At the Ref Desk (1/30/21): Hoo, big big day for reference questions! (#chatRef) [more...]

Three Events in My Life

Submitted by Leo Klein on Fri, 11/7/08 (9:10pm)

They're selling Obama hats at my local 7-11. I know 'business is business' but this is the first time I can recall when the 'swag' from a presidential campaign was thought valuable enough to hit the retail shelves.

Three world events have affected me in my life. The first was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I was there, had been there since '84 and knew what it was like to have a police state just a block or two away. I was working construction in those days. I had finished up and had taken a nap. When I woke up one of the people living in the house told me the extraordinary news that while I was asleep, the Wall had come down.

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Of course, the person exaggerated. The Wall which surrounded the entire western half of the city hadn't come down. Rather an opening had been made at Checkpoint Charlie and also at the Brandenburg Gate where people from East Berlin -- the 'Ossies' -- could cross over. What followed were three days of absolute euphoria as tens of thousands of East Germans came over, swamping the local public transportation, waiting in long lines in front of banks to pick up their "Begrüßungsgeld" (i.e. welcome money) of 100 DM with which they bought items absolutely unavailable in their part of the city such as cassette radios and bags of oranges.

The downfall of that Wall and the regime it represented was the most positive experience of my young adult life.

More than a decade later, I was living in New York City. When I first heard that a jet had struck one of the World Trade Towers, I thought maybe it was an accident, albeit of horrendous proportions. When the second plane hit the second tower, I like everyone else in New York knew otherwise. I can remember walking north to work, up 1st Avenue, and seeing the emotions of people looking past me in the direction of Lower Manhattan. I finally turned around to see what they were looking at and the towers stood there, clearly visible as they always were, but now smoking and about to collapse. The ruins continued to give off smoke for weeks.

Now I'm in Chicago. Just three days ago, the eyes of the world were focused on our city. It was the final act of a series of events whose beginnings, I would argue, stretch back to the turmoil of the election in 2000. It was a period of abnormal excesses, exacerbated in reaction to 9-11, where we as a nation didn't always come off as a preeminent force for good. In fact, in many ways, we lost ground.

So after an unbelievably long campaign that could have ended in any number of ways, we all gathered in Grant Park, not wanting to risk fate by putting into words what so many of us were hoping and some of us had worked for. Pennsylvania was declared, then Ohio. The polls in California and the rest of the Pacific-coast states were closing at 10pm Central Standard time. At 10pm the people in the park started counting down from 10 to 0. Exactly at that point on the large TV screens, Wolf Blitzer from CNN said he had an important announcement to make, that CNN now projected Barack Obama to be elected President of the United States. The crowd in the park, all 250k of them, went wild.

It's a moment, like the two others, that I'll never forget.