Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A million marching moms and me

So Los Mets are in Washington, D.C., where they likely encountered several hundred thousand or so protesters, not counting members of the Nationals whining about their suspensions.

I’ve been to an event like the immigration protest, and it included one of the longest, strangest bus rides in my entire life.

I was assigned to cover the Million Mom March in 2000, and would stick with a contingent of moms from our area as they marched in support of gun control.

We boarded the bus on a Saturday evening with the promise that we could grab a meal somewhere along the way, sleep on the bus as it rolled through Ohio and Pennsylvania and reach the National Mall by the next morning.

I was the only male on the bus, and much was made of this. Every time the driver announced something over the loud speaker, he would start with "Attention ladies...and Dave," with much chuckling. It was funny for the first hundred miles or so.

I spent the time trading seats around the bus, listening to stories about what motivated people to make the trip. Many had a story of a loved one killed or injured by someone with a gun.

After about three hours we were getting pretty hungry. Some of the newly renovated rest stops on the Ohio Turnpike are pretty nice with large food courts. And there was some grumbling when the bus sped past the stop near Maumee...and the one after that...and the one after that. The ladies were getting louder and louder expressing their displeasure, but the driver kept going.

Finally, around 11 p.m. or so, he pulled into a rest stop — one of the few that had not been renovated.

There was no sparkling food court with Sabarro, Panera Bread and Wendy’s.

Instead, there were rolling hot dogs and old sandwiches wrapped in plastic.

Had these not been ladies on their way to a peace protest, there would have been violence committed right then and there. I’m sure of it.

Of course, it’s virtually impossible to get decent sleep on the bus, and I remember lots of twisting and contorting to get comfortable before exhaustion finally set in — just in time to stop for breakfast.

Around 6 a.m. we pulled into Breezewood, Pa., a community that nicknames itself "The Town of Motels." But a more accurate name would have been "The Town of Noisy, Crowded Bus Stops Filled With Junior High School Kids on Field Trips."

We stopped at a place that clearly is aimed at bus tours. I opened the door to the men’s room, and with no exaggeration, every inch of the place was filled with junior high kids in their underwear changing from sleeping clothes into whatever they were going to wear to Washington.

And I was lucky, the line for the ladies room stretched all the way through the restaurant.

The breakfast buffet was nasty, offering those really thin, crusty pancakes that you can’t even cut with a fork and flat bacon that may or may not have once been part of a pig.

By now, the ladies on the bus were over-tried, over-hungry and really needed to use a rest room. Adding to their issues was this revelation: Apparently in the few moments I was able to sleep, I snored. And had the bus actually stopped at any point, I might have been left by the side of the road.

I swear the experience was testing the ladies' opposition to guns. In fact, I suspect some were pooling their money to go buy one. I am only somewhat comforted that they would have shot the bus driver first, giving me time to flee.

We finally got to the district, and it’s an amazingly inspiring place.

At events like this, there are speakers on stage, though not a lot of people are listening. There’s a lot of sign and T-shirt reading, shouting and cheering. Not a lot gets done, other than making a statement by showing up and being a part of the masses.

There’s a lot of energy and a lot of emotion. Reporters have to remember we’re there to be the eyes and ears for the people who can't be there. We're not supposed to get wrapped up in the excitement.

Sometimes that’s hard. You fight back tears when a mother shows you photos and tell you about her slain son, but it's not OK to applaud when a speaker makes a point you agree with. It’s like being in the press box at Shea. You can be awed by David Wright’s clutch hitting, but you can’t cheer as it happens.

The celeb-watching was fun. Melissa Etheridge was holding court outside the press tent then sang on stage. Rose O’Donnell was the mistress of ceremonies. Hilllary Rodham Clinton touched hands from within a wedge of Secret Service agents. Susan Sarandon gave a speech surrounded by fellow entertainers Bette Midler and Melissa Manchester.

Some of it was strange. Courtney Love, whose husband, Kurt Cobain of the rock band Nirvana, killed himself, was up on stage in an outfit that wasn’t all the way on, makeup running down her face as she sobbed and spoke about Cobain and how easy it was for him to obtain a gun.

At the end of the day, the ladies boarded the bus again for a long drive back, and I happily caught a plane so we could get the story in the next day’s newspaper.

I caught up with the group leader later that week, and she said there was a near revolt when the bus driver stopped at the same place in Breezewood, this time for dinner. The junior high kids were gone, but the food was just as awful.

She said they passengers confronted the driver about why he would stop at such a terrible place when there were so many better places.

The answer? Drivers eat free when they bring a bus load of passengers.


G-Fafif said...

Marvelous story, ladies...and Dave.

Tony Hartsfield said...

It may be crap, but it's free crap.

What a story.

Anonymous said...

Tony sent me here.

Enjoyed your story!