“A half moon is shining over a crowd of 20-somethings, clumped together like so many penguins in a futile effort to avoid the chilly wind. Clad in all manner of Halloween costumes, hoodies, jeans and woolen scarves and clasping signs, they stand in a long line at the vast parking lot surrounding Citi Field, home of the New York Mets just south of LaGuardia Airport in Queens. But nothing is too big a sacrifice for the cause: in this case a massive meeting 209 miles away on the Mall in Washington with the odd title of “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” starring Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, most known for their late-night antics on “The Daily Show.”
To add to the drama, internet diva Arianna Huffington had announced Sept. 28 on The Daily Show she personally would fund “as many buses as people to fill them” from New York to help fans get to the Oct. 30 rally. After well over 10,000 people enlisted, her web site, Huffingtonpost.com, closed registrations Oct. 24. And so here we are, about 10,000 strong in pre-dawn 42-degree weather. ….
That is the beginning of a Washington Post Sunday magazine piece I am writing about one of the weirder adventures I’ve had recently. The night of Oct. 27, one of the editors messaged me via Facebook, asking if I’d care to take an unusual assignment. They’d had a liberal journalist follow some Tea Partiers around at the August Glenn Beck rally. The Post was looking for a conservative journalist (me!) to follow tons of left-of-center folks as they boarded one of 200 free buses – courtesy of Huffington Post – at the crack of dawn in Queens. The only problem is I had to be up in New York Friday night to do this thing.
Now I was spending all day Friday in Baltimore as a panelist at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion pushing the “Fire and Glory” book. Plus there was the small detail of who’d take care of Veeka. But on Thursday I decided to take the assignment after I found friends willing to watch her (bless you!) until I could get back home late Saturday afternoon. And thus began the strangest adventure beginning with my catching a train to New York from Baltimore, then taking another train to Queens and staying in the same hotel I did when covering the 2005 Billy Graham crusade.
The next morning, I was up at 4 and within an hour, I was in Citi Field interviewing tons of shivering people who were waiting for these free buses to Washington. It was 42 degrees, I later learned and my hands were so cold, I could barely write. A nice photographer called Robert Woudenberg took this photo of me interviewing some college students who were dressed up as – and spoofing – the Chilean miners. It’s about 5:15 a.m. at this point. I ended up on the same bus as the “miners” and when we pulled into RFK Stadium around noon, a Post photographer was there to meet us. Together we followed the “miners” about this huge rally which we saw almost nothing of. The organizers didn’t know that actual attendance would be quadruple their projections; there were far too few jumbotrons and the speaker system was totally inadequate. All those wonderful HuffPost buses ended up bringing some 10,000 New Yorkers there hours too late. All the good seats were taken hours before.
But the signs! So many people were hoisting about the most clever signs and the weather was gorgeous. I was being paid for being there but I felt sorry for the poor folks – some who’d flown in from California – who were crowded out of the rally. As a local resident for almost 15 years now, I’ve learned one does not attend rallies on the Mall because of the sheer misery of getting there and standing there so chances are I would have never been there on my own. So it was a real kick to see this close up.
When does the article run? Either December or January, so stay tuned.