I should note that it is not my goal to keep driving across the state to see candidates. The point is to wait for the candidates to come to where I live and then to smugly decide at the last minute whether a particular candidate is interesting enough to merit my driving across town. But this is Nic’s last full day before he heads back to college in Connecticut, a blue state where one can be pretty sure no Presidential candidate is going to be doing anything other than fundraising. So, we are on the road again, headed to Des Moines the day after the first meaningful snowstorm of the year.
Fortunately, the roads are in good shape, and at least the two-hour drive there will be during daytime. I pulled up the location for this event on my phone and recognized it as the craft brewery across the street from where the Elizabeth Warren event was a couple weeks ago. I remember this because as I was standing in a long line outside the Warren event, I gazed longingly at the brewery across the street and thought how nice it would be to be sitting inside, having a beer. I worried that we might have to wait in a long line again. It was only 15 degrees.
I didn’t have to worry. We had no problem getting in. I got an OG Orange Sour (Nic’s still 20, so only root beer for him) and we tried to figure out where the actual event was going to be. The tasting room was separated into two sections divided by a row of decorative kegs with a small sign saying that the Gillibrand event was on the other side of the kegs. It wasn’t packed but all the seats were taken so we stood where we thought we’d have a good view of where the Senator would be speaking. It was hard to tell what was going on. TV cameras in the room were pointed in different directions. We stood next to a table where people were playing what looked like a version of mah jongg. It wasn’t clear whether they were actually here for the event.
Almost immediately, a reporter from the Washington Post asked if she could interview us. Sure, we were game and we were glad to chat politics and weather. It came out that the reporter’s hometown was not far from Hartford, where Nic goes to college. In fact, she was from Longmeadow, Massachusetts. I told her I once painted a house in Longmeadow. We had a moment.
After the reporter left, we were left standing next to the not-quite-mah jongg players. I posted a picture of the table to my Facebook friends, and immediately there was a flurry of discussion about rummikub, a game that may be of Dutch origin and which many of my friends played as children, setting off a round of reminiscences. We had a moment, albeit a digital one this time.
Then the waiting began. We wished we had left our jackets in the car. I finished my beer, but the room was now crowded enough that I feared not being able to get back if I tried to get another one. At one point, a staffer and someone from C-Span were, literally, within a foot of my face, having a conversation about where a mic should be set up. Soon, I realized that we were not standing within a sightline of where the Senator would be speaking. No, we, in fact, were standing right next to where she would be speaking. Essentially, we were on the “stage.”
But it was still a brewery tasting room with TVs scattered throughout the room. The Kentucky-Auburn game was playing on one screen, and when Kentucky pulled out a close win, a random guy threw up his arms and whooped, “Who’s from Kentucky here?” Crickets.
Finally, an outside door opened, suggesting that the Senator was about to make her way in. Someone from C-Span tried to bump me out of the way, but I held my ground. Then, Kirstin Gillibrand did appear and made her way into the room. She wore a bright blue dress jacket, and though I don’t want to make a big deal about what candidates wear, I feel compelled to note that Gillibrand had a great pair of boots. They were fashionable but looked Iowa winter-ready. She was, in fact, standing right next to me the entire time she was speaking. I made a point of trying to smile since I might be on camera. Normally, I would have tried to take a few pictures or post a live update, but that would have been way too rude. Later, I saw that indeed I was right in the camera frame. I was glad I had shaved that day and kept my phone away.
Her stump speech emphasized health care and prescription drug costs. Of the candidates I’ve seen so far, Gillibrand spoke the most about Trump, which may or may not be a good thing. There’s not a single person at any of these events that needs to be persuaded to vote against Donald Trump, so it’s a bit of preaching to the choir. But Gillibrand was also trying to argue that she’s won election in conservative areas, and she can win over disenchanted Trump voters. We’ll see.
Then, the Q&A ended and the selfie scrum began. Nic and I were poorly positioned with the decorative beer kegs between us and the Senator. Nic said we should go around the barrels on the side closest to us. This was almost a fatal mistake, really a rookie error that a seasoned politico like Nic should never have made. You always want to be between the candidate and the exit.
We joined the crowd pushing toward the candidate as she slowly made her way through the room, shaking hands and posing for pictures. Nic edged ahead of me, getting slightly closer, but I worried she would make her exit before we could intercept her. “Shout at her you were born in Buffalo!” I hoped this may be irresistible for a Senator from upstate New York. It was also true, since that’s where Nic was for the first three months of his life.
Nic persisted, and he got to shake her hand. He also got to tell her that he was from Buffalo. It was all captured on C-SPAN. I thought she should have been more impressed by Nic’s Buffalo roots, but you can judge for yourself at 51:40. Anyway, that was enough to call it a night.