Saturday, November 22, 2008

Obama Rally (overdue)

I never had the opportunity to document the Chicago Obama rally. It's long overdue, but the moment still resonates throughout the city and the nation. I think I've been afraid to write about it because I don't know how my words could do it justice. Let me start by apologizing for the inadequacy of words, and by saying that it was, perhaps, the most important political event I will attend in my lifetime.

Despite my excitement about Obama and this election, when November 4 arrived, I was not convinced that I should attend the rally. All day at work, I changed my mind by the hour. One moment I was going to go and be an active part of the most historical election in U.S. history. The next moment I was imagining gun shots and bombs. A mixture of 9/11, MLK and JFK images whipped up fear in my mind. I really was worried (and I wasn't alone), and vacillated all day. When I left work, I wasn't going to go, and convinced my friends it was the sensible decision. An hour after that, I was putting my persuasion skills to the test, urging the same friends to ignore what I'd said earlier, that we HAD to go, that this was history and we were HERE. In Chicago!

Finally, after a scrumptious dinner, eyes glued to CNN as the early voting results rolled in, the four of us found ourselves on the El, headed downtown. On the train, the excitement and optimism were palpable. Everyone texted back and forth with friends, capturing election updates, sharing information with new-found friends all around them. We were on the train when I found out that Obama took Ohio. I was elated. It made up for the depression I'd felt when my home state had re-elected Bush; when I'd felt that my vote for John Kerry hadn't counted; when I was embarrassed to admit that I was an Ohioan. This night, I was proud of my state, and of my country. I have always been grateful to live in the United States, but I have not often felt proud of my country. It was a new experience. And I savored it.

Emptying out of the train, we headed up to the packed streets, where that same anticipation we'd felt on the El was now emanating from thousands of people. On every corner, vendors were selling overpriced Obama wares (I bought a pink T-shirt proclaiming, "Obama President 2008" after haggling with the seller), and Dunkin Donuts provided us all with free donuts. It felt like some kind of carnival, only there weren't many kids. Just excitement everywhere.

When we finally poured into the grassy area of Grant Park (the part not reserved for ticket-holders [those lucky dogs!]), we all vied for spots close to the jumbotrons. But people weren't aggressive. Again, a sense of solidarity swept through the crowd. It was a shock to all of us when, shortly after staking out our spots, Obama was declared the winner. It happened so fast! We all remembered 2004, when we'd gone to bed uncertain who'd won the election. Waiting and waiting for official counts. This time it just happened. Smoothly. As if there had never been a doubt that Obama would become our next president.

The crowd erupted and immediately I knew that I had no concerns for my safety. I have never seen so many people crammed into such a small space be so happy and so unabashedly display their elation. I felt it like electricity through my whole body. I felt like a Christmas tree.

We were all relatively respectful during McCain's speech, considering the circumstances, but could not wait to hear from Obama. If his win seemed swift, the anticipation of his speech seemed to last for eons. It seemed as though we heard words spilling from all these mouths that didn't matter, and we only wanted to hear one man speak. And when he finally did, all of us struggled to keep it together--I couldn't restrain my tears, and as I looked around, I saw moisture spilling from so many eager eyes. One man weaved through the crowd just sobbing, reaching out to people around him, unable to contain his emotion. We all understood that what was happening was a momentous change for our country. Obama fed our starved spirits with hope for our future and the future of our children. It sounds cliche, but he was a beacon of hope, shining light out on every one of us. This is not an exaggeration. The tears, smiles, emotion, and widespread good will radiating from every square inch of the park proved it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Gaining My Bearings

