So Long, Sarah! Anchorage Bids Farewell to the Governor.
Well, today was the second-to-last stop on the Quitter Tour. It was Abdication Eve here in Alaska. Today at 2pm Alaska time, the governor will officially hand over the state, and all it’s unresolved problems to Lt. Governor Sean Parnell. He’s known to us here as Caribou Ken, The Empty Suit, Sean Who? and Captain Zero. What is he going to be like? We’ll find out.
I arrived at the Governor’s Picnic in what I thought would be plenty of time. Boy was I wrong. All available parking spaces were taken for what felt like miles around. I found a lucky empty spot about a half a mile from the festivities, and did a half-walk half-run all the way there. I got to the stage area only about 10 minutes before the governor arrived.
As I found a spot with a good view of the stage, I was very fortunate to hear Hobo Jim, a true Alaskan legend.
Then Palin took the stage. I braced myself for the word salad… for some kind of closure, or a 10 minute talk about the miliatary, or Alaskans, or our freedoms, or Sean Parnell… But all there was was a strange kind of “all that stands between you and food is us talking, so we’ll be brief.” And she was. Very.
After the non-speech, Palin was hustled over to the food service area surrounded by a phalanx of security. A friend of mine was working security at the event, and I figured I’d have no problem meeting up with him, but it was so packed, I never even saw him.
As soon as Palin left the stage area, the crowd and the media dispersed, leaving soon-to-be-governor Sean Parnell and whoever spoke after him, addressing a crowd of the back of people’s heads as they charged over to get food from Palin.
I managed to worm my way through the crowd and get close, sandwiched between ABC News and Dennis Zaki, but security was way too hopped up to allow a good vantage point. I was glad I had my big lens. “People need to get to the condiments!” they barked as tourists with cameras pressed up against the orange tape. “The food line must go through!”
I watched as people came up to the front of the area, and people snapped pictures. Some of them were actually mopping their eyes as they walked away, overcome with emotion and looking at the tiny screens on their cameras to make sure they had gotten a good shot. “Nobody at home is going to believe this!” an elderly man gushed. A woman to my left proudly showed off three 8×10 glossy photos of the governor’s official portrait, autographed in metallic gold Sharpie. She explained in a thick southern accent, “I’m makin’ scrapbooks for the grand kids,….so they’ll remember.” Reverent emphasis was placed on that last word, like remembering the Moon landing. “We’ll remember, but they won’tremember. This’ll help ‘em.” For a second, I felt like saying, “A lot of us would really rather forget!” and I went to elbow Dennis Zaki who had been standing to my right, but he’d vanished to another vantage point. Fortunately nobody had taken his spot or I would have elbowed some enamored tourist in the ribs while they were trying to capture an iconic photograph. To remember.
I found another spot right near some official professional photographers and got to hang out there for a while until security came back. “OK, that’sit! EVERYONE OUT! This is not a “media area” this is a food line!” Of course nobody was obstructing anyone’s access to the aluminum containers of white lettuce, and sliced onions, but those security folks slept last night, knowing that nothing even came close to coming between those crazed Sarah Palin fans and their burger toppings.
She wasn’t the only one on the food line. Commissioner Joe Schmidt was there too; Palin’s High School buddy, and head of the Dept. of Corrections. He has a strange vibe.
He’s the one that we thought was #3 in line for the governorship, who would step up and fill the Lt. Governor’s slot when Parnell becomes governor. But apparently there’s some kind of back story there that nobody knows about because Palin announced to us all that the Lt. Governor would instead be Craig Campbell, thus causing a constitutional crisis due to his lack of confirmation by the legislature… But this is a picnic, so we’ll try to keep politics out of it.
And, of course, there was our governor-in-waiting, looking pretty darn pleased about the whole thing. He and his wife were quite on Cloud 9.
Finally I’d gotten my fill of Sarah handing out burgers. This was right around the same time as the second wave of condiment police hit the scene. “Clear the area!”
I remembered, looking at her, how charming she can be on a superficial level. I don’t know whether anyone on the line told her to give the defense fund money back, or asked her about Western Alaska, or Medicare, or wildlife management, or Troopergate. She just kept saying, “Ohhhh! Thank you for comeen!” And the wide-eyed tourist would walk zombie-like, down the condiment line. Alaskans are definitely more down-to-Earth about the whole thing. Even the ones that really like her don’t have that feeling of “rock star” that everyone else does.
While out of state fans were all swoony, coveting pictures and trying just to get a glimpse of her, the Alaskan fans wee more of a … homegrown variety.
They got talked to by the press, a lot.
As I backed, away, I realized how long the line had gotten. I remembered Palin’s mini-speech and thought “The only thing standing between people and their food is a thousand other people!” The numbers willing to wait in line for free food from Sarah Palin made a line that stretched two full city blocks long. Yes, I was hungry. No, there was no way…
The other odd presence at the picnic was a very “out there” second amendment crowd. Nothing says fun family picnic more than a bunch of people sporting firearms, and all wearing the same shirt covered wtih … firearms.
Add to the mix all the security people of various stripes, a bunch of military stuff, and the FBI riot gear booth, and the event had a weird feeling.
I ran into Shannyn Moore and we speculated what this guy must be texting. “I….am…..na…tion..al….media… Get… me… out of here!!”
And just to add to the mood, Mrs. Alaska was there, teetering on high heels in the grass, with a young future pageant girl in training.
I was stricken at one point by a bad case of lens-envy…
There was definitely not much of a “counter presence” this time. I ran in to a few people who said they had left their signs in the car. The mood was strange and there were so many people, the usual plan of “I’ll see you there” didn’t happen. But there were a few souls who did sport signs. One said “Palin’ Failin’!” over by the food line, but it had disappeared by the time I got there. And Mudflatter SH sported this snazzy backpack!
I did stand in line for about 3 minutes to get my free Sarah Palin bookmarks, official state portrait, and a poster with a collage of Sarah Palin images on it. While I was waiting on line, I snapped this picture of the crowd.
The people in front of me said, “We saw Sarah in Florida, and we came up here all the way just for this!” I really wanted them to be kidding. I finally got my goods from another young pageant participant I’d seen hanging around at other Republican events. I had fun the rest of the day tracking down progressive bloggers, and unrolling the picture of Palin in front of their face and making a horror movie scream.
Further down the way, a smaller but more important crowd was gathering at a rally to support health care reform. As I walked past the hundreds and hundreds of people still on line after the governor left, I thought how strange that was. People were willing to do so much, just to get a hamburger on a Wonder bread roll from Sarah Palin. How many of them were going to take 3 minutes to email, or call their Senators or Congresspeople about the most important issue of our day?
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