When I wrote about Renaissance Women last week I had no idea that I'd have a chance to see Hillary Clinton up close and personal this week. Hillary surprised Santa Barbara with a last minute visit to UCSB. I was excited when Paul called to tell me he was meeting with campus officials and Clinton staff to arrange one of Senator Clinton's "town hall" meetings for Thursday night at the Rec Center on campus. I desperately wanted to be included in the small audience. This was a chance to listen to the woman who might be the first female president of the United States. It was also an opportunity for me to finalize my voting decision for the California Primary on February 5th.
Paul called me Thursday at noon to let me know that I was among the chosen. I met him on campus in the early evening and we walked over to the event with a colleague from his office. We were on the VIP list which basically entitled us to a guaranteed seat and a shorter wait in line. It also meant enduring the disorganization of Clinton's enthusiastic and very young staff. At one point we were all asked "step away from the door" and take five steps back. Not exactly the way donors and "dignitaries" are used to being treated.
Hillary was very late. We were seated shortly after 6 p.m. and she didn't arrive until after 8 p.m. We indulged in a lot of people-watching, and listened to loud music that inspired a few random fans to dance in the aisles. Mildly entertaining, and very Santa Barbara. Students were paraded in and seated behind the platform where Clinton would speak, and just before her arrival they were handed signs--"Women for Hillary," "Clinton Country," and even a selection of hand-made ones that were clearly not made by any of the students holding them. I don't consider myself to be naive but the calculated staging of the event seemed excessive. Especially since all of us in the audience were witnessing everything. The signs weren't meant for us, but they were the perfect manufactured background.
Almost disproportionate to the size of the audience was the media coverage. Enthusiastic student reporters holding their official journalist notebooks and interviewing almost anyone wearing a tie, competed with a platform of videographers and photographers that stretched across the entire back of the room. After Hillary finally arrived a contingent of reporters who must have been traveling with her filed in and took their positions along another wall. I looked today in several papers for mention of her UCSB campaign stop but most of the coverage seemed to be local. I have to admit I was kind of thrilled when a friend told me she spotted the back of my head on the KEYT broadcast.
Now, onto the important stuff. Hillary was impressive. Although I'm sure she'd given this speech or a variation of it many times before she seemed natural, intelligent and articulate. It was pleasing to hear a woman's voice narrating the future of our country, and I could easily imagine her as my president. She was genuinely responsive to the questioners (although several of them were most likely planted in the audience), she was humorous, and at times, inspirational. And, even though I know she probably doesn't appreciate being evaluated this way, Senator Clinton was also very attractive and more petite than she appears on T.V.
The event ended with Hillary doing an exit round of handshakes to the members of the front row. She'd already shaken a lot of hands that day at the two other events she'd completed prior to arriving in Santa Barbara. I didn't attempt to ask any questions and didn't push my way forward to shake her hand. My only outward display of enthusiasm was to take 18 pictures. Unfortunately, only two of them didn't come out looking like I was taking them in the middle of an earthquake. Here's hoping Hillary's leadership skills far surpass my inadequate attempts to capture their essence in a photograph.