ON THE BUS: An Obama campaign digest

Writ Large has gone on the road. For the next week, we’ll be with the Barack Obama campaign as it buses through the battleground states.

SOMEWHERE IN WESTERN OHIO–Campaigns are long marches. Extended, heavily choreographed, highly accessorized, marches.

They aren’t unlike Hollywood movies or Broadway plays. What the viewer sees on the screen is the result of hours, days, even weeks of preparation.

For those like us who are along for the ride, that means there a eternal stretches of lassitude, punctuated briefly by something that somewhat resembles action, but lacking any of the attendant drama.

Right now, the press bus is rolling across the farmlands of western Ohio. We just passed through a town named Mt. Victory, where one homeowner has planted a sign that reads “No way, No How, No McCain.”

The town has also preserved an old Gulf gas station, harking back to the happy times of cheap gas and boundless optimism.

Perhaps Barack Obama may want to consider having an event there. You can’t beat a burg named Mt. Victory for symbolism.

In Kenton, Ohio, a laundromat is named “The Soap Opera.” An honest-to-goodness drive-in outside of town is called “The Hi-Road.” This week’s movie: “Babylon AD.” Make of that what you will.

Last evening, in Marysville, the press corps descended on a small joint called Sandy’s Bar & Grill. It turns out Sandy is a Chinese woman who runs the place, serving up Chinese dishes along with draught beer. She kept the place open just for us. (A smart play. She can probably shutter the place now and retire.)

Small-town America exists and is in good form. You just have to dig for it.

Obama will be in Toledo today, then, as Hemingway would write, Up in Michigan. Battleground. Battleground. And Gustav looms, frustrating any reporter who feels that a big story is taking place Somewhere Else. Not here.

I joined the campaign press corps yesterday, oddly enough in my home town of Columbus. Of all the gin joints in all the world, Obama had to walk into mine. He couldn’t have campaigned in South Florida this week?

Twenty-thousand people filled a high school football stadium in suburban Dublin, just up the river road from my old neighborhood. And somehow, amid the throng, I ran smack-dab into an old friend, a morning drive-time disc jockey for a local radio station.

I went back to Ohio and my city all showed up to see Obama, apparently.

He worked the crowd like a rock star. It really is something to see. At one point, he led the gathering in a chant of “OH-IO,” the same cry heard at Ohio State football games.

“I wonder what he will do in Michigan,” someone said. (But we are keeping score. So we will indeed see.)

There is a certain kind of person who can be comfortable, even at ease, in such situations. Obama is one of those people or, at least, he has become that. He treats a crowd of 20,000 like 10 folks who came over for an impromptu keg party. So instead, I find myself wondering how Joe Biden must feel. He and I spent a few days together last October, on the campaign trail in Iowa, where, at times, I was literally the only journalist covering him. He would speak to a group of 20, 30 people sometimes. And tour the state not in a tricked-out bus, as we are doing now, but in a lonely SUV.

Now, thousands are chanting his name. For a guy like Biden, who has always entertained lofty ambitions, what kind of validation might that be – and how surreal must it all seem? If he closes his eyes, he can pretend he’s the president. Last week, he was just a senator from a state that a lot of people cannot find on a map of the United States.

And although I am not with John McCain’s campaign, how must a Sarah Palin feel? I imagine it must be something akin to being fastened to a whirlwind.

And there was John Glenn at the Dublin rally, still spry and princely at 87, a full 45 years after he circled the earth. Twenty years ago, when I was interning at the Statehouse bureau for an Ohio newspaper, I believe he was the first national-stage politician I ever met. And here we are, all again.

We pass by a drive-through beverage outlet named “The Libation Station.” At 10:20 a.m., there are cars lined up.

The bus does not stop, however. With 30 thirsty reporters, if it were to stop, it might never start rolling again.

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