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The Observer

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Happy days are here again.

They didn’t play that old tune Saturday at the State Capitol — Fleetwood Mac and old soul standards were more the order of the afternoon. But a crowd estimated from 1,000 to 3,000 was in a New Deal mood before, during and after a Democratic Party rally featuring Illinois U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

All of the Democratic candidates for statewide office got a moment before the microphone, but the crowd came for Obama, who gave a smooth but down-to-earth talk. He worked in at least one “y’all,” despite his Midwestern roots, and plugged Mike Beebe so enthusiastically you’d almost have thought he knew him.

He made a reference to the Little Rock Nine and quoted Martin Luther King in Selma, popular notes in a crowd that included many African-Americans, the Democratic Party base the rally was supposed to inspire. But Obama’s admirers came in all colors and avidly sought Obama shirts and campaign buttons. A good portion of the crowd departed when Obama’s remarks concluded, though gubernatorial candidate Mike Beebe still had closing remarks.

Democrats sense a tidal wave of victories in Arkansas this fall. Party chair Jason Willett, in rousing the faithful, spoke of “kicking butt” and being tired of Republican “b.s.” In the same breath, he promised the Beebes would return “class” to the Governor’s Mansion, no longer to be overseen by a woman he referred to as the skydiving “Jethrine.” Well, maybe the Beebes will at least be classier than Willett.

The Observer had intended to join a Razorback tailgate party at War Memorial, but found Obama too compelling to abandon. Good choice. The memory will linger over a Louisiana-Monroe conquest.

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” said Obama, quoting King, “but it bends toward justice.” For this crowd, the arc didn’t seem so long at all. Nov. 7 sounds about right.

As it happens, that parking around War Memorial Stadium was mostly a seller’s market. With the stadium raising its general parking fee to $20 (not to mention selling about 300 reserved tailgating spots on the golf course at $120 a pop for the two games here), folks with available space in their yards and driveways near the stadium were also asking for $20. We remember when the Subway (nee the Black Angus) started asking for $20 a few years back and we thought that was a bit much; we were scared to look Saturday at what they were asking.

Two weeks earlier, for the UAPB-Grambling game, the same folks with lots and driveways were charging $5 for a spot a few blocks away or $10 across from the stadium. (That game drew more than 30,000 people. Arkansas’s game pulled in 54,000 folks. With public transportation nearly non-existent, profitable parking gigs are guaranteed.)

We were invited to a tailgate party not at the stadium, but at a house near it on one of the north-south streets leading down to the venue. Just about anybody from Kavanaugh on down to Markham who could was charging something for parking. Nearly every free spot on a street without a game-day tow-away sign was taken — early. But, as luck would have it, we found a back street near all the action where there weren’t any tow-away signs or no-parking signs, and we slid right in to the one open spot for the duration. “Where is it?” you may ask. Are you kidding? We’re guarding that secret like war plans.

Speaking of war. As we drove east on Interstate 630 the evening of the game, we glanced to our left at War Memorial Golf Course. There, in the dark, the No. 5 green looked like a bivouac. Vehicles were lined up in rows all over the hole, all facing west. They were cornered; they looked as if they could never hope to get out. Smoke was rising from one of the cars; one soldier must have been up late writing home to his sweetheart.

That takes devotion to a cause, yes it does, to put your car in a place that guarantees you’ll be spending the night trying to find a way home. We didn’t know how different we were from the porcine pack until we saw those cars in that place. Never, never, never will we fight that good fight.

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