Earlier this month the president of the United States visited West Palm Beach. He had a rally at the Convention Center on Sunday, September 9. I am not politically active and don’t do much more than follow the campaigns, and vote. I had never done any conventions, protest rallies or otherwise so I thought this might be an opportunity for some photo opps. I had visions of Winogrand’s work at the 1960 Democratic National Convention. Of course, the WPB event was not a convention, and I had no press credentials.
Tickets for the event were free and only had to be picked up in person at any one of four locations in Palm Beach County. As you might expect, demand was huge and so were the lines for tickets. So on the Thursday before the event, I stood in line outside a small office in West Palm Beach for about two hours. The evening was beautiful and the crowd friendly. There were several hundred people in line and nobody had an answer why it took so long, but nobody was really complaining either. We had been given a white slip of paper with spaces for filling in our names, address and phone numbers. An enterprising ice cream truck driver struck gold when he discovered that ticket line. When I did get to the ticket table I was asked to fill out the bottom part of the ticket before I left. I was told that what I wrote on the ticket had to match what I wrote on the white slip of paper. The person who gave me my ticket entered its number on the white slip of paper. It looked like volunteers were using laptops to enter the information from each white slip of paper into a database. For security, it appeared that before being allowed into the event on Sunday our tickets would be matched against the database. Seemed like a sensible system. That is, until you got to the Convention Center on Sunday.
On Sunday, doors were scheduled to open at 2:00pm and the president was expected around 4:50. I got there around 1:30 and the line was already looped completely around the building and squished serpentine into a grassy knoll. With a couple thousand attendees expected, there was no way that each person’s ticket could be checked against anything. As you went in the door you tore the bottom stub off your ticket, the part with your personal information, and stuffed it into a ballot-type box. Then you went through metal detectors and a search of bags.
I gave no thought of getting pictures of Obama himself. What for? Unless he was shaking my hand I don’t need a photo of the president. I didn’t go for his speech either, which was the same as the one he gave a few days earlier at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. The most memorable event of the day occurred in Fort Pierce when Big Apple Pizza owner Scott Van Duzer gave the pres a bear hug and lifted him right off the ground. My mission other than the experience was to find the odd and interesting to photograph. Overall though, it was a pretty tame event that lacked the alcohol fueled insanity of a convention proper. All signs and banners had to be left outside so the only decorative effects were t-shirts and a hat here and there. Despite their investment in time the crowd seemed pleased to be there and the electricity of enthusiasm filled the room. Especially when Al Green was piped over the PA system.