The Insane Thing I Did (for Sanity)

2 11 2010

Some 200,000 folks descended on the National Mall this past Saturday, and I was among them. Yes, I departed my house at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, and then stood (for what seemed like hours) in the freezing cold in front of Citi Field, waiting with throngs of strangers for my turn to board one of the buses so graciously provided by Arianna Huffington and her eponymous Post. I was certainly not alone. Reports that the Huffington Post had corralled some 200 buses to take New Yorkers to D.C. and back (in one day!) did not exaggerate. In fact, I’m guessing it was more than that, since it seemed like there were nearly 10,000 people standing outside the field that morning. Crazy, huh? Or just crazy enough?

Now here’s the thing: I hate crowds. I avoid Times Square like the plague, and grumble the whole time I’m forced to walk through it. I once had a mini-panic attack on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. But this was different. Whether it was because it was 5:30 in the morning, or because it was so freezing, or, more likely, because these were “sane” people on the way to a Rally to Restore Sanity, this crowd was polite, friendly, fun even. There was no pushing to get out of the cold and onto a bus. There was no pushing period. Pleasant conversations, funny signs, friendly people. It was rather uplifting, exciting to be part of something so huge. (Read this guy’s great account for more.)

The bus ride was uneventful. A little sleeping (or trying to sleep). A break at a rest stop in Delaware. A conversation with the girl next to me about how winter is terrible but how California (she was from LA) does not have these gorgeous leaves at which we were looking. And then some traffic. Turns out, though, that I was on the lucky end. We arrived in D.C. around noon, while many others on the buses made it even later, missing much of the rally.

Once there, I pushed my way into the subway (er, Metro), still feeling rather spirited despite the now somewhat pushier crowd. Making my way out of the Metro took a good 20 minutes, as the crowd twisted serpentine and wound its way to the massive escalators. (I tried to get a photo of the throngs moving up the escalators, which looked like something out of a sci-fi thriller, but it didn’t come out.)

The rally itself was more of the same. Crowds. A bit more pushing now. Some irrational yelling to turn the sound louder (irrational, because the yelling itself drowned out what little sound you could hear). I heard about half of what was happening onstage. I saw none of it. I did not manage to meet up with my friend from California who was somewhere in the crowd. I was bumped by backpacks and elbows and maybe a silly sign or two.

And though a couple times I wanted to shove annoying backpack man who refused to stand still, for the most part, I was happy, even in the madness. Stephen Colbert was funny. Jon Stewart was, though some say tame, also uplifting. Tony Bennett sang “America the Beautiful.”

Then I, (by this point, I’ll admit, somewhat worse for the wear from the crowds) made my way back to the Metro, back to more lines, and back to the bus. I spent the next four hours gazing out the window, listening to my Buena Vista Social Club, and wondering if I’d just wasted a day. But the leaves were rather incandescent, and when they finally opened onto a vast river, lighting up either side with burnt oranges and fiery reds, I had my answer.

Yes, it was somewhat crazy to rise at 5:30 a.m. and to spend eight hours on a bus for a measly three hours being pushed around in a crowd on the Washington Mall, unable to see and barely able to hear. Yes, it might have been “saner” at stay at home and watch the live stream. But the fact was that i was part of something huge. And that’s what Saturday was about. It was about doing something insane to support something saner, and it was about being a part of something amazing. So the crowds, while first exhilarating and then exasperating, were a crucial component to what was ultimately a strange, but incredible, day.

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Fall… For Obama

28 10 2008

This weekend I took a little excursion to Allentown, PA to do my part in getting a certain amazing man elected president. A friend of a friend has been organizing trips every Saturday for the past month and finally I had a free Saturday and was able to tag along.

The drive itself can only be described as stunning. The thing I love about east coast highways is that they are always so tree-lined and, well, pretty. Save for stretches of 101 along the coast and a little thing called the Pacific Coast Highway, California highways are, in general, nothing more than retaining walls and the occasional bush. But here on the east coast they’ve got trees, and lots of ’em. And this time of year, trees only mean on thing: COLOR. Tons of it, beautiful, rich golden yellows and burnt oranges, just short of technicolor.

