Grief, Hope, and the Obamatron

It was a rough night. Sarah and I, being somewhat experienced at grief, are plowing right through it, alternating between grieving for Luke himself, grieving for our lost delusion that this can’t happen when parents follow all the safety rules, and feeling terrible for Luke’s parents and siblings. Harrison is approaching it more slowly. Every once in a while he thinks of something he won’t be able to do with Luke anymore and he gets very sad, then slowly recovers. Then the cycle starts again. He also gets angry with “why” questions, and just plain angry with the person who ran the stop sign.

This morning we decided that as a diversion we would keep our original plans for today: Attending Barack Obama’s Labor Day speech in Hart Plaza. As part of her new job, Sarah has some access to the UAW-Ford National Programs Center (NPC), which is right next to Hart Plaza. We planned to drop off the twins at Grandma’s, pick up Sarah’s new coworker Anna and her husband Nate in Dearborn, breeze into the underground parking at the NPC, and saunter over to Hart Plaza. This plan can be simply diagrammed as follows:

What actually happened is much tougher to diagram.

It turned out the road to the NPC was closed. I drove up to the policeman manning the entrance, asked Sarah to do the talking (expecting she could hit him with some important-sounding names and acronyms and apply her forceful persuasive powers to get us through to the UAW-Ford building), and rolled down the window. It was then that Sarah, known for her powerful skills of getting things done with difficult people in difficult situations, apparently went into passive mode. Maybe it was the gun. “Uh, can we get through there?”, she asked apologetically. The slightly amused cop directed us to Cobo rooftop parking. I dove away while making fun of Sarah mercilessly, which I intend to keep doing until she threatens me (I don’t carry a gun).

As it turned out there was lots of parking left at Cobo. So the plan was adjusted. We would walk to the NPC like the common folk and then pick up our VIP plan from there. As we neared the building, Sarah redeemed herself by talking the police into letting us pass, although they told us we wouldn’t be allowed to get into the NPC. We smiled politely at their lack of understanding of our special status. They didn’t realize that we were “on the list.”

At the NPC, of course, we were surprised to find that we couldn’t get in. While the NPC security people were sufficiently impressed with Sarah and Anna’s name and acronym-dropping, regular security didn’t control the building at that point. The Secret Service did, and the Secret Service doesn’t speak Ford.

So we went to stand in line. Actually, the word “line” hardly begins to describe it. It was more of a serial crowd winding up Jefferson, then Washington along Cobo Hall, and then through a convoluted set of folds on downtown side streets. It was like we were waiting for the “Detroit” ride at Disneyland, enjoying the carefully reproduced ambiance. The line moved but as Obamatime approached and we still couldn’t even see Hart Plaza, we knew we wouldn’t be shaking hands with The One. The strangest part was people didn’t seem very upset about it. It was a pleasant, mostly shady walk downtown. We all figured we would see or hear something, and the whole event had a slight air of history to it. Harrison and I kept a running joke going between us of spotting undercover Secret Service agents. “See that bird?” he would ask. “Secret Service.”

Every once in a while Harrison would get a little sniffly and say he was “still sad about Luke.” I took that as a healthy thing. He’s learning that life goes on, even if not as happily for a while and never in quite the same way.

As we finally turned the corner on Jefferson the line just sort of broke up and turned into a crowd. Apparently they had finally closed off Hart Plaza. So we stood in the intersection of Jefferson and Griswold and watched the huge screen erected for the occasion. Apparently they hadn’t considered that people would want to actually listen to the speech though. There might have been some small speakers, but I got the impression we were listening to the sound system from the stage in Hart Plaza. We heard The One sing to Aretha Franklin, heard his clear, declarative sentences in support of organized labor, and could tell that much of the speech was actually about helping hurricane victims. I missed the fact that there was a moment of silent prayer, which was probably just as well.

By then we were in the sun and the kids were wilting. So when the speech ended after less than fifteen minutes we weren’t disappointed. We worked our way back to Cobo and the car, dropped off Anna and Nate, and were having lunch at a Chili’s within an hour. Sarah and I can’t take the senior kids to a restaurant very often so we didn’t feel too guilty about taking advantage of Grandma for an extra 30 minutes.

So the last day of summer vacation turned out to be a pretty good day, all things considered.

There are more pictures on our Flickr stream.

Leave a Reply