Obama todayI never got around to posting yesterday. I was here in the morning, but decided to wait until later to write anything so I’d have the latest info. But by the time I visited in the evening I didn’t have my laptop with me. I’ll get to why later.

So, I’m double posting here, covering both yesterday and today. That’s all right, because there isn’t really any big news, just steady, incremental improvement.

Al is out of ICU. He’s in a regular room – D952 – on the 9th floor of UPMC Presbyterian. They’re happy with his progress, even if he isn’t always. Yesterday he was pretty cranky because he had a hard time sleeping in the ICU, constant beep-beep-beeps, frequent interruptions by the nursing staff and noises from the other patients. There isn’t much privacy or separation in ICU.

So, you’d expect him to be happy in a regular room. Not if you know Al. He was still tired and every thing seemed to irritate him. He asked me to buy him some earplugs, but I couldn’t get them to him fast enough. He wasn’t the one who had to walk to a drug store to find them, since I don’t have a car here. Every little thing seemed like it was part of a conspiracy to irritate Al. If you know him well, you’ll know he gets this way in the hospital sometimes.

So I let him rest and sleep most of the day. After my morning visit (once I found where they moved him.) I told him Barak Obama was in town and I was going to go see his speech. So I did.

I was too late for the last morning shuttle back to the Family House, so I walked. I also had seen a CVS not far from the house, so I stopped there and looked for earplug for him.

I’ve been doing a lot of walking here. just inside the hospital, it adds up, but adding a 12-block walk once or twice a day takes a toll. I’d been trying to get regular walking exercise at home for a while, but my poor feet and legs have been complaining. But I haven’t given up. And eventually, I hope to get back into shape. I had bought a new set of insoles since I got here, so that helps.

But by the time I got to the drug store, I was ready to quit. I was bundled up with my heavy sweatshirt, the only coat I brought, because it was a bit cool outside. But as soon as I got indoors and out of the cold, I was sweating like I ran a marathon.

If I could just find the earplugs. I walked about 5 miles more all inside the store. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it seemed that way. I finally gave up and did what every man hates to do, ask directions. The clerk at the pharmacy counter said “Aisle 13a” and I looked and there it was, clearly marked 13A. Relieved I went down the aisle looking for earplugs. Up and down the aisle. No earplugs to be found. They usually are easy to spot. I know in my local pharmacy, they carry several types and sizes of them and the foam ones are brightly colored and really stand out. I could spot them half the store away. Not the case here. Apparently, Pennsylvanians don’t like bright foam earplugs, or else they are illegal here.

I finally found their earplugs. About 3 inches off the floor on the lowest shelf they had, below the eyecare section. Ears, eyes, they’re sort of the same, aren’t they? Both in the head? They had two types of earplugs, in two sizes of packages. Both were the silicone type, exactly what Al wanted, but that’s all there. So I picked on and was out of there.

So I went the block and a half back to Neville House and went to my room to drop off stuff. I had just enough time to figure out how to get to the Mellon Arena where the Obama rally was being held. Becasue of security, I only took my cell phone and camera and wallet with me. If I could have carried my laptop bag along, I could have gone straight from the hospital, but I had to stop and rid myself of that contraband.

Mellon Arena is downtown from where I was in a section called Oakland. It’s not really that far on a map, but there is no direct route there. The map doesn’t show the hill in between and the winding streets are that way because they are switchbacks.

But there was a bus. The Port Authority Buses are frequent and well used here in PGH. I had checked online while at the hospital and knew which route to take and where to get on and off for the arena. Basically almost all of the routes that pass through Oakland and go Downtown follow 5th Ave. and I could get on just a block away from Neville House.

I got on the bus and sure enough, it took me along the river plain into downtown. Forbes ave. and Fifth Ave. both run parallel this way and the bus routes go out one street and come back the other. Once I was on the bus, I spotted some other people wearing Obama pins. 1 + 1 = they are going to the rally.

When we got one block away from the street I was told to get off at the driver announced that anyone going to the Obama rally should probably get off here because construction was blocking the street we would have to take. So I got off and so did the two women I saw. And quite a few others as well. I asked them if they knew the way and they said they’d be happy to show me the way.

