By John Geluardi
The Grand Ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel is a venerable place to hold an election night gathering for supporters of political candidates like Sen. Barack Obama. It just feels important, all that grand late 19th century architecture, polished marble floors and of course the commanding location at Nob Hill’s crest.
And some very important people showed up to support Obama as well. Rep. Barbara Lee was there. I’ve never seen someone talk on two cell phones at once while daintily picking at a plate of fresh vegetables with dip. Also present were San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.
Around 8:30 p.m. people, many in their early 20s, began to arrive in the Grand Ballroom in large numbers, and the lines at the three cash bars grew very long. Many carried placards with Andy Warhol-styled negative images of Obama on one side and the affirmation “Yes We Can” emblazoned on the other.
When Obama came on the massive television screen, broadcast live from his hometown of Chicago, the screams and cheers were so loud that I, along with my delicate hearing, retreated next door to the Tonga Room, where, among large decorative palm fronds, I had a quiet vodka tonic and watched his speech on a smaller television screen with several sedate out-of-towners who looked suspiciously like Republicans. I half paid attention to the speech, which sounded very familiar; big changes in Washington, deficits mortgage our children’s future, no more tax breaks for the wealthy (Ho hum).
Just then the Tonga Room’s fake tropical rainstorm erupted, as it has every half hour since 1945. A rumbling thunder rolled across the room from concealed speakers and mock lightning flashed on the ceiling. I had to choose which fake thundering to pay attention too, the televised speech or the clockwork cloud burst. I went with the tropical storm because it seemed more spontaneous.
By the time I made it back up to the Grand Ballroom, the festivities were in full swing. A raspy voiced woman was trying to get the crowd to chant “Si Se Puede, Si Se Puede” but it quickly fell flat largely because the room was mostly filled with white people who seemed unsure what the phrase meant.
Two teenagers performed an amazing dance routine with Obama placards and people had begun to set free some helium-filled balloons (red, white and blue, of course) that were tethered to the backs of chairs.
Near the Ballroom entrance, someone had propped up a life-sized cardboard cutout of the handsome Obama studiously holding a pair of reading glasses. In the early part of the evening, suppporters would tentatively sidle up to the cutout one at a time to pose decorously with their candidate as they might with a distant relative. But later in the evening a kind of Obama frenzy that had overtaken the crowd and now three and four people at a time were posing with the cutout in very suggestive ways. I averted my eyes and would have reported the misuse to security guard, but could not find one.
But all in all, the event was abuzz with a kind of energy the Democrats haven’t been able to generate for a long time and that, no doubt, is because of Obama. Even I was momentarily caught up in the excitement. Despite my professional detachment, I became aware of a strange stirring … an emotional stirring. I involuntarily began to smile toward a warm light that came from an unknown source. Fortunately, I was able to dash lobbyward and escape into the bracing night air before the spell could take hold.