The Sheep in The Meadow: An Afternoon at Oprah’s
Yep, it’s real. And so is she. Oh, he’s pretty cool, too.
I’m talking about the hair, the hostess and the candidate, better known as Oprah’s hair, Oprah Winfrey and presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. I’m just coming up for air after sending the husband off on yet another plane this afternoon, putting the three Z’s to bed and pounding out a bunch of emails for an upcoming children’s earthquake relief concert I’m helping to organize. Now I can focus. Let’s break it all down, shall we?
LOGISTICS: Saturday afternoon, Santa Barbara, forty+ buses whisked people from the Earl Warren Showgrounds parking lot where it was a scene from Ellis Island – Oprah style. More than a thousand guests were funneled alphabetically through an ID check, badge issuance stand, a bag/purse search and finally three metal detectors complete with wand-wielding officer. If your dress looked so puffy you could be hiding an extra guest under it – he’d pat you down too. Then onto the buses, trying not to act like sheep while wearing everything from long gowns, to fruit-salady patterned dresses to sleek and elegant cocktail dresses, to pantsuits, to the advised-against stiletto heels.
THE OUTFITS: I was nervous that the simple Dolce & Gabbana simple Audrey Hepburn style black dress with pockets might have been not quite right. My husband loves to prey on these hollow obsessions of mine and he took note that I was worried if I indeed had brought the right dress. So earlier at the hotel he so helpfully pointed out that he saw all these women wearing gloves and humongous brimmed hats wandering about downstairs. …. As I dashed downstairs to the lobby to spy on these women's wardrobe choices I quickly saw they were about 70 years old and headed to a wedding. I gave him a hearty thump on the head and told him to keep his fashion advice to himself. (GUILT SIDEBAR: Though I did buy a designer dress for the occasion ,we also rented a Prius and proudly parked it amongst the Mercedes. BMWs and, yes, a Mazaradi at the parking lot so I guess Al Gore would still be proud at our balancing our carbon footprint, no?)
Anyway, as I saw it, I had my hair blown out, my sunglasses on and my low-rise, black, patent leather slingback wedges. I was comfortable, didn’t have to suck in my tummy as the dress did that for me, and tied a little colorful Emilio Pucci scarf to my bag so I didn’t look as if I was going to a funeral. And just committed myself to soaking up the scene. After all this wasn’t about me and I couldn’t have been a less significant part of it all if I tried. Frankly there was a little bit of everything – coat and tie, jeans and sandals, sequins and taffeta, you name it.
On the bus I sat three rows behind Linda Evans (celebrities gotta travel too, I guess) and talked on the way with neighbors from the Obamas street back home who said we’d probably find half the attendees to be from Chicago. She also told us a story about having to hand her daughter’s invitation to a party to the Obama’s security only to hear him apologize: "Sorry," he said, but we have to X-ray it first."
I also sat across from Leslie Morgan Steiner, a fellow alumni of business school and a columnist for the Washington Post. She edited the book of collective essays called The Mommy Wars. Well, at least I wrote a Christmas letter last year, that's something.
And she’s a really nice person to talk to. In fact, how kind everyone was at this event was one of the high points for me. I don’t know if I expected a lot of people trying to impress one another or drop the prerequisite number of names, but I did not expect to have so many, genuine interactions and separate intriguing conversations with so many people. And that was just on the bus ride to Montecito.
WELCOME TO THE PROMISED LAND: There was a small ensemble of instrumentalists playing at the point of arrival at the back gate of the Promised Land, Oprah’s property. Media was allowed only to photograph from very far away outside the gates and behind the buses. Entering through a grove of trees, the scene was a little bit like a wedding reception … food stations set up with delicious but straightforward fare like, gourmet min-burgers, mini corn on the cob, a fancy version of pigs in a blanket, better-than-your-mama’s fried chicken breast pieces with Cajun mayo. There were desserts passed about by really, really nice servers who would alert you to a shorter line at the next bar over. The porto-potties were air conditioned trailers with yellow and zebra-striped ceramic sinks – and no lines.
WORKING THE CROWD: It was easier to spot a lot of “I know who they are but I can’t remember their names” celebrities but my actually celebrity headcount was kinda low – no Halle, no Wil Smith or Jamie Foxx. I did see Chris Rock, the woman who plays the gay anesthesiologist on Nip Tuck and Stedman Graham (if he counts?). He was nice. He waved at me. After know noticed me staring at him (he looks really skinny in person).
Best comments regarding the celebrity spotting game:
Friend: Hey, Scott – have you seen anybody yet?
Scott: Yeah, there’s Roger right there!
Friend: No, no. I mean somebody, not just anybody.
Roger over his shoulder: I heard that.
