I had overtime this Monday. I wanted it, had signed up for it, was grateful for it - but after I found out that Bill Clinton would be coming to Nanticoke the next day to speak at a school less than two blocks from where I am currently sitting, I really, really hoped the overtime would be cancelled.
So now I faced the prospect of a night of work followed by - what? Would Clinton groupies and CNN trucks be occupying all the on-street parking spaces? Would Secret Service agents stop me and demand to know what I was doing coming home at 7:00 in the morning? Would the streets around my house be blocked off for security reasons?
And what sort of sleep would I be able to get? The event was scheduled to begin at 4:00, and people were advised to start lining up at 1:00. I figured I would come home, take a shower, get dressed, and then doze in a chair for a few hours before moseying over to line up at the school, maybe meeting a friend along the way, maybe making a few phone calls while I waited.
I came home from work Tuesday morning to find things exactly as they would be on any other weekday in October.
Nothing unusual here.
I went through the usual morning routine: fed all the cats (indoor and outdoor), gave Homer his medicine (he still
has congestion), and then went online for a bit. Wile there I saw this message from Gort
regarding the day's festivities:
You don't have to wait in line just go to the press entrance at 3 :30. They will have a table for Bloggers.
Well. That was interesting. Bloggers would be allowed press access? Cool.
I found myself falling asleep at the computer and realized that if I took a shower now I would probably wake myself up and not get very efficient sleep afterwards. I called my friend and advised him of the situation regarding press access for bloggers, and then made plans to go to sleep immediately, get up at 11:15 and meet him at 12:00.
I overslept, of course. I slept from 9:30 to 11:30, got up, and took a shower. My friend walked to meet me at my mom's house at noon, and then we hung out there for a bit, watching the local noon news followed by CNN. Around 1:00 my friend and I headed out to stand in line. I had decided to wait in line with the other civilians, and decide at 3:30 whether or not to go for the special press access.
I felt bad for my mom. She would have liked to go to the event, but there was no way she would be able to stand in line for that many hours, or even walk from her house to the school gym where the event was being held. I suggested that maybe she could drive up to my cousin's house, park there, and watch President Clinton arrive by helicopter. (I was assuming he wouldn't be subjected to the pothole-filled streets of Nanticoke and the construction-snarled highways leading to it.)
My friend and I stopped at my cousin's house - really my cousin's mom's house, since my cousin moved after she got married two years ago - to visit with my aunt, my cousin, and her baby. We advised my aunt of the situation with my mom. I called my mom and let her know that access to the street in front of my aunt's house was now closed off, so she would need to find somewhere else to park, and walk a little more.
We continued on to the school. Despite the lateness of the hour - now closer to 2:00 than 1:00 - the line was surprisingly short. We guesstimated that there were only about 100 to 125 people ahead of us.
Some of the crowd ahead.
Time wore on. I discovered that the ringtone on my cell phone - the old-fashioned bell ring of a rotary phone - is not even remotely an unusual choice, as I kept on trying to answer rings on other people's phones. I wasn't able to get through on my phone call, but I did talk to my mom, who was now debating whether or not to go to see the presentation after all. The line behind us didn't really stretch out that far, so it seemed to me that even if she were to join the line at the end, she would almost certainly be able to get in.
But the reality was, line-jumping and place-holding and friend-joining were all very common in the line, and I didn't think anyone would object too loudly to a little old lady joining her son fairly far up in the line. My cousin drove my mother to within fifty feet of where I was standing, and she walked to join us with the aid of her cane.
I have very little to say about security. I have heard that the Secret Service had a presence in the city in the days preceding the event, but their presence at the actual event was subtle to the point of invisibility. No snipers on the roof, no strip-searches as we entered. As far as I could tell, with the exception of the dark-suited men who turned up in my final photographs, nothing.
Shortly after my mom arrived, just around 3:30, I spotted Gort and Mrs. Gort arriving in the company of an unfamiliar woman. They were making a beeline for the entrance, so I ditched my friend and my mother (as I had warned them I would) I headed with the Gorts to the press table to sign in and pick up my fancy "PRESS" lanyard.
I left my mom in the company of these young ladies, Carol and Shirley from Exeter. They knew of Gort's blog and Dave Yonki's blog and even Joe Valenti's Pittston Politics, but had never heard of Another Monkey. Until now.
