Slightly altered excerpt from my most recent email home:
There were two tubes of paint: one red, one blue. The rule was, generally, that you couldn't paint the state on the map until CNN had called it. Occasionally, polls would close all at once and CNN would call several as soon as they closed -- I guess when their exit polling made them sure. Illinois, for instance, turned blue immediately. By contrast, North Carolina stayed yellow on the screen and white on our map for as long as I was there.
The plan was that we would start watching Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart on Comedy Central at 7pm. Perhaps that might have worked in previous years, when the outcome took forever, but I left to go make myself some dinner before it started, and when I got back the room was full of people and the grudging consensus seemed to be that it was better to be watching CNN. If nothing else, the information on CNN was visible despite the noise in there, but the election jokes on Comedy Central weren't. Besides, things were moving fast. Obama had more than two hundred electoral college votes. People were sharing their voting stories: when they voted, how long the lines were. The polls in California closed at 8pm, our time. CNN was counting down, and we counted down with it: "Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! . . ." CNN's screen suddenly whirled away from the countdown ". . . Two! One!" we shouted, and the room bubbled with applause and cheers, as CNN, having called California immediately, called the race for Obama, and someone stepped up to the map to paint California blue.
It was about then that the pizza arrived. Nobody was leaving yet. You could see a slight smugness on people's faces whenever we switched over to Fox News while CNN had advertisements.
We had a respectful silence for McCain's concession speech. There were nods and occasional slight applause. The only flicker of tension was after he had finished, as Sarah Palin walked past the microphone. "Don't let her speak!" someone yelled. She didn't.
Then we waited. The crowds in Chicago were going wild for I don't know how long as we chatted and wondered how Obama's speech would go. What's he like, now that he's won? We had silence again for the President Elect, but it wasn't the same silence. There was an edge of resistance. This speaker had newfound authority. We listened critically. We had a few smiles and applause through the thanks, especially as Obama's campaign manager was mentioned, and patient silence as Obama said that those who thought real change could never come were now proved wrong.
Then Obama's speech got Presidential, honest about the challenges as he asked for the support of the whole nation and pulled his central campaign message of hope into a faith that America would get through the financial crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He stepped boldly into the leadership vacuum and we listened. We listened without noticing or caring how we were listening until Obama got into the recitation of what one century-old woman had seen through her life, and the challenges she and the country had faced in that time. By the third 'Yes we can", some guy over to the right was repeating it back with a parodic edge: "yes-we-CAN!" Obama was losing us; we were still mostly quiet, but we shifted a bit, until Obama mentioned how science had connected the whole world, and someone at the back yelled "Science!" and we all grinned.
Yeah, we'll be there, Mr. President Elect. Just don't ask us to recite slogans.
Over and out.