I was at the Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) in Washington DC on 10/30/2010.
I'm not much of a "joiner," and not a big enough fan of The Daily Show or Colbert to hop a plane to DC. I only really made the trip because I was already sort of invested in the event due to my participation in a social news website called Reddit, and how I along with thousands of other members donated to Donors Choose, a charity of which Stephen Colbert is a board member, to help show the organizers of the rally how serious we were about its message, and to show the world that "the internet" isn't just a bunch of people who laugh at pictures of cats and occasionally creep on kids.
The chronology is a bit muddled, but the legend goes that long before the rally was announced, a member of Reddit had an idea that Colbert should do a mock-rally to lampoon Glenn Beck's bile-churning "Restoring Honor" DC rally. Such a movement grew on Reddit and the greater internet behind this idea, that we tried to find ways to get the attention of Colbert and let him know that this demand existed.
Eventually, someone came up with the Donors Choose idea, and so a campaign to raise money in the name of this rally was begun. The initial goal was to beat Hillary Clinton's Donors Choose fundraising total of about $27,000. If we could beat Hillary Clinton's fundraising power within a month, surely we would be noticed.
It was beaten within five hours.
Within a day, over $100,000 was raised by members of Reddit for Donors Choose. Last week, just around a month later, the total hit $500,000.
This is all money that goes directly to buy classroom supplies for teachers in impoverished American school systems who are forced to pay for these supplies out of pocket. It's a really great charity that puts all of the power in the donor's hand. You choose what classroom and what teacher gets the money for the supplies they need.
Well, it turned out that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were already planning to hold a rally, and this whole grassroots internet campaign was a kind of kismet demand for something that was already coming.
After putting my own money on the line to (in theory) get this rally to take place, in the form of several Donors Choose donations to help get the total past various milestones, I sort of felt like I had to be there.
So, besides being a Rally for Sanity, it was also a bit of a Reddit meetup.
It also doesn't hurt that my brother lives and works in Washington DC, that I could stay with him for free, and that his birthday fell around the same time and I could double-duty the trip. Also, I have a friend who lives and works in the same area, and he had every intention of attending, so I wouldn't be entirely lonely.
When people ask me my impression of the event, I don't really speak in terms of the message or the comedy or the music. I speak in terms of numbers. There were more people there than I have ever seen in one place in my life.
Independent estimates put the crowd's size at 215,000 people, with a margin of error of 10%. Firsthand accounts indicate there could have been tens of thousands more in attendance, if there were more loudspeakers and bigscreens. People were showing up, realizing they were too far from the stage and speakers to hear anything, and leaving to watch the event on the TV at nearby restaurants.
I live in the second or third (depending on who you ask) most populous city in the country and I've never seen that many people at once. The entire city of DC was slammed.
The Metro train into the city was packed so tight with people that after a few stops, new riders physically could not board the train.
Along with many other members of the Reddit community, I and my friend (and his girlfriend) stayed after the rally ended for a few hours to help pick up trash. It was another of our attempts to show the world that we aren't all bad, and to prevent the otherwise-inevitable "Look how much trash these liberals left!" propaganda from those opposed to the rally. By the time we left the Mall, the massive crowd had made its way into the city and had descended upon every restaurant and bar with an "Open" sign.
Every single restaurant we passed had a line out the door. Even the little, out of the way places we didn't think anybody would have heard of had multi-hour lines. When we tried to just leave town to get food elsewhere, we were turned away at the Metro stations because there were too many people to fit on the platforms. The escalators were all breaking down ("becoming stairs") because of all the people.
When we finally found a restaurant with a reasonably short wait, we were almost flooded out of the place because the dishwasher backed up from overuse and dirty dishwater began pouring into the dining room in an everexpanding brown lake.
The DC Metro system says there were over 800,000 people through the system that day, several dozen times more than the average weekender traffic.
So, regardless of what you think about Stewart's more serious message at the end of event, or about the political/nonpolitical tone of the whole thing, I think enough of a point is made by the attendance. The event permit was filed for 60,000 attendees, and there were over 200,000 people there, and millions more watching at satellite rallies in cities across the country.
I think enough is said by that, and by the fact that a small internet community raised half a million dollars so poor schoolkids could have the supplies they need to learn, and that a few grumpy, asocial snobs like me volunteered to pick up other people's garbage with their bare hands to keep America's front lawn clean.