I’ve never had any pre-conceived notions about Pittsburg’s hospitality. I know Philadelphia is supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love, but I don’t remember having ever heard any opinions about Pittsburgh, negative or positive. But, almost universally, I’ve found people to be friendly, courteous and willing to help a stranger. My vote is in for Pittsburgh being one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been. You’ll see more examples later.

So they guided me to the arena, a couple blocks walk up and down hills. Everything in Pittsburgh is up and down hills, usually up.

The line wrapped around the building and then some. As we approached the main entrance, a volunteer from the Obama campaign came along and told us where to go to find the end of the line quickly. We headed down the street and found it. Before long, the end of the line had extended back beyond where we were before, so it was good we had gone there right away.

We stood in line for quite a while. We were early and the doors didn’t open until 3, so we all stood in line chatting and getting to know each other. Everyone was having a good time. The weather was cool, but no rain.

It was a circus atmospheres. There were vendors selling T-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers and all sorts of stuff. Truly American Enterprneurialism [sp] at it’s best, even if not a dime was going to the campaign from the pirated goods. There were protesters across the street, I couldn’t tell if they were for or against Obama, or even for or against abortion, but they had something to say about it. Just couldn’t get the message because of the distance. A fellow with a sign commemorating the poor woman who faked her own assault and claimed it was because of her bumper sticker, was letting people sign it with markers.

T-shirt vendorAnd the campaign volunteers were ubiquitous. First they were coming along to advise us all about the security screening. I guess they wanted to make sure each and eveery one of us were able to get in. “When you get to the security gate, please turn on you cell phones and cameras, so they can tell they are real. No food or drinks, or signs or umbrellas will be allowed inside.” And on and on. After we had been told that message about a hundred times by the same 20 volunteers, they came around with the sign-up sheets, trying to get volunteers to work on the campaign, or make phone calls or just “tell your friends.” The top of the forms said PENNSYLVANIA in bold, so every time I said “Sure I’ll help. Do you need volunteers in Buffalo NY?” They encouraged me to volunteer at home, but left me alone then.

FOX NewsAfter 3 o’clock, the doors must have opened because the line started making regular progress. We wound our way up and around the building. We went past a TV news crew doing filming a talking head that I recognized from Fox News, but don’t know his name. Earlier, in line, an Austalian TV reported did an interview with a older, African-American couple standing with us. It was interesting to see the interest this election has elsewhere in the world.

We got to the doors and the security checkpoint eventually. The closer we got, the more abandoned junk we saw left behind. If someone were to collect all the umbrellas left there, they could open a stand on a street corner on a rainy day and make a killing.

Security was as imposing as promised. They examined everything that didn’t go through the metal detector on your body. I was glad I followed the advice I heard on the TV and didn’t bring anything unnecessary along.

Apparently, they were filling the stands one section at a time. We were being directed to section 21. I lost my friends from the bus in the crowd. I heard someone say there were better seats in a section further down the way, so I wandered for a while. There were sections that were reserved for ticket holders, not the regular riff-raff like me. The only open sections I saw were behind the podium and you would have been looking at the speaker’s back.

Mellon ArenaI decided to go back to section 21, although, in retrospect, the seats behind the podium would have been good seats. The best view was, as usual, on the overhead scoreboard, but the people in the background would be seen on all the TV cameras.

There also was the option to go down and stand on the floor. Kind of like a mosh pit, but of course, there was a wide buffer zone fenced off and patrolled by Secret Service people. But later, the campaign people passed out signs to those people. (Remember the no signs rule? Apparently, it’s no unapproved signs.) I was glad to have a seat.

I ended up in a seat in the nosebleed section. I sat at the end of an empty row that no one else seemed to want to be in. But later after all the better seats were gone, people started coming up. Eventually, most of my row got filled, but I stayed at the aisle. A fellow with two adorable daughters came and sat next to me. The poor guy had a bad hip and had a hard time getting up the stairs. His two daughters one, a pre-teen, the other probably still not 10, wanted food as soon as he sat down. Off he went the get them snacks. This poor guy obviously loved his daughters and didn’t mind the struggle. The daughters were left between me and another woman four seats down.

