The Clinton Effect
Parts of uptown were more crowded than Manhattan last night.
My journey began around 7:30 p.m. at Mortimer's Cafe and Pub in the EpiCentre. The United Nations Foundation was hosting an open house to raise awareness about its international development campaigns. All I knew was that it involved free drinks. The pub was so packed my friend and I couldn't get inside. We grabbed our drink tickets and stood by the door in a glob of people pretending to be a line. A waitress took our order; she never returned. Minutes later, we were ushered inside, only to discover there were no available seats and no wait staff available to take our order. We left. And found more lines.
Gaping at the mass of people waiting to order pizza at Libretto's, we realized we would have to abandon the EpiCentre. Back on College Street, it was a claustrophobic's nightmare. A crush of people headed toward the Time Warner Cable Arena, all crowded behind the security barriers on the east side of the street. We tried to pop into every bar and restaurant we saw, but the lines were out the door.
Finally, we landed at a dimly lit, upscale restaurant that shall remain nameless. Miraculously, the hostess agreed to seat us. In a few minutes, we were enjoying bread and wine. But it took an hour for our food to arrive. My dinner was cold. During the wait to eat, we learned via Twitter that security officials had stopped allowing people into the arena. We had missed our chance to see Bill Clinton speak. And did I mention my dinner was cold?
We rushed over to the arena, but it was no use. By around 9 p.m. the security lines had reached TSA proportions —tons of people, not moving an inch. I texted a friend inside; he said the fire marshal wasn't letting anyone else in.
I was frustrated, sweaty, tired as hell. But not ready to give up. I walked over to 5 Church, where celebrities such as Jessica Alba were partying earlier. They were gone. Instead, the strobe light from a nearby police van blinked through the windows of the restaurant and gave me a headache. I walked out, headed east.
It was 10:15 p.m. At the intersection of East 5th and Tryon, I was surrounded by hordes of police officers marching in from three directions. Was this beefed-up security for Clinton? A crackdown on protesters? The cops didn't say, but they made it clear I needed to move along.
Suddenly, I was back in front of Time Warner Cable Arena. The lines were gone. It was as if a hurricane had passed. I waved my credentials and walked right in. And just like that, all traces of the night's frustration disappeared.
"Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" swelled over the speakers. A slim, white-haired, fragile looking version of Slick Willie appeared on stage. The crowd went wild.
You know what happened next. Bill Clinton did what he does best. But that's not why my night ended so well.
A few rows behind me, up in the nose-bleed seats, a woman in an official blue "Charlotte Volunteer" t-shirt watched the projection screen, enraptured. Her eyes never strayed from Clinton's face. She clasped her hands to her chin, as if in prayer. I sat enthralled, watching her, marveling at the sight of someone who still believes.