There's a lot of people out there who think the world could use a dose of sanity, and they're not afraid to work to make it happen.
That's my take on the rally. You could delete the entire on-stage event from my memory and the impact would still be just the same.
There are a lot of us.
I used to take me a very long time to fall asleep. I would often lie in bed for an hour or more with my eyes closed before I finally fell asleep. Now, I'm out within a few minutes.
This seems like a great thing but it's kind of annoying. That lie-in-bed-try-to-sleep time used to be the only time of the day when I could just think. Most of the time when I'm awake I'm reading something, walking somewhere, listening to something, or doing some kind of work. The pre-sleep in-bed time was my only chance to think about things. I usually used that time to think about stories or stuff I wanted to write. I came up with the whole ending to my novel while trying to fall asleep.
That time became so creatively productive I had to start budgeting it. I'd decide before hopping into bed which of the nine hundred thousand stories I've been brewing I would think about. It was like supercomputer processing time and I had to schedule some time for every project.
Now, though, I don't have the benefit. When I put away whatever I'm reading or watching and go all close-eyed I have maybe 5 or 10 minutes to think about the mechanics of a particular superhero's tactical equipment before I start shifting through brainwave cycles and before I know it, it's tomorrow.
I'm not entirely sure why this is. The only major life change I've made in the past year has been everything. It seems like as soon as I moved out of my parents' house and to Chicago, the sleeplessness has stopped. This isn't really a narrowed-down cause, however. It could be that I was extremely depressed for the last year because I had no job or money, or because I could feel my dreams of living in Chicago slipping away which also made me extremely depressed (depression causes restlessness). Or it could just be that the air conditioning in that house was poorly designed, causing it to often be way too hot in my room. It's hard to fall asleep when I'm too warm. Now that I've got my own place and the air conditioning unit is mere inches from my bed, I can keep it exactly as cold as I want it to be (very).
Or perhaps it's just that I have a job now, and I actually do real things during the day, so I'm more mentally worn out at night. Or perhaps because I went from walking zero miles per day to an average of 5. Or maybe, just maybe, goblins.
So now you can find out how many times I've used dirty words here over the years.
And also see what a right-leaning d-bag I used to be.
I got my first cameraphone when I was a senior in high school. I had a job at Circuit City, and I saved up my dough for quite a while to buy a Nokia 6820 for $400.
After I graduated, I went on my first road trip to Chicago. While there, I had a real camera but I took a few pictures with the phone for the heck of it.
Here is one picture I took:
That's taken from the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) observation deck.
That is the actual size of the photo. Not resized or anything.
Now here's a picture I took with my $200 phone yesterday:
That's not full size. Here is a larger version, but Flickr wont let me upload the full size image without paying for Flickr Pro. The actual image from the camera is 2.5x larger.
Here is a comparison of the image dimensions between the two cameras.
All I'm saying is, my phone has a good camera.
Mark burst into the third-floor apartment, as he always does, tossed his backpack onto the supposed dining room table, like he always does, and plopped down in the middle of the couch, like he always does. The wood frame of the couch squeaked with the force. It was an old piece of furniture which, at its prime, was slightly more off-white than the carpet, which was just as slightly more off-white than the walls. It was a cheap, poorly appointed apartment that reflected the priorities of its two twentysomething bachelor residents.
Dale spun around in the computer chair to face the couch. "Did you get it?" he asked.
Mark smiled, reaching into his left pants pocket. "Had it sent to the office." After some trouble reconciling the poorness of his posture and the tightness of his jeans, he was finally able to draw a slick, black-and-silver phone from his pocket.
"Awesome," Dale said, rolling the chair closer until the carpet wouldn't allow it.
Mark spun it around in his fingers a few times, before handing to Dale. Dale admired every inch of it, examining it like a rare specimen.
"Any problems getting it activated?" Dale asked, turning the on the screen and swiping a finger across to unlock it.
"No," Mark said. "Pretty simple, this time."
Dale stared at the screen, wide-eyed. "This is so damn cool," he said. He flipped through a few pages of the installed apps.
"Yeah," Mark said. "Wifi and 3G internet, GPS for maps, video calling. It's the future, man."
"Totally," Dale said. "If I could go back in time and show this to my twelve-year-old self, he/I would go nuts."
