You would have thought for a minute that Bud Selig -- on some bizarre whim -- had announced that he wanted to wrap up the World Series right into the very worst of Mother Nature's Octoberfest here in the Philadelphia area, and to prove his arbitrary nature had also decided to do so not at Citizens Bank Park but on a mud-soaked college quad 20 minutes away. It would be hard to imagine what else -- besides a Phillies world championship -- could draw so many people on a day when rain poured down in chilly sheets, as wind whipped off the Delaware River and the thermometer struggled to stay above 40.
Nobody had to be there on an ungodly day -- but here they were, 9,000 maniacs, lined up around the entire south side of the Widener University campus in Chester, rounding a corner with no end in site, all awaiting admission to a mud-soaked field with no shelter from the elements, all to hear a 25-minute speech by the Democrat who wants to be the next president of the United States. As the growing, mostly young throng sunk into mud that was more than ankle deep in spots, it was a little like Woodstock without the three days of music or the brown acid.
Widener's not too far from Attytood's Delaware County bureau -- and so when the lights went out at home around 8 a.m., it was a perfect excuse to step out and catch a local slice of a landmark presidential race in its last throes. This was an event where the odd atmospherics totally outweighed the actualm run-of-the-mill speech by Obama, which was as familiar at this stage of 2008 as an old pair of running shoes and thus was too easy to tune out.
For a political junkie. the color of such an unusual event outweighed the words -- the eerie glow of the TV lights and the swirl of tiny leaves in their hot glow, as Obama spoke in a black windbreaker and jeans. occasionally competing with howling wind and what sounded like far-off thunder. Unintentionally, perhaps, the energy of the event was a powerful contrast with the news that John McCain and Sarah Palin had canceled an event just an hour away in Quakertown because of bad weather.
The real stars were the people, and their determination of these 9,000 to be there on such a raw and miserable day, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The most memorable thing that Obama said this morning was his acknowledgment of that. when he said that "whether it's rain or sleet or snow, we are going to get out and we are going to vote" in a critical election just one week away. In response, the crowd was peacefully enthusiastic; there were a few boos at the mention of McCain's name -- hey, this is Philly -- but most of the energy was positive.
Some writers have called the enthusiasm for Obama a cult (like ABC's Jake Tapper, who was covering the rally) -- and the 9,000 fanatics may well find come next winter that the subject of their enthusiasm is just another politician who can't deliver all the change he has promised, especially in the face of an economic downturn that is more soaking than the rains over Delaware County.
Maybe so, but in an unforgettable October here in Philadelphia, the fact that thousands of people want so desperately to be a part of something that they think might change this country, regardless of how Obama the man turns out, is, in and of itself, something to be hopeful about, especially on a such a gray and bitter morning.
UPDATE: Check out the lightning strike at the rally: