Presidential visits

Obama in Henderson: two views

Photo: Steve Marcus

1. The day before there’s a kind of geology that happens in ticket lines. The first people to arrive, the first layer of fans, are hardcore and hard-packed. At Green Valley High School on Thursday, the people closest to the box office for tickets to Barack Obama’s Friday town hall meeting arrived hours in advance to stand, solid and confident.

The second layer of people, about a block behind, was formed by fans who arrived early enough to perhaps be too late. Some 3,000 people, it’s reported, were waiting for half as many tickets. The middle ground is tectonic territory—the line is going to shift, and some people aren’t going to make it.

Obama at Green Valley High

The last layer, a loose group of stragglers, wound another block backwards. The very last people in line were really just tumbleweeds, blowing in on a whim, and blowing away without a ticket to stick to.

Drill down the line, and you get a core specimen of political sentiment. And that’s what the Weekly did Thursday afternoon, just before 4 p.m., when the tickets were supposed to be passed out. So here’s a sampling of the people in line, and what they were talking about, arranged by hour of arrival, or degree of desperation to get in—the two are hardly different.

→ IN LINE AT 10 A.M. “I want to offer the president a first-hand apology,” Zena Manderville said. She was upset with Oscar Goodman, who was upset with Obama, who said that people shouldn’t gamble their kids’ college savings in Vegas. Goodman was overreacting, Manderville said. And the whole Republican Party, she added, is acting like a “hysterical woman behind the wheel of a car.”

→IN LINE AT 11 A.M. Tara Neal was living in China when Obama got elected. Everybody in that country knew who he was. In fact, Chinese children would often run past her and yell one—or all—of the following: Hello, Fuck You, Obama.

→IN LINE AT 11:30 A.M. Dennis Smith came early from Arizona to see the president, but said people were cutting the line. When someone alerted the police standing around, Smith said, they were told nothing could be done. Then another woman, a stranger, told Smith that he was still close enough to get a ticket. Smith hugged her.

→IN LINE AT 2 P.M. Shalonda Simington said she’d like to ask Obama, “Where’s the stimulus money?” Lorraine Agular said she’d like to ask, “Will you marry me?”

→IN LINE AT 2:30 P.M. Jennifer Sievers came from Washington to Vegas for the MAGIC clothing convention, but broke away to try and see the president. She owns two used clothing stores in Walla Walla. Does she approve of the president’s taste in suits? “I think he’s very stylish. And Michelle, she’s an icon.”

→IN LINE AT 3:15 P.M. Lorena Singer was standing next to a Segway. She rode it from the parking lot to the end of the line in about 15 seconds. Then she waited a few hours.

“He is our president, and I want to hear what he has to say,” Singer said. “He has inherited a lot of challenges.”

→IN LINE AT 3:25 P.M. Klaus and Helga Kuerten are married. She loves the president. He does not. Klaus voted for McCain. The couple doesn’t fight about it. “I’ll give Obama a chance,” Klaus said. “After all, this is a democracy.”

→IN LINE AT 4:30 P.M. Raymond Williams didn’t think he’d get a ticket. He was standing about a football field away from the box office. He just wanted to have a few words with the president.

“Look at all the things Bush pushed through under the table,” Williams said. “Let’s get some things done!”

→IN LINE AT 4:45 P.M. Bill McCavley just got off his shift at the post office. He was still wearing his uniform. He figured he was too late, but he still wanted to give it a shot. “I’ve seen him a couple of times,” McCavley said. “He’s much better live.”

2. THE DAY OF Angella Swinger stood outside Green Valley High School on Friday morning in a beaded Native-American ceremonial gown, waving a long brown feather. She came to Las Vegas from Colorado to tell the president, who was speaking at the school, that people on reservations in Montana are dying for lack of propane.

But Swinger, who also goes by “Mama Bear,” didn’t know she needed a ticket to see the president, so she left.

“Maybe I’ll try to catch him in Sacramento,” she said.

People who don’t like Barack Obama are stuck with him for the next three years. This may explain why the crowd protesting the president’s school visit wasn’t extraordinary in number—angry signs won’t make those three years go by any faster. This may also explain why the “tea party” turnout was lackluster; those guys are too busy sharpening their teeth for closer prey—Harry Reid—to waste their foam on the president.

No, the only people who wanted to protest the president Friday morning were people who really, really hate him.

An example: One man, observing the president’s security suite and motorcade, told an older woman standing nearby that he hoped the president would never be assassinated. This wasn’t kindness. “You’re right,” the woman replied. “I want to see him go out in shame, in a shriveled heap, in shackles.”

Behind her, a man strolled up and down the sidewalk holding a toilet plunger.

Line outside Green Valley High to see Obama

Across the street, a woman held a sign that read, “We need tourists not Obam”—so angry with the president, apparently, she forgot to add the “a.”

And meanwhile, a guy trying to map out where he could catch Obama’s eye spat into his cell phone: “That snake came in the back way, but we’ll get him when he leaves.”

Obama left where he came in—through the school’s front entrance, in an armored limo, flanked by dozens of police on motorcycles.

Across the street from the school, a group of about two dozen children, between 6 and 9 years old, stood outside chanting and jumping. They noticed the protesters milling around outside their classroom, a teacher said, and wanted to watch Obama go by. The kids understood the president was here. They understood this was a big deal. They just didn’t understand his name. And so when they started chanting, in unison, “Barack Obama!” the name slowly melted in their mouths, and morphed into “Rock Obanan!” and then “Barrocko Mom!” and “Marock Obomo!”

The adult protesters started chanting back: “Sarah Palin! Sarah Palin! Sarah Palin!” This confused the kids enough to quiet them, at least until the motorcycles kicked up and the president slipped past in his limo. It was too exciting to ignore, and the kids became a wiggling, screaming pack, almost drowning out the booing protesters.

“They’ve been indoctrinated,” a woman said.

Quick as the screaming started, however, it ended. In seconds, the president was gone, and the kids were lined up, headed back to class.


Abigail Goldman

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