About 6:45 last night, as we waited inside the cozy fairground hall in humble Humboldt County for the former leader of the free world, I saw him. Briefly. Through a gap in the temporary white privacy curtains at the north end of the hall. The dark blazer, the shock of white hair. "He's here! I saw him" For a few brief moments, I was standing less than 20 feet from frikkin' Bill Clinton.
Yes, it was a long afternoon of waiting in a brisk north coast winter breeze. I planted my chair on the concrete around 130 in the afternoon when there were only about 70 people in front of me and precisely in the center of the shade shadow created by the Redwood Acres grandstand. By the time the scrap paper and highlighter tickets were passed out, my wife and 9-year old daughter were tickets 119, 120, 121.
Rumors and gossip rolled up and down the line like ocean waves, and were fun to follow all afternoon. Only 377 people were gonnna get in. Then only 240 would have seats. There was a sign-in list and if you weren't on it you weren't getting in. No, wait, there wasn't a sign-in list. Hold on, yes there was. A required Secret Service questionnaire...passed out by a 10 year old boy which looked suspiciously like a Hillary campaign flyer to gin up emails and addresses of potential donors. The tickets mean nothing. Oh, yes they do.
In the end, even though many of us had stood in line for several hours, kept our places, organized ourselves in numerical order as the event volunteers had asked us to, there were many people who pushed their way to the front, forgetting the Democratic ideals of fairness to others and concern for their fellow citizens, and cut the line into the hall since those numbered tickets that had been handed out to the first few hundred of us never mattered anyways. (My great thanks anways to all of you hardworking Dem volunteers who pulled off this massive event on just a couple days notice....despite the whining, you done great!)
But that's all prologue. Once in, the excitement of anticipation permeated the place. Smiles. Laughs. A rolicking gospel choir.
Then Bill showed up. I kept thinkin', "This is Bill Clinton...in Eureka. What the hell is he doin' here?" I remembered having the same thoughts 10 years ago when Willie Nelson came to Carlsbad, New Mexico, a town of 20,000 in the backwaters of the southwest. Why? It didn't matter though, cuz the big dog was here.
Bill's hour-long speech was fun as spectacle, though probably typical of campaign stump speeches. He pumped Hillary as the only logical choice in this race. He promoted her as someone who not only promotes change but as the only surviving candidate that has actually changed people's lives.
His not-so-subtle digs at Hillary's most prominent competitor came in the question, asked several times, (and I'm paraphrasing) "Does it make sense to promote change by tossing away all the candidates who've spent their lives making real change and starting over?" He tossed in his admirations of Sen's Biden and Dodd, and Governor Richardson to bolster his case.
And he made a good case. My wife, a Richardson then Obama follower before 7pm last night, is almost convinced. Me? It was an effective argument, though I'm gonna withhold judgment 'til the stars in my eyes have a chance to clear. As effective as Bill was last night in garnering new Hillary supporters, I wonder what happens if Obama or Edwards shows up to turn on a Humboldt County crowd. Will we follow them and their star power just as eagerly into the fray? That bouncing from inspiration to inspiration in such close proximity to our real political superstars must be what it's like living in Iowa or New Hampshire, eh?
The moment of the night came after the speech. While Bill walked the cordoned line at the front of the stage, shaking hands, hugging crying women, passing autographables over his shoulder to his handlers, my 9-year old daughter managed to squeeze her way underneath and through the throng of giddy adults who were pushing and jostling for position to shake the president's hand.
She got not just a handshake, but a brief conversation with the president. OK, so it was just him asking her name three times since it was loud and she's on the quiet and shy side. But Bill Clinton, the former leader of the whole frikkin' free world, Democratic party saviour, most famous guy on the planet, leaned down, put his hand on my kids' shoulder, asked her name, and signed her now-not-so-worthless piece of scrap paper with the orange highlighted number 119, as Mom and Dad giggled like schoolkids behind her.
Oh what a night!