It seemed like hours had passed and the guy still wasn’t back. The younger girl wanted to go to the bathroom and wanted me to let her out of the aisle. I said I didn’t think it was a good idea and that she should wait for her Dad to get back. her sister agreed and she sat back down. It would be heartbreaking if she got lost, or worse, while her father was gone for food.

After another eternity, he came back carrying two soft drinks and two fries, and grumbling about how much they cost. He clearly was one of the people who wouldn’t be concerned about making over $250k and Obama raising his income tax. He no more than sits down and the daughter asks to go to the bathroom. Of he goes, the suffering Dad, with the little girl in tow.

Another eternity goes by, but the bathrooms must have had shorter lines than the concessions, and they sit back down. The older daughter wants ketchup for the fries. Off he goes again. this poor guy just couldn’t catch a break.

Finally, he returns and gets to sit down. This time the older girl wants natchos. I don’t believe it, but he goes and gets them. Finally, he rests. The girl wants to go to the bathroom. He sighs. He says “Down the stairs and to the right.” I get up to let the girl and him by, but he sits down and says, “She’s old enough.” Say no more… One more trip and getting older would have been the least of her problems if it were me.

We chat a bit while we wait for the show to begin. I tell him I’m not form the area, but from Buffalo. He asks me if I read a paper called Artvoice. Apparently, he’s a friend of the founder of that periodical.

Obama gets a Steelers jerseyEventually, a series of people come out and speak. A woman, a nun from somewhere nearby, comes out and give an invocation. Then somebody recites the Pledge of Allegiance. Then some woman sings the National Anthem. I’m relieved to stand for a minute. We’ve been sitting long enough that I’m getting stiff.

Then they parade out a couple of Senators. I didn’t catch whether they were Pennsylvania State senators, or US Senators from PA, and the Governor of PA. They say their respective word, but finally, the last speaker, the one chosen to introduce Obama, comes out. Who? The owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I guess sports is as important as politics.

Obama’s speech was good. It was moving. He covered every aspect of the campaign, economy, taxes, Iraq, Afghanistan, energy. And he countered the claims the McCain campaign has been making about him. I found it much more interesting then the debates, but I still had time for my mind to wander and look at the press tables and camera platform, the Secret Service, the campaign workers scurrying around keeping things going. It was just as fascinating in that respect. But in the end, Obama had everyone’s attention. He worked the crowd and left it at a fever pitch. It was a good speech and only time will tell if it does the trick at the poll next week.

I’m not an out-and-our Obama fan. I basically distrust the system and anyone willing to join it. But I can hope, like Diogenes, to find an honest politician, and maybe giving the “inexperienced” Obama a chance to try to change things that the “experienced” politicians only give lip service to, is worth a shot. At least it won’t be the status quo.

After, the rally, I left the arena on foot and tried to retrace the way I came in from the bus. I thought I was going the right way, but it was getting dark, and after I had gone too far, I gave up and looked for someone to ask directions. Another fellow was coming down the sidewalk and I asked him if he knew which way to 5th Avenue. He thought for a minute and said he knew but it was easier to take me there. I thought he was just walking that way himself. But he had parked on the street and offered to drive me there. He had a newer pick-up truck and it looked like he was a working class guy and it was his work vehicle, so I went along. I had two phone numbers of cab companies in my cell phone, so the worst I could do is have to call one.

His name was Mike and he turned out to be a good guy. He told me he was originally from Philly, but had moved to PGH a couple years earlier for work reasons. So he kind of knew his way around.

Now Fifth Ave. wanders along the river and comes within a couple of blocks of the arena. But it also goes by the cluster of UPMC Hospitals in Oakland. He drove me up through the winding streets of the hill between the arena and the hospital and dropped me off right in front of UPMC/Childrens. Yes, it’s 5th Ave, and yes, I can get the bus there, but he practically got me all the way home, whether it was on purpose, or by not being sure of the way himself.

So, once again, I was helped by a friendly stranger in Pittsburgh.