Singin’ to the preacher

I went to my first political rally this morning. We found out Wednesday night that Sarah Palin was going to be in Latrobe (LAYtrobe) Friday morning, just 25 minutes away. We decided on the spot to go (well, on the spot as soon as we determined that I wouldn’t go alone, but if Mike would come too…). When Mike’s boss heard we were going, he hurried and got tickets so he and his wife could go as well, and one of the owners of the construction company next door already had his tickets. (Virtually everyone my husband meets and works with is conservative; virtually no one I meet or work with is…curious.)

The doors opened at 6:30 a.m., and the rally was supposed to start around 8:00. We decided we needed to get there by 7:00, which is quite the effort for typically late risers like us. And to our credit, we actually got to the rally site — a private airline headquartered at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport — at shortly after 7:00.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I figured it would be a lot of already-decided McCain-Palin supporters, and wondered at the usefulness of rallies in general, since they always seem to be filled with supporters whose votes are already locked in. A lot of preachin’ to the choir.

I didn’t expect the long line, nor the long wait in the cold (frickin’ cold, like 30 degrees). I was so not dressed for it.

But the line was congenial, and we all commiserated about our freezing fingers and toes and admired the buttons and hats and shirts for sale (M/C and Visa accepted — ha!). In front of us were two ROTC students from St. Vincent and a woman who came by herself from North Versailles (her kids were back home getting ready for school). We finally made it into the aiport terminal around 8:15, enjoyed the blissful warmth for about 10 minutes as we snaked our way toward security, then headed out the back door into the cold again for the short walk toward the airplane hangar where the rally was held.

On the way, we saw the campaign jet — yay, at least we knew the guest of honor was there!

Thankfully, we made it into the hangar — many people behind us in line were outside on the pavement, where they couldn’t even see the stage, let alone the speakers. After more waiting (with music playing and random chants of Sarah, Sarah, Sarah), we heard from some local candidates from Westmoreland County (all of which I’d heard of and planned to vote for). Nine o’clock came and went.

Finally, the main event. Governor Tom Ridge and Iron Mike Ditka led the way for Sarah and her family: husband Todd, two daughters, Willow and Piper (a snow princess for Halloween), and baby Trig (a darling elephant). Mike Ditka spoke first and introduced Sarah. He’s a great speaker (all those locker room pep talks). He said, “I’m not here because I’m a Republican, although I am. I’m not here because I’m a conservative, although I am. I’m here because I’m an American.”

Sarah’s speech was just what I expected. She’s a great speaker, too, of course, and the crowd cheered at all the right spots.

My favorite part — when she talked about how she and John McCain were here interviewing for a job, and she hoped we in Pennsylvania would hire them. I found that perspective refreshing — nothing messianic or god’s chosen about that. How nice to have the choice, and the control, put back into we the people’s hands. (I also liked her intro where she told of her link to Arnold Palmer — the first house she and Todd bought in Wasilla [for $82,000] was on Arnold Palmer Drive!)

I was hoping for some “maverick” talk from the supposed “rogue that her handlers can’t handle.” I was disappointed. The speech didn’t divert from the familiar messages, which were fine, but preachin’ to the choir. I thought I heard some hecklers from the crowd outside, but the distraction was short-lived. It was clearly a partisan audience — people like me gathered to support their candidate. A fair number were college and high school students, which was wonderful to see. Many gray heads as well as many middle-agers. A few people brought their young kids. A few carried “Another Democrat for McCain” signs.

Afterward, we met Mike’s boss and his wife and construction colleague and his wife for that distinctly Western Pennsylvania ritual — breakfast at Eat ‘n Park. Other rally-goers were there as well, happy to warm their hands, feet, and bellies with coffee and a Breakfast Smile. The talk was all politics of course, and it was nice being with people who think like Mike and I do. We’re all nervous about next Tuesday, jokingly wondering how we’d handle the tension — drink maybe? But hopeful too. Hopeful that when push comes to shove and people are in that booth, the votes will go our way.

In the end, we didn’t solve any of the world’s problems, and we didn’t secure the win for our candidate. But we did show our support, did enjoy being part of the process, and did confirm there are many, many others like us. People who believe in this country, who don’t believe it’s the scourge of the planet, who aren’t buying into media hype or accepting its version of the truth, who know the candidates’ histories, and who aren’t afraid to put their love of God and country out there for all to see.


 The death of democracy is not likely to be
an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction
from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment. 
                                         ~ Robert M. Hutchins

It must be in the water.

I’m still a Pittsburgher, even though technically I live too far east these days, just 20 minutes or so from Latrobe, PA — home of St. Vincent College, which is better known as the home of Steelers training camp. You can’t live in the ’Burgh and not know about this annual ritual: The swallows flock to Capistrano; the Steelers — and their minions — flock to Latrobe.

I’ve never been there to watch training camp practices and scrimmages, snag an autograph, or see the boys up close. But I’ve been to the campus a couple of times to see a play (just last Saturday in fact) — that would be a stage play not a hut-one, hut-two play. It doesn’t take long to understand the attraction of the place. It’s beautiful (even without the Steelers in view), and the revamped field is a dream (is that Lambert coming out of the corn?). You can picture hanging out there and looking down on the field, talking ball with the guy (or gal) sitting next to you, with the Laurel Mountains as the backdrop.

The campus is also home to the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media — yes Mister Rogers. Oh yeah, there’s a magnificent Basilica as well — stunning at night. The Steelers and Mr. Rogers and God — an embarrassment of riches.

Before the play, we ate at a nearby restaurant, Sharky’s, popular with the locals and the players. Of course, it’s decorated to the hilt with black & gold (including the waitresses) and has TVs all over the dining room showing current Steelers news coverage as well as highlights of past events — games, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions, ceremonies at Three Rivers & Heinz Field, player interviews, etc.

It’s amazing what a magnet those screens are. Show any highlight from any game in the golden years and it’s hard to keep your eyes off the sets. Show any aging player and it’s sure to spark a memory of some game, play, or event. It’s 30 years later, for goodness sake, but people are mesmerized. How can you explain such devotion?

I’m guessing it’s something in the water. I drank it 30 years ago and was hooked. Me and about a bazillion other Steelers fans — at home in Pittsburgh or wherever their lives led them.

But that doesn’t quite explain the many, many fans who have never set foot in the ’Burgh at all, let alone in the sleepy little town of Latrobe (that’s LAYtrobe). 

OK, how about this: It’s the water if you ever lived here; it’s the thirst for it — the thirst to be part of that big-awesome-love-hate-black-n-gold-towel-waving-Steeler-nation-madness — if you haven’t.

And, yes, there are those of you who live here and don’t give a hoot about the Steelers — those of you rolling your eyes all “What’s wrong with these people?” I’m afraid you’re on your own. Find your own magic potion. Wave a towel for whatever it is “you people” root for. Look down on us black & gold crazies. Whatever. Just don’t stand in front of the TV. And pass the water pitcher.

I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man.
                                             ~ Henry David Thoreau