Monday, July 16, 2012

Casual cup of tea with the President...

April 2012

So this week I witnessed something I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime. The President of The United States of America in the flesh and blood. That’s right, I saw every gray hair and facial wrinkle of Barack Obama from approximately 5 metres away. With a few lines of people in front of me I grudgingly add…

Obama came to UNC on the Tuesday, to speak about student loans and the like, although it did feel like a bit of a campaign trail too, and we as a campus were told about this on the Friday. Along with the UNC administrators. I guess the attitude of “I’m-the-freaking-President-I-can-do-what-I-want!” really became apparent there! Mr. Obama (or B-Dog as I like to call him. Because we're on first name terms of course...) was making a speech in one of the basketball courts and then appearing on the Jimmy Fallon show being relocated from New York to Memorial Hall on campus. Needless to say the campus went mental for it. Myself included.
Tickets for the Jimmy Fallon show were distributed (supposedly at least) to seniors via a lottery system. I’m pretty sure this didn’t happen and freshman got into the filming. Bastards... Anyways, as I didn’t think I had a chance of getting tickets to the filming, I wanted to go and see the speech at Carmichael instead. Thus, a very cold and wet Sunday morning was spent doing what us British seem to do best. Queuing (or lining up as the Americans call it). Tickets began distribution at 1pm according to the Word-of-God that is the Daily Tar Heel, so we decided to get into line at 10.30am. Even then the queue was wrapped round the stadium and down towards Carmichael dorms and south campus. Bumping into Katie, Simi, Harriet and some others with a tent led to some respite from the rain, and as I returned from a hurried breakfast at Rams I was send worried texts and calls saying the line was moving. And the people were panicking with the tent. As it was we ended up having to lift the entire tent up with all the stuff in it and move with other people trying to lose as little ground in the line as possible. With me cursing and muttering under my breath at civilian incompetency. Woops! Once we managed to negate the obstacle course that was the path down to the running track where the line had been directed, I quickly grabbed my stuff and put some distance between me and the tent not wanting to be a part of any more drama with it. Selfish I know but I wasn’t going to potentially miss out on a ticket because of a damn tent! From then on in it was a case of waiting. And waiting. And waiting even more. In the rain. Great fun of course. To say it took forever is an understatement, but then you’d look behind you and feel so much better that you weren’t at the back!

Staying dry in the rain
The bloody tent

About 1/160th of the damn line

Then again the queuing game was played on the Tuesday morning of his visit, with some people starting to queue at 5am (FIVE AM?! WHAT THE….?!). We took a more leisurely approach and approached the line around 8.45, and luckily spotting Connor towards the front, and then being able to sneak in and joining him. So sneaky I know! This queue wasn’t quite so bad as the sun was shining and it began to move relatively quickly once the doors to the arena were opened up. After going through the airport like security (fair enough I guess) we were herded into the arena seats and shown where to sit. At the very back to the side of the stage. Awful seats indeed. After a lot of “No thank you I haven’t queued for hours (not quite true) to sit here” ’s and the staff shouting a lot it was decided fuck that, we’ll go stand at the front of the podium. Which we did and got a much better view. If you disregard the annoying douchebag who tried to film the whole thing on his iPad. Seriously mate, I don’t think CNN is going to take your crummy footage from a bad angle. Put it away before I hit you…
Much better queuing weather!

Waiting for the big man himself

Just to remind you where we were!

The Carmichael arena was fully decked out for the visit, with a huuuuuuuuge American flag behind the podium and some dumb-ass American style slogans dotted around the place. You could tell it was a student filled crowd as every time someone went onto he stage to adjust a microphone or banner or summin a huge cheer would go up much to that persons awkward smiles. There was also a rather large media pit type place directly behind where we were standing and It was interesting to observe the reporters doing all their filming and scribbling – something you don’t really see in everyday life. There were a couple of ‘warm up’ acts before the President himself, including the presenting of the colours by the ROTC guard members (and very good they looked too!), and the Pledge of Allegiance (so American…) and a welcoming speech from the Chancellor of UNC (who ironically earns more that the President himself) and a student. Who actually gave an incredibly good speech to be fair to her… In front of the thousands of people crammed into the place as well! And then it was time for the big man himself. Big Daddy Obama. To raucous cheering, screaming and what was probably every camera on Campus pointed his way. I seriously do think he loves all the attention because he was lapping it up, wooping and cheering UNC (not that I'm complaining about that bit - he did pick us to win the National Championships after all...). If you're really that interested you can watch it here.

