Saturday, August 2, 2008

Obama visits Brevard, promises 'science-based society'

The Secret Service got a bit tired of this girl after she was pointing her cell phone camera at Barack Obama for a couple of minutes. I think she's in the county lockup right now.

Barack Obama's crew announced a few days ago that he would visit Brevard County during his swing through Central Florida. He promised to talk town-hall style about the ailing space industry in a visit to the "gymnatorium" at Brevard Community College's Titusville campus, about 45 minutes north of me.

I knew this would be Obama's only visit to Brevard during his campaign, but after working overtime at the paper on a special project and editing a book manuscript, I didn't feel like getting up early Friday morning to get one of the 1,000 tickets for the event.

vertical_obama_0170But serendipity stepped in. A co-worker grabbed a handful and had one left over. I jumped at the opportunity. I'm nonpartisan because I'm a journalist, but it's exactly because I'm a journalist that I wanted to attend.

On two hours of sleep, I arrived at the gymnatorium around 8:30 this morning. There was a long, snaking line, but my co-worker and I reached the entrance in a short while. Thankfully, I avoided giving the campaign workers my ticket stub, which had my address, phone number and e-mail address. No political solicitations for me this season.

As we were entering, an event worker said the Secret Service wouldn't allow my digital SLR and video camera. But she was wrong, and I got through security without a problem.

But first thing is first: What the heck is a gymnatorium? Answer: It's a gym, with chairs on the floor. It is lamer than my high school gym, which was quite lame.

We sat on the bleachers, about halfway to the stage. It was quite a distance from the lectern, but I had a good angle for photos and video.

The audience was diverse, a good cross-section of America. The true Florida was heavily represented: There was a wheelchair and Hoveround row that stretched the entire width of the floor.

There were young children, too, of all colors. The college students from BCC and the University of Central Florida were the most enthusiastic, as the old people were out of breath, and the children were too sleepy and wanted Mommy.

My co-worker, a well-connected journalist, pointed out all the county dignitaries who showed up. They included the schools superintendent, several mayors, an NAACP official, the son of a longtime KKK member and at least 10 representatives of FLORIDA TODAY. Dick Durbin, Obama's fellow Illinois senator, was there, too.

Then, a BCC public relations worker, who's a former FLORIDA TODAY employee, offered my fellow rally attendee one of the exclusive seats on the floor. She took it, of course; she's smart.

That left me in the cheap seats to shoot Obama - photographically - and take in all his political talk, which heated the gymnatorium to about 90 degrees. And as usual, because of the two big cameras hanging off my neck, a handful of people asked me, "Who do you work for?" And as usual, I told them I work for myself.

Obama's birthday is Monday, and the crowd sang to him when he was introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson. Their chants also included "O-baaa-ma," "change" and "yes, we can."

He spoke of his dedication to restore the space program to its original luster, maybe by adding a shuttle flight beyond 2010, when the orbiters are scheduled to be retired, according to President Bush's mandate. And here in Brevard, the dirty three-letter word is "gap." Obama wants to shorten the one that will lay off workers between the time the shuttle stops flying and when the Constellation program begins.

He said the Bush administration cares nothing about science. So, he promised the town hall attendees that, if elected, he would create a "science-based society." Yes, he wants to go to Mars, but Pluto is in his sights, too. But it's not even a planet, so that's kind of boring.

After his opening speech, there were several tough questions from the audience: When was your last home-cooked meal? What will you do with the oceans? What role will John McCain take in your administration?

I never was able to get as close to Obama as I did to Rudy Giuliani when he visited during the winter. But here are a few shots. A video will be coming later, when I have time to edit.

View of the exclusive seating from the cheap seats. Actually, they were all quite cheap: free.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., introduces Obama.

This 81-year-old retired teacher and Knight-Ridder columnist, who was sitting in front of me, had his hand raised during most of the Q&A session. But it paid off: He asked Obama something about education. Go figure.

This is just one of the many people capitalizing on Obama's celebrity by selling T-shirts, buttons, hats, magnets and stickers bearing his likeness. My co-worker was sucked into buying a $5 button.


cocoa said...

i've been reading your blog off and on for about a month now. i just so happened to be seating two rows behind you and figured you would be doing a blog about obama's visit. i was eager to read your take on the town hall meeting, and i knew you would have better pictures than me.

cocoa said...

i just realized i made a spelling error in my last comment. i guess that is what i get for posting a comment to a newspaper editor. lol. try to ignore any other mistakes i may have made.

Anonymous said...

The little girl is a redhead, so it's OK.

Seems like a gymnatorium would more likely be a combination gymnasium-auditorium. Like at my elementary school, where we had a cafetorium. After lunch sometime in the spring, the tables would be realinged for the talent show.


Andrew Knapp said...

You know what the bad thing is, cocoa? I missed the error the first time I read your comment. What a great editor I am, huh?