Friday, August 29, 2008

84,000: Plus 38 million

According to crowd counts from Thursday night, some 84,000 people were at the stadium sometimes known as Mile High in Denver to watch Barack Obama's acceptance speech. This is in addition to the 38 million that Nielsen today says watched at home. That 38 million is more than watched the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing or even the final episode of "American Idol" this past season.

I believe that 38 million is a bit low, though, since across the country, people gathered in homes, apartments, union halls, Party headquarters, restaurants and bars to watch this historic moment with each other. Stephen and I wound up at Joey's Brickhouse, a restaurant about a half-mile west of Wrigley Field, where, even though traffic and parking were both challenging, to say the least, because the Cubs were also playing at home, about 100 people showed up, and packed the restaurant, as well as the bar area. They had a big screen at one end of the restaurant floor, with a smaller HD screen next to it (we got a table right under the big screen!) and another HDTV at the bar. The two restaurant TVs were showing the Convention broadcast from PBS. The TV at the bar was showing the Bears game but at some point before Obama's speech, that TV had been tuned to PBS, as well. By the time Al Gore was speaking, there was not an empty table (there were, I'd imagine, just over 20 tables set up) in the restaurant. There were a few 'four-top' tables were two parties of two were seated, because the joint just couldn't spare any empty seats, at any table. Up until about 15 minutes or so after Obama had begun to speak, people were still poking their heads in the door and a couple handfuls of folks just stood in the doorway, watching the speech.

After the speech was over, we walked down Belmont to Halsted, mainly to get some Cold Stone ice cream, but I wanted to see what the crowds were like throughout that neighborhood. Up and down Halsted Street, mixed in with the folks in Cubs gear walking to their cars or their trains, were people in Obama shirts. There was a steady stream of people coming out of Sidetrack, which had held a big Obama speech-watching party. Hoping to avoid the Cubs traffic on the walk back to my car, we walked through some Lakeview side streets, and every so often we'd see groups of six, or eight or ten people hanging out on a front stoop, their front doors open, with CNN or MSNBC or CSPAN's convention broadcast still on in their living room TVs; some of the people also were wearing Obama shirts or buttons and a few of these condos/apartments had Obama signs in the windows.

In some way it was like walking around after the Super Bowl. If a brief walk down a one-mile stretch of the North Side of Chicago is any indication, that 38 million number is low. Could John McCain fill a high school auditorium, let alone an NFL stadium with people who wanted to hear him speak? Will people, ordinary get up and go to work every day and sit down once a week and figure out how to pay the bills Americans make a point of sitting down to watch him lay out his vision if elected president, let alone gather in groups of eight or ten or 100? If everyone who watched the speech turns out and votes for Obama in November, he should have no problem at all trouncing McCain.

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