Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Meet the Press at University of Maryland Barack Obama Rally

Today's articles pick up where yesterday's left off. My 16-year old son and I are in College Park, Maryland, seeking a way inside the University of Maryland Comcast Center. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is scheduled to appear at 12:30 p.m.

Comcastopoly: Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200"Where are you?" This must be my tenth text message in the past five minutes. Actually, I can't text that fast, but it sure seems that way. Futile attempts to reach my son become increasingly frustrating. Did my cell phone battery die? It beeps, I flip. Nada. What is going on? I'm getting a bad feeling about this like I never should have left that boy alone. Suddenly, the phone plays Sex and the City theme song.

"Where are you," I query rather loudly, not bothering to check whether it's him. I instinctively know. For some reason, I can barely hear myself, let alone hear anything coming out of this crappy phone. A faint crackle. Sounds like someone talking. Turn to the left. Better. I can make out a human voice.

"There's another entrance. I'll be inside in about two minutes," he says.

"Another entrance? Where?"

"Around front," he says, "Get here soon. I'm about to go in."

I have no idea where he's talking about. Then the signal dies for the umpteenth time. When I was a student here, there was no Comcast Center. Just agricultural farmland as far as the eye could see. It smelled so bad, you could only find people involved in agriculture sciences. Maybe there was another front of the building, but I had nothing to go on. It didn't make sense to backtrack along the ever expanding line, don't ask me why. I think the cold was starting to get to my brain.

As I cross the yellow tape dividing mere mortals from the top plaza entrance, I see Steely Gaze at the helm staring me down like I'm trying to pull a fast one. Maybe he wants to remind me, ma'am, that once I cross, I'm not allowed back. I get a sudden urge to punk the guy, but I'm too old for that kind of thing and besides, I have to find my son before he walks inside. I run past the colorful Testudo statue and make my way around the right side of the building. The other side of the parking lot comes into view.

This can't be right. Yet, I'm hoping against hope that it is like if I hope hard enough it will be so.

Nope. Clearly, this is the back of the building as there is no line of people in sight. Just one lonely campus policeman guarding a back entrance. I'm crushed but not defeated as I once again whip out my cell phone. This is getting to be a campus ritual. Not even a signal. Is the battery dead? I just charged the darn thing. Must be all the back and forth messaging.

"Um, officer, I really have a problem and I'm hoping you'll help me," I tell the nicer looking campus guard. Maybe the guy will have a heart. I begin with the whole sordid story. How we left late from Baltimore. How traffic stopped us from getting a good spot in line. How we started to get very cold. How the line wouldn't move. How my son and I became separated. How we weren't allowed inside together. How my cell phone didn't work. How my son nonetheless found a way inside. When I finished, I half expected the guy to let me through the guarded entrance out of pity. Instead, he handed me his cell phone. What a prince.

I reach my son, finally, but it's too late. He's already inside. In a way I'm relieved. Only have to look for a way in myself. Low and behold, I don't have to look long. There she appears luxuriously clothed, lovely lady in fetching high heels.

"Excuse me," she says pointing to the guard, "Is there a press entrance?"

"Around the corner," he responds, "There's a side door. You can get in there"

Voila. My ticket in. All I have to do is cozy up. But I look terrible. Hair askew and I'm wearing sweat pants and sneakers. On the other hand, what's the worse that can happen? She'll say no and I'll be no worse for the wear. Years in the courtroom taught me how to approach people. I give it my best shot.

"You're a reporter," I begin, "For what paper?"

She tells me. I ask her name and introduce myself like a fan seeking an autograph. Because the story ends well, I'm not allowed to reveal Angel of Mercy's true identity. I will only say I'm forever grateful and hope one day to repay her act of kindness. I hand her my card, a freebie from a rip-off site that identifies this blog so she won't think I'm some truly weird person. I look directly in her eyes and tell her I'm a blogger. Looking people straight in the eyes has always helped me connect, although the results, like with Steely Gaze, are not always positive.

This time I'm successful. She'll walk me inside as long as I'm not some kind of terrorist. I assure her I am not. I have no other agenda other than to witness this moment in history. She takes my response at face value. At the press entrance, she tells me to walk in back of her. I quickly comply. Enveloped by a warm glow until I spy Steely Gaze following us inside, I envision the bubble about to burst.

Miraculously, he passes. Who says there isn't a higher power? I let my friend at big newspaper do all the talking. She won't lie for me, but won't rat me out either. That's all I can ask. The guards search my small black bag, finding two sandwiches wrapped in tin foil and a banana. I hold my arms out for the metal detector wand as compliant as anyone can be. So this is what it's like to be press. I'm wide-eyed, taking it all in, trying to attract as little attention as possible. It works.

Angel of Mercy and I are both issued green tagged press passes. Trailing behind, I make small talk along the way. What does she report? How long has she been at the paper? Does she enjoy her job? When people in uniform question my presence, I flash the press pass and continue walking. Though I look like a bag lady, no one stops us. The guards look so harried. Yet, Angel of Mercy looks important, someone who knows how to take charge. The press pass is my ticket to ride and ride I do, mingling with the big leagues on the Comcast Center floor.

A text from my son. Magically, the cell phone has power. "I see you," it reads, "I'm in section 104."

"Meet me after outside," I text back. "I'm staying down on the floor."

Down here indeed. Is that Peter Franchot?

To be continued...