“I feel like our souls have left our brains” – Rachel
It’s 4:25. I’m standing in line for a self-serve register at a Safeway (as I have for the last ten minutes), barely keeping upright. It’s all a blur on how I arrived here. Outside, there are throngs of people strewn about the streets, waiting patiently in line, forty or fifty strong per store, looking for any form of sustenance. At one time I was among them. My merry band of former BU students attempted to get Chipotle…then Chinese food…then went for even the most basic of sandwiches, all to no avail. Instead, I clutch to my vitamin water and Safeway Select Cheese Trio Pizza like it’s a plane ticket out of Saigon circa 73. The right side of my face (and only that side) is burnt and is so warm I swear this pizza could be cooked on my cheek. Hell, the radiation popping off from the sun has to be somewhat equivalent to a microwave, right? That could work….
And as I stand here, I can’t help but laugh at what got me to this station in the first place: sanity.
note: all included videos look and sound markedly better in HD. But I’m sure you already know that.
The day started innocently enough. I had rolled out of the AeroBed at 8 AM, running on at least four hours of sleep, and immediately started eating pancakes, complimented with a Bud Light or four. Today was to be a celebration. Or a rallying cry. Maybe a battle statement? The thing is, no one among our group of twenty twenty-something rally enthusiasts was exactly sure what we were in for, what to expect, or even what we wanted. Beyond that, who knew how many people would show up to a rally on the Washington Mall held by two comedians (two very influential and beloved comedians, but comedians none the less). But we were sure we were in for…something.
At about 10:30 we left from Chinatown towards the mall, catching little groups of people along the way. A couple here, a few college kids there, some parents with their kids just buying groceries. Nothing too impressive. About ten minutes later we hit the mall, and all of a sudden we were in the middle of the battle scene from Ben Hur.
By the time we made it to the rally, my group had been reduced to about ten people. We very easily made our way as far in as possible (not very far to the center), ending up about a million feet from the stage itself. Luckily, we were stationed right in front of a screen/speaker super-combo so we could experience the rally like it was being shown on television. It’s the closest thing I’ll get to watching a Cowboys game in JerryWorld.
The crowd was simply massive and full of people of various ages, from mid-60s to li’l kids. Everywhere you turned there were just people on top of people (and by that I mean standing side-by-side in very orderly rows). I’ve never been around this number of folk without any pushing, shoving, or selfishness. Then again, the last time I was in a giant crowd was to see Rage Against The Machine. An example of the crowd’s puritanical nature: there was a person with a sign that blocked the views of some people behind them. The eclipsed people asked, “hey, could you please put that sign down? We can’t–” and the guy IMMEDIATELY put his sign down and apologized. It stayed down the entire show. He had to have had Swedish blood in him; there’s no other rational explanation. Well, except maybe he was sane.
Now’s as good a time as any to point out the demographic of the crowd: pale. And lots of it. This could damn near be called The Million Bro March. My friend Doug turned to me pretty early on to say how disappointed he was in the lack of diversity but it didn’t really click in until The Roots took the stage. They stormed through a ferocious opening to their set, highlighted by the rollicking “Thought @ Work.” Eventually, they brought on John Legend to join in on the fun. I present to you Exhibit A on why I hate white people:
NOTHING! Not even some flinching! Just standing forward like drones. Listen to those beats! I’m shocked I kept the camera still. God we’re just the worst.
In one of the most cruel twists of fate, we knew just how massive the event was because of how pissed off some people were that they couldn’t hear a thing. Odds are that they set up for 100,000 people, tops, and we doubled that, easily. So while I’m trying to listen to instructions from my favorite set of MythBusters (yes, Adam and Jamie were there – and that set quite the tone for the afternoon) some uppity crowd members decide to spoil my fun by chanting about how they can’t hear anything, therefore not allowing ME to hear anything. How’s that for
irony poetic justice cruelty? I could barely enjoy the all-female wave!
The show went off relatively without a hitch (at least for those who could see and hear it fully). I so dearly miss the Stewart/Colbert banter from their segments on The Daily Show in the mid-2000s so having an entire show predicated on that made me as giddy as a school girl. The line-up of artists were just about as weird as the show itself: Ozzy, The (aforementioned World Famous) Roots (Crew), Islamic Cat Stevens, Jeff Tweedy and a Pointer sister, even Colbert and Stewart themselves. My excitement was raised, however, when Stewart began to introduce what was the final performance of the day before the star-studded, Last Waltz-style closer.
Wha…? Kid Rock? Y’mean the guy who wrote “Baw-Wit-Da-Baw?” That guy? And now he’s doing a song with Sheryl Crow and TI, a two-time (two-time!) convicted fellow, performing from jail in a leather jacket in front of a superimposed American flag? Honestly, what prison has its own green screen? That shit wasn’t in Oz.
Overall, the show just became more weird and ridiculous as time went on (the aforementioned musical interlude among the nuttiness). And that’s saying something, considering we started with the Jet Blue freak-out flight attendant telling us how he should have rationally gone through his situation in hindsight. But when you end with a skit based around a montage of fear-mongering from news organizations, guest appearances from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, R2-D2, and John Oliver in a Peter Pan outfit imploring the audience to applaud to bring Jon Stewart back to life (who was then–and is still now–alive) as a giant paper mache version of Colbert hovered above the stage, you’ve certainly gone a long way.
But the crowd went with it all the way throughout (well, at least those who could actively see and hear it). The only point that people took the traditional “I’m at a concert and I’m taking a piss during this song” took place during the Tweedy/Sister Pointer duet. It was the only point in the day where the energy dropped, and those two whisper-sang a little ditty as the crowd went dead quiet, possibly because they didn’t know what to do. Clap? Cheer? Sing-a-long? …Take a piss? Otherwise we were buying everything Colbert, Stewart et. al were selling.
The day culminated in what was the keynote speech (for lack of a better term) from Stewart on what the point of this whole thing was (for him at least). It was a masterful bit of writing (as one should expect, really) and he got to name check New Jersey for the second time that day, so a big thumbs up from this guy.
Then came the riots.
Naahhh, just lots of people walking away slowly like they were steer headed for the grinders.
I really couldn’t get over the number of people there at the time and I sure as hell can’t get over it now. It was reinforced as I sat in traffic at the dreaded Delaware Tolls on my way back north on I-95 Sunday afternoon. There wasn’t a single local license plate to be had. A dozen New Yorks, a handful of New Jerseys, a healthy number of Massholes, a Maine-iac or two, Montana was represented, and more than a few Floridas, all clogged on the same god awful plot of blacktop, much in the same way Stewart described how we all work together. And lord knows most of us came all that way just to see two comedians put on a variety show disguised as a rally.
Imagine what we could do if we all teamed up for something important.