Today just after dawn I found myself driving into the rising sun on Sunset Road, heading to Coronado High School in Henderson, Nevada, an upscale suburb of Las Vegas. I was going there to hear Barack Obama speak. It was the second time I'd tried to attend one of his Las Vegas rallies. The first time, at a much bigger venue and a far less ungodly hour, I hadn't been able to find a parking space within walking distance of the stadium he was speaking at.
This time I found an empty lot, a little patch of undeveloped desert, behind a business park about a mile from the high school. As I walked to the school I saw cops on horseback patrolling the closed-off street in front of it — who knew that Las Vegas had horse cops?
A relatively small crowd turned out — around three thousand according to the estimate of police on the scene. It didn't look like a Henderson crowd — it had a working-class feel. It was about two-thirds black, with lots of African-American families in attendance — many mothers and fathers holding their small children up on their shoulders to get a glimpse of the man who might become the first African-American President. You couldn't help but be moved by the sight.
I was also there mainly to be a witness to history in the making. I wanted to see “that one” in person just once. It took a while for things to get going. Along with a bunch of other truants I sneaked off behind the bleachers to have a smoke. (Big Nanny is turning America into an extension of high school by other means, to paraphrase a friend of mine.)
I sat on a low wall and puffed away with two young Latino kids, heavily pierced and tattooed. From the other side of the bleachers we heard things getting going, as someone sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” over the PA. The two Latino kids got up, took off their baseball caps, placed their hands over their hearts and stood at attention during the song. I did the same. We all clapped afterwards. Then I headed back to the field.
Senator Harry Reid managed to send the once-excited crowd into a funereal mood during his introduction of Obama. His speaking voice and style of oratory have the precise clinical effect of Ambien. Obama's appearance changed all that in an instant — the crowd went nuts as the tall, slim figure in shirtsleeves took the podium, looking very young and very weary. But he spoke well. Just before he came on I noticed that I'd lost my car keys, which distracted me a great deal during the speech. I'd heard it all before — it was his standard stump oration — so there was no great loss. You can just make out Obama below, between the woman's upraised hands:
The first time Obama mentioned John McCain the crowd started booing. “No, no, no,” Obama admonished. “You don't have to boo — you just have to vote.” The crowd gave him its most rousing cheer of the day. That's how a decent man campaigns for office in America — and how he encourages Americans to get excited and feel good about humane political discourse.
Afterwards I tried to locate someone who might know if there was a lost and found station where misplaced keys might turn up. The campaign workers and the cops were incredibly kind and sympathetic, but there was no lost and found station. Finally a campaign worker made an announcement that lost car keys should be brought to the stage, but none were.
At about this time I was interviewed by a Japanese TV crew about the rally. I tried to be cheerful about Obama and not look like a guy stranded in Henderson, Nevada without wheels and without apartment keys. A day of extreme vexation and very expensive taxi rides loomed ahead. I think the Japanese reporter, a cute young woman, chose to interview me because I was wearing a cowboy hat — that would probably play well back in Japan. She looked as though she was having a hard time holding back giggles when she asked her questions.
I decided to make one last inquiry at the security station at the entrance to the field. “Car keys?” said the cop I asked about a lost and found station. “See if they're in that pile there.” He pointed to a big pile of car keys at the bottom of a fence post. My keys were on top. I have no idea where I lost them or who found them. They probably fell out when I was sitting on the low wall smoking — so it may have been the Latino punks who found them and turned them in. God bless whoever it was.
Another miraculous day at the end of Campaign '08.