Who: Revelers in President Barack Obama Euphoria
What: Minnesota Presidential Inauguration Party
Where: Seven Sushi Ultra Lounge
When: Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Why: To party under the mantra “Celebrating Change Together,” a benefit for Sabathani Community Center.
There was a slight AV technical difficulty at Richard Moody’s Minnesota Presidential Inauguration Party at Seven Sushi last night. Over the din of a crowd buzzing on special inaugural cocktails (I think the Candidate Clinton contained blue curacao) and noshing on the complimentary crab legs, well you couldn’t actually hear the replay of President Obama’s inaugural address playing on any of Seven Sushi’s sparkling flat screens. But since Moody himself was off in South Africa, the only person who really seemed to mind was Vanessa Bradley. Vanessa might have been the only person at the party who had missed President Obama’s speech. “I had an exam this morning,” she lamented. She had extra reason to be bummed. “I’m from the same denomination as the President,” she said, “The United Church of Christ.” Her party companions, her husband Mark (he works for a nonprofit) and their friend Patwin Lawrence (HR coordinator at Target), had both seen Obama’s speech, and they agreed with the talking head consensus: “It was a great speech, but it didn’t have a JFK catch phrase,” Lawrence said. Personally, I disagreed. For me, the stand out phrase was when Obama quoted scripture: “the time has come to put away childish things.” From there, the President went on to impugn those who have been part of America’s problems, not its progress—those who “prefer leisure over work” or “seek only the pleasures of riches or fame.” Vanessa the seminarian told me it was a good question, but stuck up for her new President, and argued that he was just telling us not to expect miracles—he needed to make the point that it’s going to take hard work to get out of this mess. But I asked my new friends, “Is leisure the reason we’re in trouble in this country? Is not working hard enough the reason our economy is failing? And how hard can you work without a job?” They all shook their heads. “It’s a good question,” Vanessa said.
In a strange way, tonight, standing up for leisure probably made me a buzzkill.
Anyway, the seminarian and her friends were about as tough as this crowd would get. Everybody else was just happy to be there. I saw a hulking Samoan dude in the corner—maybe I would engage somebody my own size, I thought. But it was just Viking defensive lineman-turned-crooner Esera Tuaolo, the evening’s featured entertainment. Esera planned to sing moony-eyed hits like John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and possibly “I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray . He was enjoying himself, but he thought the big party was actually back on Election night. “That speech, particularly when he thanked the GBLT community, was much more emotional for me,” Tualo said. Esera, who considers himself a man of color, thought the inaugural address was less of a “rah rah speech,” and more of a meditation on how much work we have cut out for us. “We need to work together if anything is going to happen.”
Thinking about it all, wandering around with a bourbon Manhattan (The Non-Candidate Clinton?), it seemed to me that all the cable TV mewling over a lack of a catch phrase was pretty silly, especially considering that President Obama already gave us a doozy. He came to office on the strength of one of the most hypnotic catch phrases in political history—“Yes We Can.” And despite the President’s attempt to temper expectations with a sober call to work, people are still hoping like hell this works out. (Quickly.) Sly Peoples, the owner of Status, a small sneaker boutique in Uptown, admitted business could be better. “Always,” he said. “But my pro athlete clients have kept us going.” He’s hopeful things will turn around. In fact, he opened the store up early this morning and invited his employees to come down for coffee and muffins and to see Obama’s speech. “Seeing all those people listening to [President Obama] on the Mall,” Peoples said. “It’s a movement. Just like our movement when we first started selling shoes in Minnesota. A different kind of a movement, but a movement all the same.”
It seems like President Obama put aside something himself yesterday—a toy he used pretty frequently in his campaign: “change.” Despite going cold turkey, that invocation of change has certainly resonated; in fact, at this point, even if you don’t want change, it’s inevitable. I spoke with KFAN’s Henry Lake, the party’s host in Richard Moody’s stead, about change. Lake’s employer, Clear Channel, had just eliminated 9% of its workforce—2000 people—that morning. One of them was Chad Hartman, the man Lake interned for when he first broke into radio on the Chad and Barreiro Show . It was a strange, momentous day for Lake—losing a mentor and seeing the first black President come to power, all in the matter of a couple of hours. “I’m just taking in the history of it all,” he said. Lake grew up in North Minneapolis, graduating from North High in ’91, and he thought that inviting a black man into America’s homes was going to be a great thing for real change in this country. “It’s going to make it real,” he said. “We’re not going to be talking about how a black guy can or should be equal. You’ll see it. Everyday.”