Go big or go home...

The President is coming - look busy!

The speech itself was really good – to say Obama is a charismatic speaker is a bit of an understatement. He’s an incredible speaker and really knew how to work the crowd and seemed to be enjoying he college feel to the crowd (being mainly college students of course) with comments of supposing to be studying in the library and working hard, and how it was unlucky UNC didn’t win the ACC (very popular comment that one!). There were some hilarious people in the crowd however, most memorably a woman sitting behind Obama who would shout “ABSOLUTELY!”  every so often to whatever he was saying, drawing laughter from the crowd and Obama himself. At the end of his speech there was a huge applause, and Obama went forward to shake a load of peoples hands. Not sure the Secret Service were too happy about this (as a side note, does anyone else think its pretty dumb for the secret service to have uniforms emblazed with “secret service” all over it?! Sort of defeats the point of being secret in my eyes…), and then we faced to fighting task of getting out of the stadium. Woopee Doo. Thankfully it didn’t take too long, and after a quick-ish lunch in Lenoir (with the staff in their complaining to everyone and their dog about how they were never warmed of the sudden influx of people wanting food and how they couldn’t cope – well duhh do you not take note of what’s happening on campus?! From there I had to go and hand in an assignment to the Professor who’s class I had missed being at the speech. Which lead to a good half hour of interesting discussion about US and UK politics and how it’s a bad thing the Prime Minister doesn’t tour UK universities like the President. I didn’t really bother correcting that one, as I’m pretty sure if Cameron came to Manchester, not many people would be that fussed about it. If anyone…

The ROTC looking dashing as ever.

The big man himself!

That evening was the highlight of the day – the Jimmy Fallon show with the President, filmed in Memorial hall on Campus. Pat had been offered the opportunity to work on the show (very lucky guy!) and he was telling me it was mental to set up the show – usually they had 6months to plan a show filmed in another location that normal, and in this case they had less that 5 days. Mental! Needless to say he was kept rather busy! The actual filming took place in the afternoon, and was aired late that night. Connor, Lindsay and I squished up on Lindsay’s couch and watched I on her TV, and we were all incredibly surprised at how great the show was. Jimmy Fallon really played up to the Carolina crowd, donning a Carolina hoodie and making fun of Duke, as well as performing a great song about college life to great laughter from all. The best bit however was the opening sequence of the show, which was filmed especially for the one off show in Chapel Hill the night before. How do I know this? Because all the drunken students on the sequence are in golfing gear, and there’s a brief shot of Alice, Lindsay, Me and a few other exchanges in full on golfing gear outside the Carolina Coffee Shop. Not a bad claim to fame to be honest! (Unfortunately because this blog was written so far after the airing of the show I can't find a link to the show...). Here is what I could find - an old YouTube clip of Obama 'slow jamming the news'.



The Obama fever that gripped Carolina was definitely one of the more interesting experiences of my time at UNC, and it was a great opportunity to see the President of the United States up close (ish) and personal (well, not really…). It also gave me an opportunity to reflect upon what I’ve learnt about American, and more importantly, North Carolina politics over my time at UNC, and how different attitudes are to social issues we take for granted (in my opinion at least) in the UK. This has been reinforced since my summer travels (this blog has been written since then) which took me into other states and the Deep South, which I will comment on in those relevant posts. However, it was a fantastic experience to see such a renowned figurehead and hear him in the flesh (exactly the same as on TV to be honest). Although I do feel sorry for his supporters having to go through all that security malarkey every time they fancy sharing a cup of tea and some biscuits with him!

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