Hope Against Hope
It was three degrees in Chicago. Amy and I were driving around at 7 a.m. on a Saturday looking for a parking space an hour before the ticket booth opened. We spotted the long line as WGN radio announced tickets were sold out. Why were they queued up outside McCormick Place a mile from the entrance knowing there were no more tickets? Hope against hope?
We despaired. Back home I contacted Ethan in Atlanta, a devoted friend who honed his political PR skills working for me during the Clinton administration. Ethan was on call for eight years as one of Vice President Joe Biden’s advance people. He had connections. By Monday night, he’d emailed me two tickets for President Barack Obama’s farewell speech the next day.
The confounding street closures on our drive back to McCormick Place frightened us into imagining we were shut out of the mysterious world of a presidential event. Blockades finally led us into Parking Lot A. We left our coats in the car and grabbed our coveted tickets. Out of the parking garage, across the fourth-floor bridge over Martin Luther King Drive, down the escalator—we hurried up to a suited young man with a big badge that read, VOLUNTEER. He said, “Oh, you have red tickets. You’re in the expedited line. You don’t have to get in line now—go enjoy yourselves and come back at 5 o’clock.”
We exchanged lucky-us glances and twirled around toward the McCormick Hyatt hotel. Amy asked for guardian angel Ethan’s address so she could send him a thank-you gift, maybe a Chicago pizza.
In the hotel food court we luxuriated in a booth that had outlets for our phones and televisions tuned to CNN. We lunched on pizza and salad, then turned our attention to the televised Senate confirmation hearing of Senator Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General. We hardly spoke as the senators’ questioning revealed that civil rights, voting rights and protecting women from violence were bills that Jeff Sessions had voted against.
The McCormick Hyatt is attached to the mammoth halls of the McCormick Convention and Exposition Center. Obama celebrants poured into the hotel lobby past us in the food court toward the farthest hall to wait for one of the most bittersweet hours of our lives.
We joined the stream of believers to the red-ticketed line-up thirty minutes before walking through metal detectors and down a long gated chute to our seats—and a perfect view of the President’s podium.
The chatty crowd had tissues ready. My cell phone buzzed. “What? What?”
I shrieked at Amy next to me to read CNN news on her phone. Jake Tapper was reporting the Russians had damaging personal and financial information on Donald Trump and the Trump campaign colluded with Russians to fix the election. People around us were buzzing about the story. Some shrugged their shoulders as if they expected it. Some said, “More nuttiness.” And some, like us, had the look of weary scavenger hunters receiving one more piece of the multi-level puzzle explaining Hillary Clinton’s loss.
Just then, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and the Voice of Chicago children’s choir came on stage and sang Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.”