I stood yesterday in the muggy sun with people from the wrong side of the tracks and the hard side of life.
And I heard them cheer as the big bus went by.
As Ground Force One came to town, with the escort vehicles stretching out fore and aft, they cheered and exulted, with glee and pride.
The president had come to town.
Barack Obama was in that bus.
And I knew what they felt.
I doubt we voted the same way last November, I doubt we have the same view of the administration, and yet there we were, one in the moment, the same in our reaction.
The president had come to town.
On a day like that, there are no parties, there are no differences, there is just a brush with history, a pride of home and country, a gratitude of the moment.
I don’t think I was star struck. I’ve covered every president since Jimmy Carter, a long streak strung over some 30 years and a number of states. For me, this was just one more. But this was the first time one had come to me. Driven down my streets and paying a visit in my town.
And I felt it.
Not the objective calm of the reporters, but the enthusiastic celebration of the people.
We compared cell-phone pictures, and texted the best ones to people who didn’t have one, and basked in the glow in happy conversation for long minutes after the brief passing.
Across the highway and under the bridge, in the lot where the executives park, a man in suit and tie had to explain that he wasn’t typically a Barack Obama supporter.
This was different. This was the president of the United States, this was special, and he gushed about the bus that had passed by at 40 miles an hour, which he had glimpsed just briefly, but which had obviously excited him.
Across town, where they eat artichoke soup, hundreds gathered on the edges of the tree-lined street. There was a platoon of motorcycles and a line of cars and the big bus sat astride both lanes of the closed-down avenue. It was a street carnival, a block party, and people craned their necks to see while the policemen scolded them back up onto the curb.
There were young and old around me, those dressed in mod and esoteric styles, and those dressed in grandma frocks and sagging pants. It was a grab bag of types, a cross section of the community, the whole spectrum, craning their necks between the sidewalk and the curb.
On the other side of town, the people had mostly been black. On this side of town, the people were mostly white.
Yet it was more of the same.
Republicans holding up their cell phones and Democrats holding up their cell phones and a broad swath of other folks, completely uninterested in labels, holding up their cell phones.
Happy talk and quiet disclaimers, and in the diner a family sat eating when a man with an earphone asked them if they wanted to meet the president. Outside on the sidewalk sat two brothers, one of them deaf. As the president passed he signed, “I love you” and the president signed back, “Thank you.”
The waitress was supposed to be off but came in to cover a swapped shift, and it was one more routine day until about an hour before Barack Obama walked in the front door. There was a notification and a sweep and probably some breath holding and for years now people are going to come in and ask for what the president had.
They cheered when he came out, and waited expectantly for the big bus to roll out.
When it did, with the president standing beside the driver, waving at both sides of the street, a great cheer broke out as people yelled and clapped and waved back.
I cheered and yelled and clapped and waved with them.
He’s my president, too.
Because presidential visits aren’t about party or conflict. They are about history and country, about the fact that the president of the United States has done you the honor of a visit.
He had become your guest.
And good people take care of their guests.
And we took care of Barack Obama.
Across the broad swath of the northern tier of our state, along the capital cities of the Erie Canal, we opened our hearts and we welcomed him in.
That doesn’t mean we voted for him, or that we will support him tomorrow. It doesn’t mean there haven’t been disagreements or that there won’t be more.
It just means he is our president.
And let the record show, that on the 22nd of August, 2013, when the president came to town, we responded with open hearts and a comfortable embrace.
All of us.
And in that moment, it was a sweet and memorable thing