A little before arrival we made an obligatory stop at a Cracker Barrel. I didn’t realize the southern staple came as far north as New Jersey, but I was happy to have my first CB experience. The general store up front was thrillingly kitschy and I’d almost go back just to wander around there. The food was grand, real biscuits and thick grits. Everything a breakfast should be (including the “I ate too much” stomachache after the fact).

And then it was off to knock on doors. Our first route was a neighborhood where the houses were spread out and set back on massive plots, all surrounded by more of those amazing trees. The ground was soggy and covered with leaves, which were really begging me to jump right in (though given the wetness, I had to refrain).  And every house had better Halloween decorations than the next. I’m talking scarecrows, and mummies that make noise, and one house that even had caution tape over the front, making it look even more like a haunted house than it already did.

But here is the best part of all. Despite the monsoon that breezed in and soaked us, our little car managed to hit 120 doors on Saturday. Though some folks chased us away and many were not home, a very exciting number were pro-Obama, and many even got excited when they saw me at the door with my Community Organizers for Obama button (thanks Alex!). And the final numbers for the day? The dedicated folks of Allentown hit more than 2,000 doors on Saturday. In a monsoon no less.

It was not a little exhilarating to have contributed my small part to what promises to be one of the most important and historic elections of our country’s history, and now I’m jonesing for other ways to be involved and my excitement is building. New York is a buzz of excitement as the campaigns are winding down and it’s looking more and more like change is on the horizon. And me, well, I’ve officially fallen.





Let’s Get Away from It All

27 05 2008

The thing about New Yorkers is that they rarely, if ever, leave New York. And Manhattanites? Good luck even getting most to leave their little island. For many, it’s a big deal even going to Brooklyn. When I first moved here, I had major island mentality. Manhattan has a way of becoming the world at large, and leaving seems as though it might cause a bit of a shock to the system. Or at the very least, it seems difficult.

And yet. Recently I’ve found that, though I love New York City, getting away from the crowds and the traffic is sometimes incredibly appealing. (Not to mention that when I moved I did so with the intention of exploring the East Coast at large.) And, more importantly, getting away is often as simple as the purchase of a train or bus ticket.

And so, a list of the not-so-far, getaways I’ve taken in the past few weeks, and how easy it was to reach them:

  • Newport, RI. Because as one of the oldest (and wealthiest) towns in the country, it is picturesque scenery and rich history all rolled into one: a pretty part town, craggy cliffs, and mansions that drip with class. Who wants to be a millionaire? The Peter Pan bus runs to Providence, or it may be worthwhile to rent a car. DestinationNewport.com is a helpful site for transportation and activities.
  • Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Yes, it’s still New York, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. There’s nothing like a little flower power to stimulate the senses and the imagination: it’s the fastest changing fashion in New York. Because cherry blossoms were so last season. A quick subway ride away. It’s close to the Q train.
  • Boston, MA. I actually went to Middleboro, a peaceful town not far from historic Plymouth but it’s easy to get to Boston, even just for the day, that I’m planning to go again soon. Plus, I have to see Plymouth Rock, which happened to be (in great anachronism) closed for renovation. The Fung Wah Bus runs from New York’s Chinatown to Boston’s Chinatown in just three hours and costs just $15 each way.
  • Cold Spring, NY. This pretty town on the Hudson is great for antiquing or exploring the great outdoors. Take a hike. Or a kayak or a bike ride. The Metro North train takes a little over an hour from Grand Central.
  • The Hamptons. Even if you’re not one of the lucky few with a “Hamptons connection” it’s not hard to get Out East for the day. If driving’s an option, it takes just two hours when there’s no traffic (we left early Sunday morning and came back late that night). The quiet alone is worth it. Then there’s the hot sand between your toes, the extravagant mansions peeking out from behind hedge fences, and the a night sky that beats even Grand Central’s rendering. Driving is great if possible, but the Hampton Jitney runs most of the day.