When my older son was little, he would come home from school and make a beeline straight through the house to the backyard swing set. We called it swing therapy: after a day of staying on task and holding in fidgets, he would desperately need to decompress. Rain, snow, sleet or hail, he’d be out there, parka hood up, face invisible, pumping out the day’s frustrations while he sang “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” at the top of his lungs.
He’s in high school now, so these days, instead of swing therapy, he plunks down on the couch and turns on recordings of the previous night’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report episodes in order to unwind…which is precisely how we all wound up making the trek from New York to Washington, D.C. last weekend to attend The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. We are not an athletic family, so bonding over a football rink or a baseball gridiron just isn’t in the cards for us. But an afternoon of music and media criticism? With the added promise of pithy placards and politically-themed cosplay?
I believe I told my son “Yes!” before the words “hey, uhhhh, I was THINKING…” were even out of his mouth.
And while it was a great, heady, unforgettable time, I cannot lie: there were also moments of frustration embedded in our trip. After an autumn that has included Maker Faire NY, Comic Con NY and now this Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, if I can share one piece of advice with future rally-goers and CON-ventioneers, it is this:
SURRENDER TO THE EXPERIENCE.
Do not assume that ATMs will have cash or that trains will have room, that you’ll be able to call or live-tweet from your cell phone, or that your little claustrophobia issue from five years ago has actually been forever resolved. Prepare yourself mentally for the unexpected and inconvenient, Padawan. It is part of the gig. And if you think of it, accessorize with good walking shoes.
I’m not kidding about that claustrophobia. While Steven Colbert’s “approximately 6 billion” headcount was likely off…it sure didn’t feel that way at the time. Current estimates of the rally hover in the 200,000 to 215,000 range…and THAT is a lot of meat (20 million pounds according to our friends at Mythbusters), even for the National Mall.
Our first rally redoubt was so crowded that my 11 year old could see nothing and momentarily considered napping until the rally was done. After I’d finished shouting, “Did they nap at Woodstock?” I realized that he wasn’t able to participate in even the simple “wave” and sound experiments organized by our Mythbuster heroes Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, due to his line-of-sight limitations, so we decided to move on.
Our second site had space and some height (with the added advantage of readily-accessible, fresh-grilled sausage), so the 11 year old could finally see the goings-on via distant JumboTron. We were able to clearly hear his favorite segment of the day–a Jusuf Islam/Ozzie Osbourne/O’ Jays Peace Train/Crazy Train/Love Train montage. However, after watching my most-favorite-singer-ever Jeff Tweedy duet inaudibly with Mavis Staples, we opted to move on through the throng a second time.
And that was when we hit sweet “in-a-stampede-you-will-be-impaled-against-this-fence-and-then trampled-to-death, shade-of-the-JumboTron” pay dirt. What we lacked in personal space or torso-mobility, we made up for with complete audio-visual accessibility and crowd-mates who smelled subtly of Old Spice. It was great to see my eleven year old laughing open-mouthed at R2-D2’s surprise appearance and to hear both boys whooping enthusiastically at Jon Stewart’s closing call for moderation, humility and mutual respect.
My one criticism of the event is that its creators didn’t think bigger. The rally was entertaining, engaging, civil and sweet; the underlying message of inclusion and acceptance stayed with us for the rest of our trip. Over dinner later, my older son summed up our mood:
I liked it. I thought the rally was brilliant and funny. And what made me feel really good…was the idea that Democrats and Republicans and people of all different religions were invited to join the same event. Like maybe we are all going to start working together to solve these problems we’re dealing with.
Mr. Stewart? Mr. Colbert? My one criticism of your rally: I would have loved to have left it with a viable game plan for keeping that feeling of open-hearted camaraderie alive.