On South Elm Street, lining up for Michelle Obama

by Brian Clarey

“How long, how longhowlong?” the woman asked the young kid guarding the door. “About five minutes he says.” Evelyn Macomson was first in line. She got here early, 2 p.m., with her folding chair and her beach hat with “The Price Is Right” logo embroidered on the front and sat herself down for

a good, long wait. “Well,” she said, “I didn’t want to miss the tickets.”

And so she waited outside Sen. Barack Obama’s downtown Greensboro office on Elm Street, hatched back in April, for four hours, until staffers began passing out tickets to hear Michelle Obama speak the next day at the Carolina Theatre just around the corner. “When I called,” Macomson says, “they said everybody could get two tickets apiece. Now they’re telling us we can get only one ticket apiece.” She sat alone for an hour or so and then the queue began to elongate behind her. They came after work in their uniforms — UPS browns, restaurant T-shirts, scrubs and security guard dress; they scooped up the kids after school and brought them down to Elm Street to wait for a chance to see the woman who just might be the next first lady, the first ever of African-American descent, who wowed them with her facility and grace during the Democratic National

Convention just a few short weeks ago. Macomson has never seen Michelle speak live, but she did pay $25 for a ticket to an event in Durham where Barack addressed perhaps 2,000 earlier on in the race. “That was the primaries,” she recalled. “It was a good crowd, but the point is, now you can’t get anywhere near him.” An avowed Obama voter, she also feels affection for his wife. “I’m saying she might be the next first lady,” she said. “Her birthday is the day before my birthday. She is the same [zodiac] sign as me, so she is similar to me. And I like me.” By virtue of her skin color and gender, Macomson was fairly representative of the crowd that stretched all the way down Elm, past the empty storefronts and new ventures on the thoroughfare, bending around the corner at Washington and tapering off somewhere near Greene. Yeah, white folks and men and hipsters and retirees also swelled the ranks, wearing everything from business dress to island wear to those sweatpants with cargo pockets at the knees, but the crowd was overwhelmingly female and undeniably black. “I’m just trying to get some tickets for my wife,” said Dale Gibson, still in his Guilford County Services uniform and standing with his twin brother Dean, who wore the garb of a NC A&T University security guard, the only visible trace of law enforcement in sight. “I’m behind [the Obamas] one-hundred percent,” Dale said. “She can speak real good. I’m very proud of her.” Toward the rear of the line, milling by Glitters’ brick wall around the corner, Cynthia and Leslie Carter, mother and daughter, both alabaster white, waited for their chance at a brush with greatness. “We just thought it would be interesting,” Cynthia said. “I’m very fond of him as a candidate,” her mother said. But will the speech, scheduled for the next afternoon, sway her vote or has she already decided? “Well, pretty much,” Cynthia said. “Pretty much?” her daughter says. “What are you, kidding me?” “Well,” her mother pursed her lips. “I won’t be voting for John McCain.” Obama’s Elm Street bunker is a windowed storefront in a stagnant part of the block, hand-painted signs and campaign posters blocking out the windows: “Change”; “Yes We Can”; a folksy “O” in red, white and blue; a life size cardboard cutout of the man himself, smiling from behind the glass at his brothers and sisters. Young volunteers, an attractive and earnest lot, weaved around the line with clipboards, collecting e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers, distributing early voting pamphlets, leaking information about the tickets: How many are they giving out? How many can I get? How many are left? Two guys guarded the door: 23-year-old Mike Jones of Fayetteville and 17-year old Stephen Padgett of Greensboro. Padgett’s been an Obama volunteer for the last two weeks. “I’ll be eighteen by the time of the election,“ he said. “My birthday’s in October.” And then the doors swing open; Jones and Padgett pieced off the first five people on the line, let them inside to get their tickets. And that’s how it went: five at a time until they were all gone. Back at the end of the line, a woman flagged down a man with a notebook. She wouldn’t give her name, but she did offer an observation. “Don’t you think there’s more women than men on this line?” she asked him. Indubitably. “Well that should tell you,” she said. “That Sarah Palin thing ain’t working.”

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