One of the nice things about living in NYC is the fact that there are often fun things happening that are both spontaneous and free-of-charge. One of those events occurred last evening and continued through the wee hours of today, when I spent election eve in NYC’s Times Square, along with half a million other people.
Even though I am not normally very tolerant of crowds, I do really enjoy walking around Times Square at night, and this was a pleasant evening; not too warm nor too cold, and the rain didn’t show up, either.
In the above image, you can just barely make out the well-lit art-deco tower of the Chrysler Building — one of my favorite NYC buildings.
Anyway, the reason I went to Times Square was because it was the eve of the presidential election in the United States, and I was almost certain that Senator Barack Obama would win. Because of that, I was determined to be in Times Square to photograph everything that I could possibly see.
The mainstream media had the same idea: everywhere I looked, there was a media tent, numerous vans with media logos on them, and there were hundreds of filmographers and photographers from all over the world, as well as numerous international visitors. In fact, an Irish woman named Brigit and her husband spent the latter part of the evening talking with me about politics and expressing their opinion that America is the greatest of all countries.
The excitement was palpable, infectious.
After leaving the subway, I walked a few hundred yards towards 7th Avenue until I found a good location to watch the election returns on TV: there are a dozen or so televisions with screens that are something like fifty feet across if one chooses her vantage point carefully. Already, you can see that the streets were filling up with people.
Believe it or not, traffic was actually moving through this tangle of humanity, there were no fightfights, and everyone was in an incredibly good mood — I’ve never seen such a large, well-mannered and jovial crowd in my entire life. The best part is that this crowd was sober and non-vio9lent, unlike the morons that infest Times Square every New Year’s Eve.
Based on what I’d been reading, I thought that Pennsylvania would be a close contest, but I realized that things were going much better than expected when this (below) flashed up on the dozens TV screens in Times Square;
Below is a picture of Officer Ortiz. I snapped this image when he wasn’t aware of it, but we later had a nice chat. He was actually very lenient with all of us, and was mostly trying to make sure than none of the pedestrians got pancaked by a semi, taxi, ambulance or fire engine, and when there wasn’t any traffic, he allowed us to break the rules by standing in the streets to take pictures. (By the way, if Officer Ortiz’s commanding officer is reading this, don’t yell at him! He actually did a great job and was kind of fun, even though he is a cop!)
The news casters were fairly consistent about updating us about the vote count, but all of a sudden, we didn’t get any updated news for quite awhile. Then, roughly ten minutes after the polls closed on the west coast, and without any fanfare, the presidency was officially announced as belonging to Obama. I was surprised they called it so soon after the polls closed on the west coast and the polls were still open in Alaska, in fact. But it was rather abrupt, in my opinion, but this is probably because there was no sound, so we only could watch, not hear, the news from our vantage point;
Nonetheless, pandemonium broke out. I am sure the foreign news correspondents had a field day filming everyone who was crying, dancing, screaming, and jumping around. There were musicians present, too, who were playing their saxophones, although the noise was so tremendous that I couldn’t identify the tunes they were playing. I know I should have been photographing everything at this moment, but I was mesmerized by the sheer outpouring of emotion (and the light was rather poor, too).
Oh, and look at this guy by the light pole (below). It looks like he was standing on people’s heads, doesn’t it?
I never did figure out what he was standing on, but I am guessing that maybe it was two garbage cans stacked on top of each other?
I admit that the most surprising thing about being part of the election in Times Square was the dearth of Obama (and McCain) signs. I expected there’d be thousands of Obama campaign signs, but alas, these were the only two I managed to find, although there were a few more that were handmade (and thus, nearly impossible to photograph in the low light).
After spending the past few days being disgusted by Wall Street types and financial analysts whining to me about how Obama was going to destroy this country and make us into a bunch of communists, I was surprised to notice that I never saw any McCain signs. I guess all the rich boyz were clustered in their expensive rooftop penthouses, crying in their Jamesons, unwilling to brush their precious suits up against the unwashed masses, pobrecitos.
After John McCain conceded the victory to Obama, the ABC cameras panned Times Square so we could see ourselves — it was interesting to see how many people were there filling the streets (many many thousands! You can just barely make us all out on the middle screen, below).
However, every time a camera was pointed at the crowd, everyone broke out into mass hysteria .. I will never understand people’s desire to be on television, especially since I far prefer to be on the other side of the camera. I ended up taking several hundred images last night.
Barack Obama finally gave his acceptance speech, which we all had to read on the TV’s poor-quality closed-captioning since there were no speakers in the area (I was probably the only one who actually heard a very scratchy rendition on a tiny runner’s radio that I carried with me specifically for this purpose). Then, after Obama had finished, all hell broke loose. The police finally blocked off 42nd street to vehicle traffic because the press of the crowd was too great to contain, even with the portable steel fence panels that the police love so much.
One of the fun events of the evening was hearing the deep, low horn blasts of a ladder truck from the local fire department blasting three times in a row, followed by a pause, and then three more blasts, over and over again. It was almost as though the fire engine was saying “Yes We Can!” (or maybe it was instead saying “O Bah Mah!”) The madly cheering crowd parted to let the fire engine pass, but there were so many people that it took the truck roughly ten or fifteen minutes to travel perhaps 100 feet (below);
As of the time of this writing, Obama won the presidency with 52% of the popular vote (61,873,107 votes) which translates into 349 electoral votes while McCain got only 147 (46% of the popular vote, or 54,983,690 votes) — the largest margin of victory (for a democrat? ever?) in my entire lifetime. There are still some votes yet to be counted — provisional ballots as well as absentee and military ballots, which had to be postmarked by 4 November 2008 to be valid, but Obama’s margin of victory is so large that there is no way that he can possibly lose — unless the Rethuglicans engage in more blatant cheating, as they did in 2000. But I doubt they’ll try it this time: civil war will break out if they dare.
I finally left around three in the morning (and spent an hour photographing tile artwork in a few more corridors of the Times Square subway station). Overall, it was a historic evening, and hopefully, it will be the first of many wonderful hope-filled days to come. This country needs really some good news after enduring eight years of abject failure, economic disaster, and the mass murder of innocent Iraqis.