Wait a minute. Isn't this supposed to be Chicago, the U.S. Murder Capital that outpaced New York and Los Angeles on homicides this year? Don't major summer festivals in the park eventually break out in gang clashes and gunfire as crowds disperse? Wasn't Grant Park the scene of the 1968 Democratic Convention riots?
This was no typical Grant Park gathering. More than 200,000 supporters of president-elect Barack Obama descended upon the park in orderly fashion to watch CNN election returns on a JumboTron and ultimately, to hear the 44th president-elect's historic acceptance speech. Though crowds were told gates would not open until 8:30 p.m., the throng that enveloped me swept into the park before 6 p.m. Reports said some were admitted as early as 3 p.m.
Tickets to a cordoned-off zone near the stage were free, but hard to get. Illinois Obama supporters who reserved a ticket within minutes of receiving an email invitation snagged the 65,000 spots. Many campaign donors and dedicated volunteers who couldn't respond so fast were left out in the cold outside the designated zone.
Online opportunists eager to part with their "plus one" guest tickets had steep and innovative demands: One Craigslist poster demanded a bidder renounce Christianity in exchange for a guest ticket; another suggested $1,000 was a fair price for the guest ticket obtained for free; still another offered a guest ticket to an Obama supporter willing to switch their vote to Sen. John McCain -- and provide proof with a photo of their ballot. Many more Craigslist postings sought a "hot chick" to accompany the ticketholder for the historic evening.
When McCain's concession speech was broadcast on the screen, the crowd quieted and his every word could be heard, start to finish. No whoops or wisecracks could be heard from where I was standing. McCain paid respects to Obama's grandmother, who helped raise him and passed away Nov. 2. That solemn mood remained as Obama took the stage. Aside from repeating after Obama, "Yes we can," at the scripted moments of his speech, the crowd listened raptly.
The egress at 11:30 p.m. was equally calm with a gentility more fitting to the Civic Opera House a few blocks west, where Georges Bizet's "Les PÃªcheurs de Perles" had its closing night performance an hour earlier.
Even the Obamas' two little girls, Sasha and Malia were rewarded for good behavior. "You have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House," their father told them from the stage backed up by Lake Michigan.
About the only uncivilized component I could find the whole evening: $40 for a medium Connie's pizza?
Pizza nothwithstanding, maybe change is ahead, as Obama said, "This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were."
I heard more cheers than I saw tears during the evening - at least until the end. The tears streaming down the plump cheeks of the young woman next to me triggered the "Lens cap off! Now!" impulse. But I resisted the chance to capture the moment. She looked so peaceful and happy that I couldn't intrude.