6:20 p.m. My colleague and I arrive at Hyatt Regency Chicago, site of Barack Obama’s Super Tuesday election night party. Navigate through crowd of campaign volunteers, Japanese TV crews, and supporters to check-in table.
6:45 p.m. Obtain media badge, walk through metal detector, scan crowd. It’s stocked full of media types, college kids, and local politicos such as Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool.
7:05 p.m. Attempt to enter ballroom, only to be intercepted by overeager volunteer, who informs us that we do not have correct badge to cover the event. Unless we want to watch Obama speech in overflow room on TV (and why would we do this when we have TV at home?), we must petition for new badges at check-in area, which is starting to resemble an airport terminal on the day before Thanksgiving.
7:12 p.m. After a confused shrug from staffer at check-in, colleague calls Obama campaign headquarters. We will have to wait a half hour for the correct credentials.
7:15 p.m. Convince colleague that wait time would be more pleasant with food and perhaps some beer. Wander toward food court in adjacent building, where a debate over the merits of McDonalds versus Houlihans ensues. Houlihans serves beer. Debate over.
7:45 p.m. Watch election returns on CNN over “Itty-Bitty” burgers, a salad, and some Fat Tire ale. Remark how Houlihan’s fish tank seems to be stocked with some very exotic specimens. Also remark how “Itty-Bitty” burger is really a misnomer because they are quite large.
8:20 p.m. Drag self away from comfy seat at colleague’s urging; we are supposed to be covering a political event, remember? I do not want to remember. I want to sit in Houlihans, drink Fat Tire, and watch fish and Wolf Blitzer.
8:26 p.m. Return to check in as Jesse Jackson arrives with entourage. Snap terrible picture of Jesse while colleague obtains proper media badges
8:45 p.m. Enter main event room. Observe situation: it’s divided into three “areas”—the primo third (in the front) for contributors; the middle for the general public and volunteers; and the back third for the press. Everyone mills about, loosely paying attention to election results broadcast on big screen.
8:50 p.m. Watch crowd rock out to “Yes We Can” video—a big hit on YouTube that features Common and Scarlett Johansson. Supporters of all ages are tricked out Mardi Gras style with beads, buttons, and signs.
8:55 p.m. Listen to cheers—and alternately jeers—as election results trickle in and CNN declares victories in different states. Rumor has it Obama will speak not long after 9 p.m.
9:14 p.m. Watch Jesse Jackson entourage wind its way through “press pen”—where everyone in the media is confined. He is not the only visitor here to talk to various TV crews and print reporters: strategist David Axelrod comes through, as does Sen. Dick Durbin.
9:32 p.m. Remark to nearby reporter: “It’s 9:32.” Yes, he replies.
9:55 p.m. Imagine all places that I could possibly be that aren’t this press pen.
10 p.m. Watch excitement build, then wane, as California closes and state swings toward Hillary. Jesse Jackson’s entourage comes back to press pen, which is starting to get uncomfortably full.
10:05 p.m. That You Tube video—again. The crowd sings along—”Yes, we can!” I see drunk people.
10:15 p.m. Remark to nearby reporter: “It’s 10:15.” Yes, he replies. CNN begins feed of Hillary Clinton speaking from New York. The crowd starts yelling at the TV, “No, she can’t!!”
10:30 p.m. Lights dim, signs go up, cheering starts.
10:32 p.m. Lights come back up. Nothing happens. I wish I could teleport myself to my couch.
10:35 p.m. Lights dim, signs go up, cheering starts… and Durbin steps to the stage to introduce Obama. He is sincere and brief.
10:40 p.m. To the tune of U2’s “Beautiful Day,” Barack and Michelle Obama take the stage. Their daughters have stayed upstairs and won’t be coming down. “I asked my nine-year-old if she wanted to come on stage with us tonight,” he said. “She told me, Daddy, you know that’s not my thing.” The crowd laughs. Over next 20 minutes, he launches into speech about the “whisper” of a campaign that has become a “chorus.” The crowd, which is now at capacity for the event, responds with what has become the evening’s refrain: “Yes, we can!”
10:42 p.m.: Obama: “We do not need the final results to know—our time has come!”
10:44 p.m.: Obama: “This time it is different, not because of me but because of you. You are tired of being disappointed, you are tired of being let down, you are tired of hearing promises made mid-campaign, only to have a candidate go to Washington and nothing really changes.”
10:46 p.m. I realize I’ve heard the rest of this speech before, so I stop writing and watch crowd. They’re rapt. This is what they’ve been waiting for—and not just tonight.
Photography: Cassie Walker