"Hey, yeah," Mark said. "We should do that."
"Yeah," Dale chuckled, "sure."
"No, look," Mark said, walking over and taking the phone. He flipped a through a few pages of apps and pointed at an icon labeled, "Time Machine."
"Oh, hey," Dale said, "this one has Time Machine data backup service?"
"No," Mark said. "It's an actual time machine."
Dale looked at Mark for fourteen seconds. "...What?"
"Yeah, just... here. Hang on."
Mark pressed the icon to launch the app. The screen filled with text. "Just skip through these warnings.... and.... here, see?"
On the screen was was a simple, plain-text readout of the current date and time, and below it was a dial to select a new date and time.
"What year was it when you were twelve?" Mark asked.
"What, are you serious?" Dale asked, incredulous.
Mark didn't reply. He was busy with math. "Er... 1995, right?" He spun the numbers until the date was changed to 1995. "Sweet, here we go..."
"Wait, wait, hang on." Dale said. "What the crap are you talking about?"
Mark looked confused. "What?"
"Time machine?" Dale said.
"Yeah," Mark said. "Why not?"
Dale thought about it, then shrugged. "Whatever."
"Alright, then," Mark said. "Here we go, for real." He pressed the big red button on the screen.
Then they were falling.
They landed on a tar and gravel roof. Dale on his stomach, Mark on his back.
"Ow," Dale said, his face pressed against the roof.
Mark sat up. "What was that? What happened."
Dale spun around, wiped away the pebbles stuck to his face, then stood up. "Where are we?"
Mark got up as well, then walked to the edge of the roof. "This is our street," he said, looking down at the ground. "This is our corner. This is where our apartment is."
"Or will be," Dale said. "Our apartment building is, what, ten years old? There used to be a pizza place here."
"We are now on top of said pizza place," Mark said, leaning awkwardly over the edge, looking at a sign that said "Rizzato's."
"So we're in 1995?" Dale asked.
"Looks like," Mark replied.
"We probably should have done that from a ground-floor location," Mark said. "It's lucky there was a building here before, otherwise we would have fallen three stories instead of one."
"Yeah," Dale said. "That's what I'm focusing on now."
The two argued for a bit about the mechanics of time travel, the nature of existence, the possible rules of causality and the ramifications of altering the space-time continuum. Deciding that they couldn't undo the entirety of existence with a ninety-nine-cent app, they decided they would probably be fine if they kept their visit brief and didn't kill anybody likely to become important.
"You probably should have read those warning screens," Dale said as the two walked toward Dale's childhood home. "It might have said something about butterfly effects and whether they exist."
"Come on," Mark said. "Nobody reads those things, so when they made the program they had to have known people would skip through it all. If it were dangerous, they'd make you take a quiz or get a license or something."
Dale had been wondering if his mother, in 1995, would be able to see him, fifteen years older, and recognize that he was her son, who, to her, was only twelve. It was a bizarre hypothetical, and frankly it hurt his head more than the time-paradox stuff. He decided it would be best to avoid his 1995 mother altogether, so when the two arrived at his 1995 home they snuck through the back door and into the basement, where a twelve-year-old Dale was playing video games.
"Hey," adult Dale said.
Younger Dale paused the game and looked over. "Hey," he said. "Who are you guys?"
Dale knew that he couldn't rightly just say he was from the future, the younger version of himself wouldn't believe him. He'd have to ease him into it, and find some way to convince the younger him that he wasn't lying by using knowledge only he, fifteen years later, would know. During the walk, when he wasn't thinking about whether his mom would have recognized him, he was thinking about that.
"Well," Dale said to himself. "It's hard to say, exactly, but basically--"
"--He's you from the future and I'm his-slash-your friend from the future," Mark said. "Hey, is that Super Nintendo?"
Young Dale looked at the two for a moment. "Me, from the future?"
Adult Dale cringed. "Yeah," he said. "Sorta."
Young Dale furrowed his brow for a second. "Well if that's true... what girl do I like right now?"
"Ah, jeez," Mark said. "I didn't think you'd be quizzing yourself. We should have prepared for this for a bit. I know I don't remember anything about the girls that I--"
"Becca Layton," adult Dale said, to his younger version's surprise.
