Obama in Charlottesville

a.k.a., the most thrilling day of my existence. 

Regardless of how you feel about Obama or the party he represents, if you had been in downtown Charlottesville yesterday, your veins would have been coursing with the tangible, electric, energy of thousands of people, first awaiting Obama’s arrival and then crowding in around a perimeter secured by Secret Service agents outside the local campaign office to catch a glimpse of him, snap a picture, shake his hand.

a man serenades the line with jazz

I had to work at 1, so I took the bus downtown around 11 am to avoid the anxiety of limited parking due to road closures. Once there, I meandered the Downtown Mall, camera in hand, to take in the crowds. It was important to me to capture the overall feeling and sense of anticipation rather than just a couple shots of Obama. People started lining up before I got there even though the gates weren’t set to open until 1:00. By 12:30, the line extended back several blocks from the Pavilion, from one end of the mall to the other (some report that it actually extended past the pedestrian mall in the final minutes before the line began to inch forward). It took an entire hour to herd all attendees through the gate; my coworker and I watched them move forward in line from the shop’s large window.

Crowds extended to the end of the Downtown Mall

I didn’t get to attend the event due to work, but my boss, a local small business owner, had a VIP ticket which allowed her to stand at the front of the auditorium. She took some great pictures and got to shake Obama’s hand.

After the speech ended, the coffee shop was overwhelmed by customers eagerly awaiting smoothies and other cold drinks after several hours in the late summer heat. As the final customers trickled in at the end of the rush, we noticed that a crowd had started to gather outside of the shop. Someone shouted, “Obama’s coming!,” and my manager and I immediately ran outside. The area was secured by a dozen or more Secret Service agents. After 15 minutes of waiting, we heard cheering as a caravan of black cars drove down 4th street. Within seconds, the cheering escalated, and there he was! I was maybe 100 feet from the President of the United States: an international figure, a fixture of American politics, a talking point of every American household! I held my camera above my head to try to get some usable shots. It was exciting to see what I had managed to capture at the end of the day’s events.

People crowd in to catch a glimpse of the President

Obama visited the campaign office and brightened the day of many hard working volunteers and staff members. A girl at the restaurant next door shook his hand and her coworkers all high-fived it, as if the thrill of her experience would rub off on them.

As we began our closing tasks at the shop, two girls sat at separate tables, crying. One had been an active campaign volunteer who couldn’t get past the Secret Service to shake Obama’s hand. The other was at the front of the crowd as he arrived, and she, much to her surprise and joy, had shaken his hand. That image summed up the spirit and passion, the sheer emotion – impossible to interpret at times –  of the day for me.

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