Chicago is very well laid-out, but I get lost constantly. Actually, I’m starting to get better about finding my way, and have far fewer instances of driving (or walking) around fruitlessly searching for a road I’ve missed despite my best efforts to follow the directions provided by friends, mapquest, or people on the street. I have the worst sense of direction, a characteristic that has caused me great embarrassment. I sometimes wonder if directional sense is directly related to self-confidence. When I’m somewhere different, or if I have someone in my car that makes me nervous, I feel somewhat defenseless, and very unsure of myself. And then I get lost. But when I first arrived here, I even got lost going back to places I’d already been to. It worsened after my break-up at the end of September. During the past two weeks, however, despite being very ill with strep throat part of that time, I noticed my thoughts decreasingly focused on that old relationship, and my confidence increasing. I’ve only gotten turned around twice since then. I even drove myself to my new doctor’s office with a 102 degree temperature, feeling like crap, into busy downtown and back home again without a hitch. This may sound like a small feat, but it was a pretty big deal to me.

Let me also add that when I drove into Chicago for my interview in August, it was the worst traffic I’d ever driven in in my life. It was a Sunday evening, and I got caught in Cubs traffic, mixed with people driving to the beach, and, in my neighborhood, going to one of the many theatres for Sunday evening shows. On I-90, on the way in, traffic was bumper-to-bumper, and I had to learn, immediately, how to be aggressive in switching lanes. I was tense and nervous and, go figure, I got lost. To be fair, Yahoo! Maps gave me the wrong directions (again) and after I’d missed my exit, I got off at Wacker, recognizing the street name from my brief glances at the Chicago map online. I managed to maneuver us to Lake Shore Drive (which was insane with traffic) and then, my mom called the hotel to get directions and they gave us the wrong directions, because they thought we were heading north, when we were headed south. When I saw that we were about to merge back onto I-90 (and pay more tolls!!) I swerved over and got off at the last exit, spitting out a few expletives in the process. Finally, the hotel gave us the proper directions, and I got back on Lake Shore going north and we made our way to the hotel.

Once we were there, we didn’t want to leave. I felt as though my pores were emanating stress. But, we had to go check out some apartments I’d found on Craigslist, because I didn’t want to have to come back to Chicago just to do that if I got the job. So, after calling my now roommate for directions, we ended up back on Lake Shore drive, and got completely trapped in Cubs traffic. It took us about 45 minutes to get to where I now live (it should have taken about 20.) Anyway, to make a long story short, I have never again seen traffic in the city as bad as I experienced that day. But it made me extremely nervous about driving in Chicago at all, and I’m still getting over it. I fully expected Chicago traffic to be that way all the time; thank God it’s not.

The diagonal streets do not help me out when I miss a street and try to turn around by making three right turns. I want to make a box to get back to the street I was on and go back the way I came, but then a diagonal street pops up and suddenly I’m on some street I’ve never heard of. And there are some places where three streets intersect all at once (like Halstead, Lincoln and Fullerton) where you don’t know what the hell to do because the street signs are impossible to read and you have four possible ways to turn (if you don’t want to go straight.) So, it’s not entirely my fault that I get lost, and sometimes end up on a completely different street than the one I thought I was on. I really need to invest in a compass. I understand north, south, east and west better in this city than I ever had in my life. As long as I know which way I’m headed, I can usually figure out how to get where I’m going. But I don’t have an innate sense of where the lake is (my east reference, of course), so I sometimes don’t know which direction I’m going. And I always forget which way the street numbers are supposed to go if you’re traveling west.

Luckily, I generally only drive on the weekends. I rely on public transportation the great majority of the time. I do get confused, however, when I get off at a new stop and have to head, say, west on a street. I often don’t know if right is west, or left.

It’s embarrassing to get lost, especially when you’re trying to fit in. But I, at least, should give myself a break. After all, I’ve only been living here for two months. I’m still feeling out the situation, like baby roots just creeping out into the soil, looking for the best route to water. I am still uncertain about my future in this city, my place here, and which people I should get close to. I have times when I feel lost—literally and figuratively. But those moments force me to search, until I find my way back home. And I learn something each time. So, I may get lost a dozen more times in the next couple of months, but eventually I’ll have gotten lost so many times I’ll know my way around the whole city! And then, maybe, I’ll have my bearings.