "Fired Up"/"Ready to Go" chant going in our seating area, but while the "Ready to Go" folks next to us were doing great, I was the only person working the "Fired Up" end, and it fizzled shortly after it started (not that I'm pointing fingers, N, J, and M). Other folks in the crowd entertained themselves by coordinating a section-wide "NC ❤ OBAMA" display. (Can you make it out in the photo?)

The secret service and EMT density increased around 2:25pm, when, at long last...another pre-speaker spoke.

The final pre-speaker introduced the articulate and elegant FLOTUS, who said engaging and inspirational things about family, hard work, character, education, community, equality, reproductive rights, volunteering, and voting.

The next photo shows Michelle Obama (center), my friend Renee (at least I think that's Renee--bottom left), and about 100 other happy, attentive people.

After basking in the glow of the eloquent, articulate, responsible grown-upness of the FLOTUS, we filed out of the gym, and I headed home. Near the Stanford L. Warren library branch, I learned about the Bull City Blues.

Heading north into downtown, I saw another medallion on the south side of the bridge, this one for the Southern Railway. Wikipedia says the Southern Railway and Seaboard Air Line Railway were competitors; maybe they shared the track on the bridge.

Thus end my photographs and my first ever FLOTUS journey. (I vaguely remember shaking Joan Mondale's hand at a diner in Urbana, IL, in 1984, but that doesn't really count.)

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