Sometimes history comes right up to your doorstep.
Well maybe it doesn’t. I just like that as an opening sentence.
Although it pretty much did the day before yesterday (May the 23rd) when it was reported in the paper that a Bernie Sanders (California primary) political rally would held Santa Monica High School, about four blocks from my house.
When it’s that close, you kind have to check it out. (Any further, however, and I ‘d have given it a pass. I have a “four-block radius” for “historical happenstance”. If I’d have lived a mile from the Battle of Gettysburg, I’d have said, “I’ll read about it in the newspapers, and gone back to my napping, cursing that confounded cannonading.)
The “doors opened” at four – it was outside, so no actual doors – but, driving in that direction on her way to work, Dr. M informed me that people were already lining up at three. So I prepared to depart. (It sounds like trek up the Ulangi River. I was just walking to the corner.)
I grabbed a “restaurant leftover” half a turkey sandwich wrapped in silver foil from the refrigerator and I placed it in my pocket. I bought a bottle of Fiji water from the nearby convenience store, which I also slipped into my pocket, along with my Kindle (to read while I was waiting), my wallet, my keys and my cellphone, which I brought not to call people but to keep track of the time. (I use my cellphone considerably more as a watch than as a communication devise.)
My pockets were really full.
When I arrived at 3:13 – I checked my cellphone – the line had already turned the corner, as I did as well, making my way at the end of it. Where I experienced an immediate mishap.
Noticing a low brick bench along the wall encircling the high school, I went over to sit down, not noticing that there was a slight “drop” between the sidewalk to the seating area, and I immediately turned my ankle. Someone asked me if I was okay, to which I tentatively responded, “I don’t know yet.”
By the way, that’s the last person who spoke to me for four hours, when the second and final person complained, “You’re blocking my view.” If you’re looking for random quotes, that is all you are going to get. The crowd was friendly, but not to me.
Snaking snail-like along the sidewalk – to mix two belly-crawling metaphors – the line reached the grounds of the high school in two-and-a-half hours. (You had to really want to get in. Or have no life as I do, so you have nowhere to be.) Along the way, seeming partisans hawked t-shirts and campaign buttons. I was tempted to inquire “Where does the money go?” but I was afraid I’d hear, “To me, asshole!” so I didn’t.
As befits a Bernie Sanders political rally, the crowd was skewed around the edges, seventy-five percent of them under thirty, and twenty percent of them over sixty. The ones in the middle were chaperoning young children, offering an educational “field trip” in cultural awareness.
The older contingent was in reliable “Hippie Mode”. One wore a vintage tie-dyed t-shirt saying, “Wage Peace”, another saying, “Unfuck The World.” They seemed noticeably relieved. Finally, they had a candidate matching their wardrobe.
Reaching “Security”, we had to empty our pockets, which in my case took some time. When the Security Guard saw my sandwich, he said, concerning the encasing silver foil, “That’s metal. That can’t go in.”
Fearing confiscation of my half a sandwich, I immediately unwrapped it, returning my now bare turkey sandwich into my pocket. Unfortunately, it was liberally slathered with Russian dressing. Making the loose change in there noticeably sticky.
I saw seats up front, but I was prohibited from getting there. My reflexive reaction: “Yeah, even Socialists have ‘VIP Lists’.” I later discovered that the reserved seats were for handicapped attendees.
I wound up standing at the front of an area that would later have thousands of people crammed in behind me, which was fortuitous, because I had a clear view of the podium, and if I had been sardined in the middle of thousands of tightly packed people, my intense claustrophobia would have kicked in and I’d have been compelled me to run home. Or remain, surrounded, and freak out.
After some canned sixties-ish music, there were some preliminary speakers, the most exciting for me being Dick Van Dyke. The guy’s ninety. Apparently nobody told his body.
A woman standing beside me held a handmade cardboard sign reading “Bern Down For What”. Literally dozens of camera folk and photographers came to take pictures of it. Their attention reinforced my position as “The Clueless Outsider.” Everyone believed the sign to be noteworthy, and I had no idea what it meant. (Did I ask her? No. She seemed so pleased with her handiwork I was reluctant to intrude.)
My self-perceived “out-of-syncness” was confirmed moments later.
A violinist played the National Anthem. And virtually no one sang along. Except me. I sang quietly, but I sang. It was like, to this crowd, “National Anthem” equals patriotism equals Viet Nam War equals bad. I was sad about that. They had surrendered “love of country” to their adversaries.
Finally, Bernie Sanders came out, white hair flying in the breeze, blue-collar shirtsleeves rolled to the elbows. The crowd loved him. Bernie was the “Outspoken Grandpa”, making the parents look compromising and weak.
Who doesn’t want their parents set in their place?
“Rock Star” Bernie treated his audience to his “Greatest Hits” playlist. The crowd adored it. And why not?
“Free college tuition.”
“Refinancing college loan debt at a lower rate.”
“I will legalize marijuana.”
“And I will get you a girlfriend.”
That last one is made up. But if it wasn’t, it would have fit right in.
Bernie Sanders is passionate and committed. A spellbinding speaker, he ain’t. Nor a great speechwriter. On a least four occasions, he would drumroll an issue, and then say, “Here’s what I’d do about it. Two things.” It was always “Two things.” I read a number of Lincoln’s speeches. Lincoln never said “Two things.” He said one thing. And said it eloquently.
It was almost like… “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges”? This was, “We don’t need no stinkin’ oratory!” As if well-crafted speeches equals manipulative equals “old politics” equals bad.
Bernie Sanders spoke for an hour-and-a-half, never once saying anything I had not heard before (or that his audience wouldn’t like. Nor, to my surprise, did he solicit donations.) After an hour, stopping only to cheer one of his familiar promises, the crowd began milling around and talking amongst themselves, seemingly less interested in the candidate than in possible hookups after the event.
The rally ended at eight fifty-seven, five hours and forty-four minutes after I had arrived. I was proud of myself. I had stood (virtually) the whole time on a swollen ankle. And not once did I feel the necessity to pee.
The crowd was definitely enthusiastic. (Although hardly explosive.) They wanted to tear it all down. I like a lot of it the way it is. I just wish it worked the way it is supposed to.
Will I vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary? I will, because I agree with him about most things. (And he reminds me of some of my counselors.) I do not, however, want Bernie Sanders as the nominee. There is madness on the other side. And “seasoned and sensible” has a better chance of defeating it than ”socialist and irate.”
Anyway I am glad I attended the rally.
Hey, I had to.
It was just up the street.