"Wait," Mark said. "Becca Layton... isn't she that girl on Facebook you're always--"
"Shh--er--ah--shubbaduh," adult Dale interrupted.
Young Dale was convinced. "So do I ever have a chance with her?"
Mark was just as curious.
Adult Dale stammered for a bit, "Er, I don't think.. uh, spoiler alert. Yeah, that. I'm not here to; that is, I don't want to change the way things unfold."
"Isn't that what we're here for?" Mark asked, holding up the cell phone.
"Well, yeah, but that's... for that, we can be mysterious and then leave. I can't tell him how my actual life turns out."
"Whatever, space cadet," Mark said, handing adult Dale the phone. "Just blow his mind with the thing so we can get out of here. I'm having legitimate concerns now about this thing's battery life. I didn't bring a charger, and there aren't going to be any made for about a decade."
"Right, that." Dale took the phone, switched the screen on, and walked over to his younger self.
"Basically," he started, "I came back in time because this phone just came out and I knew it would rock your world."
Dale flipped through the pages of apps.
"Cool," young Dale said. "Touch screen."
"I know!" older Dale said. "Touchscreen stuff barely existed back... now, Mark."
Mark nodded. He was checking out the Super Nintendo games on the shelf. "SWAT Kats, awesome."
Older Dale continued with the demonstration, "and, obviously, you can make calls with it. Here, I'll call and order a pizza." Dale tried to dial a number, but there was no service.
"Oh, right," he said. "Cellular systems were analog until a few years from now, and I don't even know if Mark's carrier even exists yet."
"Lion King?" Mark said. "You had The Lion King for SNES?"
"Hey," young Dale said. "That game is cool. Right?"
Older Dale looked away, then back at the phone. "Anyway, well you can get on the internet using wifi--- wait, 802.11 wireless networking doesn't exist until, like, 2002. Crap."
"Very impressive tech demo so far," Mark said. "Hey, you don't have any Final Fantasy games here."
"Final what?" young Dale asked. Mark's eyes widened.
"--Anyway," adult Dale interjected. "Well, it's got GPS, at least, so the phone can actually tell you exactly where you are..."
Dale launched the navigation app, but nothing happened.
"Aw, hell," Dale said. "GPS doesn't go online for civilian use for another three or four years."
"What's GPS mean?" young Dale asked.
Older Dale just looked at him. "Well the communication systems might not exactly be available to show off, but you can at least see how it plays music and movies. Mark, did you put any media on here?"
Mark shook his head. "I was going to sync it with my home PC."
Older Dale's head dropped. "Alright, so this thing can't exactly do anything right now, but you should still be impressed. Look how small it is, and this thing's got more processing power than... crap, I don't even have a computer yet in 1995."
Mark was reading the back of the Homeward Bound VHS cassette case. "When does the PlayStation come out?"
"I don't... I don't remember," older Dale said. "This is very distressing. Look, kid. Look at this thing! It's so small. Be impressed!"
"Yeah, it's cool I guess."
Older Dale's eyes narrowed. "You guess? This thing can hold, like.. several thousand songs."
"For... for songs. For listening to!"
"Who needs to listen to that many songs?"
"That's not the point! Look at this thing, it is a technical marvel!"
"If you say so," the kid said. "I like my Nintendo."
"Yeah, well... wait until the Wii comes out. Huge disappointment."
Younger Dale laughed. "The wee comes out of what?"
Older Dale took a long, deliberate breath. "I hate you, me."
Younger Dale shrugged.
Older Dale turned to Mark. "Well, this has been terrifically stupid." He handed Mark the phone. "Let's go back now."
"Finally," Mark said.
He flipped through the pages to find the Time Machine app and launched it. Dale looked around. "We should probably go outside, though. I don't even know who owns this house now."
"Err..." Mark said. "This sucks."
"Well, not now, I mean," Dale said. "I mean, I don't know who owns this house in our time. Our now. Not now-now."
Mark wasn't responding. He was staring at the phone's screen.
"What is it?" Dale asked.
"I read the warning screen this time," he said.
"Yeah? What? Crap. Did we screw up the future?"
"Nnnno," Mark said. "It's not about that. It says, 'Warning: Time travel feature requires wifi internet connection and GPS location detection. Do not travel to a time without these services'."
"Oh," Dale said. "Yeah, that sucks."
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