I approached the press table, identified myself, dropped the names I had been advised to drop, and received my press lanyard. And like that I was in...the taper's section.*
I circulated among the Working Press like a caged tiger - literally, because we were in a fenced-off section in the back of the room. But we had risers which would allow us to take photos over the crowd. Gort and I were soon joined by blogger Steve Urbanski, who writes the Northeastern Pennsylvania politics column for examiner.com
, and I believe I spotted at least one other blogger there
One of the first groups to be allowed to enter were the elderly and handicapped, and my mom made her way in with them to a seat on the floor very near to the front of the room. My friend, positioned as he was fairly far up in line, also took a seat near the front. The bleachers on one side of the gym and the floor of the gym itself filled up with what we estimated to be at least seven hundred people, including the standing crowd directly in front of the press section. I staked out a position that had a fairly decent line of sight to the podium in the front of the room.
I attempted a self-portrait showing me with my PRESS lanyard, but my arms were a few feet too short to make that work. Note the stickers: as a blogger, I don't have to maintain an appearance of objectivity. Note also the lovely photobombing incident.
Time continued to pass as the crowd was entertained first by recorded music and then by the school band. At around 5:15 the National Anthem was played, and then the head of the School Board took the podium to declare that the games had officially begun.
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Todd Eachus was first up.
Next came Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato. In person he looks remarkably young, younger even than his relatively young forty-nine years. He had made a point of coming to the press enclosure prior to the festivities and shaking hands with each of us. He spoke for about five minutes, at the end of which Paul Kanjorski and Bill Clinton took the stage.
Representative Kanjorski spoke next. Veteran Congressman Kanjorski is in a difficult battle, facing not only a Republican opponent but also a wave of anti-incumbency fervor. As President Clinton would later note, the country is angry right now, and rightly so. But decisions made based on and guided by anger are rarely the correct ones.
After ten minutes, Paul Kanjorski turned over the podium to the guest of honor, President Bill Clinton.**
It was remarkable and heartwarming and nostalgic to listen to President Clinton. All sorts of memories came flooding back...including, after a while, the terms "policy wonk" and the acronym MEGO - "my eyes glaze over," referring to the reactions of some folks to hearing a President actually talk about policy and issues when what they really want to hear is jingoistic cheerleading.
And talk he did, about policy and issues and the good, solid reasons to vote for Paul Kanjorski over his opponent, or any Democratic candidate against their Republican challenger.
The crowd applauded, and cheered, and responded enthusiastically to each of the President's statements. But it seemed that through the cheers there were one or two voices shouting out, just on the edge of coherency. Well, there are always people at these events who want to turn the attention to themselves. But...
But what is a picnic without ants? Or flies, or hornets, or unnoticed piles of dog poop hidden in the grass right where you've spread your blanket?
It soon became clear that these weren't just particularly rowdy members of the crowd. The frequency of shouts increased, until every statement, every sentence, every rhetorical question, every phrase and clause and momentary pause was punctuated by a shouted comment or retort or response from what were obviously a pair of voices in the bleachers near the front of the room. One male voice, one female voice.
Finally even the President had had enough. He stopped his speech and offered the hecklers a deal: you let me finish what I have to say, and then afterwards anyone who wants to can stick around and listen to what you have to say. It was an offer that the hecklers obviously felt they could refuse, because they continued with unmitigated gusto - perhaps now emboldened by the fact that they had had their efforts recognized and acknowledged by their target.
(In the end there was no "Don't taze me, bro," no Secret Service takedown, no Rand Paul-style headstomping. After the couple continued their belligerent shouting, a group of people wearing matching T-shirts approached them and escorted them out of the building.)
The President's remarks went on for about forty-five minutes. At the conclusion he removed his jacket, stepped off the stage, and, accompanied by Representative Kanjorski and several dark-suited dour-faced men, waded into the crowd to shake hands and sign autographs.
My mom got to shake his hand. (He called her "honey.") My friend who I had ditched earlier in the evening got to shake his hand. Many, many people got to shake President Clinton's hand. But not me.
However, as a blogger, a member of the press, I did get to stand on the risers and get some nifty photographs.
Dems’ go-to guy makes pitch The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA
*I am not a Deadhead, and have never been a Deadhead, but I know enough Deadheads to have picked up some Grateful Dead lore. In the early days, bootlegging of Grateful Dead performances was widespread, and the band realized that excellent live recordings of their performances were circulating among their fan base and increasing their popularity. So they made a deal: taping would be allowed, but in designated "taper's sections", which offered the same sound quality as the rest of the venue but often had obstructed views. So you could record the show in peace without disturbing other fans, but you might not get to see it very well.
**If I recall my Strunk & White correctly, the proper title for a former President of the United States is "President."