So, Cory Booker visited the Community College that was 15 minutes from my house, but it was during the day when I was working, and apparently I prefer driving long distances to see candidates at craft breweries, so the next day that meant a trip to Marshalltown. The good news was that this meant my wife, Julie, and daughter, Devin, were were able to come with me.
I hadn’t been to Marshalltown since a tornado came through town in July of last year. It did a lot of damage, and there were still a number of crumbling buildings and half-destroyed trees. So, my sympathy goes out to Marshalltown on its long road to recovery. But, wow, these were some of the worst plowed streets I’ve ever seen in my life. Though lanes were moderately cleared, the center of the roads downtown had about a two-foot pile of snow. Turning onto a side street was like breaking through an igloo.
Nevertheless, we found the craft brewery where the event was to take place and got there just in time to get three of the last remaining seats in the place. As the bar was beginning fill up fast, I quickly got a Belgian Ale and returned to my seat before anyone could take it. It was a good thing I hadn’t wasted any time. The bar was way too small for the crowd that was making its way in.
Pretty soon, attendees were smooshed in with camera operators and reporters. The camera people began negotiating to move attendees around. Someone tipped the table next to me, jostling my beer onto the table, where it began running toward a reporter’s notebook. I wiped it up quickly but the reporter was not amused.
People kept crowding in and the room got more full. I was close enough to the guy next to me that I could have taken a sip from his beer. The woman in front of me was only a slight slip away from sitting in my lap. We began discussing fire code occupancy limits. The reporter that found my beer spill unfunny joked with the guy next to her about having him lift her to safety if there was a fire. It was possible she wasn’t really joking.
Julie leaned over and noted to me that the TV reporters were cartoonishly attractive. This was true, although the cartoonishness may have been a result of the crazy amount of makeup TV reporters have to wear. She also thought even the camera operators were a breed apart, with distinctive George Clooney-ish square jawed kind of looks.
I dutifully noted her observation, and thought nothing of it until she started chatting up a George Clooney-ish looking camera operator. Later, I gave her a hard time for flirting. She claimed she was not flirting, and that it was just her combination of adopted-Iowa-nice and native-New-York-chattiness. Our daughter, Devin, just laughed at both of us.
The camera operator turned out to have a fascinating story. He’d been all over the world, covering everything from the Olympics to episodes of Dateline (one of Julie’s favorite guilty pleasures!). He was working with a sound engineer who was also his brother, and the two of them were going to Berlin next week. The sound engineer brother was also notably handsome, but in more of a Clark Kent way. Apparently the brothers George and Clark travelled the world having adventures, in what clearly should be its own TV show someday.
Time passed. A half an hour after the event was scheduled to begin, the crowd started getting loopy. The woman right in front of me shared the results of her DNA test with a total stranger, and try to persuade him to get tested—”You just spit into a cup and send it in,” she told him. At least she apologized when she did accidentally sit in my lap.
Finally, a local state representative took the stage (really just a corner of the bar) to announce that Cory Booker was only three minutes away, and he had a handmade chess set for Booker when he got here. I had zero faith that the Senator was only three minutes away, but pretty soon, the doors sprung open and in swept Cory Booker along with a gust of arctic air. Most candidates have aides that come into a room before them and clear out a path to the stage, but Cory Booker did that job himself. I think being a former football player (as he would later tell us) may have helped him break through the secondary.
He took the stage to applause, started speaking, and immediately it became clear that his voice was shot. He joked that he sounded like Sherrod Brown, and that was a pretty close approximation. Cory Brown is no slouch at public speaking. He started off with a great story of visiting Jimmy Carter in Plains, Georgia, and followed that up with a anecdote about his parents’ involvement in a housing segregation sting operation during the civil rights movement. It all culminated in a scene where an evil landlord punched a lawyer and sicced his dog on Booker’s dad. Pretty decent material!
Booker’s approach was right out of the Obama playbook. His stump speech is about a big tent that embraces inclusive moments in American history without ignoring ugly moments from the American past. His efforts to embrace discordant views led him to a weird moment when he talked about trying to be understanding to those who don’t get why most people are offended by blackface. The Huffington Post later did an article on how this was a bridge too far for many.
This time Devin won the selfie scrum. After the speech, not only did she get a picture with Booker, but he also recorded a video selfie with her. And I was very impressed by his camera work, when he took Devin’s phone and positioned it so it didn’t look like he was a foot taller than Devin, which he is.
Overall it was a great speech (if a little long) with some soaring rhetoric and a demonstrated mastery of policy positions. Julie, who lived in New Jersey for two years and was already leaning toward Booker, was particularly impressed. We headed out onto the arctic vortex landscape glad we had made the trip.