Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Hours before Sen. Barack Obama would become the first black major party presidential nominee in American history, Romel Trusty is selling Obama T-shirts and hats at his street kiosk, adding to his usual business of imported clothing and handbags.
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His best-selling T-shirt, white with black lettering: “Black Man Running. And It Ain’t From The Police.” The edgy humor is going over big, Trusty says as he holds his baby, Romeo, imploring the child to smile for a camera.
So it goes on a historic day when it seems fitting to pause and look around at a city that appears, at least for the moment, to encompass the panoply of American life — long-winded senators, dog breeders, street vendors, cranks, monks and clowns.
The day begins at the city’s history museum, where Sen. John Kerry unleashes his full arsenal of circumlocutions, esoteric references and diplomatic name-dropping on a group of foreign policy intellectuals. “I met twice with (Syrian President Bashar) Assad in the past two years ... I came back from Saudi Arabia, where I met with (King Abdulla). I went to Egypt, where I met with (President Hosni) Mubarak and went to Israel where I met with all the players ...”
In fairness, the forum includes some coherent sentences from foreign policy aides to Obama — Gregory Craig and Anne Marie Slaughter — who lay out his foreign policy vision, including a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, engagement with Iran and a strengthening of traditional American alliances.
It’s heady, but far more entertaining are the street vendors and performers around the 16th Street pedestrian mall, which is like Fremont Street without the yard-long daiquiris.
A guy with an acoustic guitar sings, “When the president says he talks to God, do you ever think it’s just voices in his head?”
A few yards away, a man holds a sign: “Do not be deceived. Hell is for eternity.”
Helicopters are overhead, police in riot gear are all around, but the scene is mostly peaceful.
The nearby convention center is like a lively outdoor market. Chase Cox, a local who says he’s with Holiday Clothing, is selling a “RUN DNC” T-shirt that plays off the old hip-hop group and the acronym for the Democratic National Committee.
A small group of Hillary Clinton backers is ornery. Claire Hayes came from Santa Cruz to support her candidate, and without her, she’ll back Obama’s opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
They’re outnumbered, though, by merchants selling their wares. The Democratic nominee is being commercialized, often with the image created by Shepard Fairey that is now iconic.
There are Obama watches and squeeze toys and foam fingers — like those at basketball arenas, except these are two fingers in the peace/victory sign.
T-shirts are ubiquitous. Obama on Mount Rushmore with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Obama on a postage stamp. Black with a glittery gold lettering: “Change We Can Believe In.” Obama’s image in African colors.
Mike Gelving is selling a male dog, a hunting Irish setter, thus far unnamed. Free with a $500 T-shirt, he jokes. The pup sleeps. “I think he’s union,” Gelving says.
It’s hot, and with all the walking required here, the wiser veteran politicos have comfortable shoes, no matter how ugly.
Paula Verdun has a salty sales technique: “Come get your T-shirt! You can sleep with Obama tonight!”
Tusta Krishna is sitting on a blanket in the middle of the pedestrian mall with copies of “Bhagavad Gita.” He has markings on his face made from the sacred clay of holy rivers. His participation in the election, he said, “is more on the spiritual side.”
Nancy Bobo of Iowa is wearing a foam hat shaped like an ear of corn. One button reads, “We started it,” referring to Obama’s shocking Iowa caucus victory.
And a couple of hours later, inside the arena, this is where the long Democratic race ends.
The vote goes alphabetically, skipping Illinois until its votes can put Obama over the top. The tally is lopsided, with many Clinton voters taking heed of their candidate’s call to support Obama.
Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley calls in the Nevada vote. Battle Born State and the battleground state, she says. Eight for Clinton. Obama gets 25 “because he has a vision for the West investing in renewable energy, caring for our veterans and keeping nuclear waste out of Nevada.”
New Hampshire goes all 30 for Obama and the crowd roars.
A moment later, New Mexico yields to Illinois.
Then, Illinois yields to New York.
Clinton enters the hall to a roar. She calls for a suspension of the roll call so Obama can be nominated by acclamation.
Cut to “Love Train.”