And they weren’t kidding about the need to wear flats. I think I saw stiletto’d women sink 5 inches down as they tried to pick their way across the vast sprawling landscape that is Oprah’s. Instead of a lawn, leave it to Oprah to have a carefully cultivated clumping, low-maintenance groundcover that’s known as “the meadow” next to her man-made pond and bridge. It was natural beautiful, thick, fluffy clumps of grasses and more importantly, comfortable because that’s right where we all were “seated”. Not to be outdone by the eco-conscience lawncover, I plopped my D&G covered hiney down on an “Obama ’08 soft, green, regenerated cotton picnic blanket made by a hip green promotional products company called In2Green. Later I would carefully "recycle" this blanket right into my suitcase and back home with me.
As my husband foraged for more party drinks, the stage became animated by a poet duet who rapped about the state of things in America with a “how did I allow this to happen?" theme.
Then, BAM! There she was – only I was back about 600 people scanning for Scott. I get a call on my cell from a Maryland area code – it was Scott (who forgot his cell, borrowed someone’s and called me – from underneath Oprah’s nostrils) He is very good at this sort of thing - being up front and in the center of things like mosh pits at Lollapalooza but I didn’t think this skill would come handy post-40. I hiked up and – unlike the mosh pit where someone would have likely body surfed me back to the spot I was, people were really sweet, helping through the jungle of bumpy meadow clumps to stand next to my husband, who also handed me a drink. Sometimes he really redeems himself.
Oprah was welcoming us wearing a lime green wrap around, button up blouse with flowing white cotton skirt, flat clear jelly sandals – and the aforementioned real hair. Earrings and a watch – no other jewelry. Very little makeup. Yep, I was that close. She looked gorgeous. She is indeed awe-inspiring as she spoke about getting to know the Obamas:
“I love this man.…When we first started talking about this thing (the fund-raiser),” she said, “I had in mind a coupla hundred people up there on the terrace,” She motioned up to her huge mansion high up on a hill but still in sight of the crowd. We drew closer as she continued.
“….Now there’s more than a 1,000 of you here," she went on, only half-smiling. “…You are all strangers to me. And everyone here paid their $2,300. ” Ouch, Oprah. This made the crowd, well, wince a bit. It seemed to be a stinging comment, that later, in the quiet “continue the conversation” after parties drew quite a buzz of commentary. I think it boiled down to this. She was trying to express that she feels so strongly about supporting Obama that she’d even give up her coveted place of privacy to help him out and not so much that she was trying to make us all feel unwelcome. Still, some things could have been better said by the woman who earns her fortune daily through the words that come out of her mouth. She, in other words, is not to one to misspeak. I interpreted it as the latter -- just a turn of phrase trying to demonstrate how far out on a limb she’s willing to go for Obama. But I have to admit I spoke to many, many people who said they though it was an odd thing to say.
Since it was my first presidential nominee fund-raiser ever, I just wonder if the candidates and their representatives always remember to tailor themselves to crowd of supporters known to have supported him financially vs. a crowd of potential voters he’s trying to convince? Maybe some of you true politically savvy moms out there can fill me in.
Anyway, Oprah acknowledged how hard the campaign can be on the spouse “the one who didn’t decide to run” but has to be there every step of the way, and drew the spotlight to Michelle Obama. There is clearly a lot of affection between the two of them.
OH, YEAH, OBAMA WAS THERE TOO: Finally she introduced the man himself. And he didn’t disappoint. I liked that fact that he referred to himself as “the hope peddler”. I liked the fact that he was commanding on the stage, yet soft spoken (no manic Sen. John McCain “YAH!’s” to frighten small children here). I liked the fact that he referenced his wife, Michelle, on multiple points, and not just to get a few laughs. I liked the fact that his speech was polished but his shoes were dusty. Kinda real. More focus on substance than pomp and circumstance. I was told by one of this finance committee members that he’s beginning to use some “new material” the last few days and did I like it. Well, I said I liked the message if that’s what he meant?
It felt good to be in a crowd of hope, of diversity, alas, those that could afford the donation and were invited by campaign members, but still, living in Silicon Valley, it’s been a long time since I stood in the middle of true melting pot of Americans. After about 30 minutes, Stevie Wonder took the stage and the sun began to set. We hung around re-connecting with about a dozen old friends we hadn’t seen in years – and ran into familiar faces we had no idea would also be there.
THEN, THE PARTY’s OVER: We wrapped up the night at a small post-event dinner party hosted by Steve Karan, an owner of the fabulous restaurant at which we dined called Sevilla in downtown Santa Barbara.
It was there that in the lingering conversation there seemed to be a commonality of feelings about the candidacy of Sen. Obama for President. Most would love if he were president. Many are also supporting Hilary and a few support John Edwards as well.
In a world where youth and optimism are usually on your side, they seem to instead shine harsh light on inexperience in comparison with other candidates. Obama is a dynamic, genuine leader and visionary: I believe his role as a consensus builder within our country as well as outside its borders is a desperately needed skill. We are thirsty for this healing tonic of hope. But there’s also no substitute for practical experience. I’d be more comfortable drinking his Kool-Aid if he had been a governor vs. a senator as his latest resume bullet point.
Regardless of where this may take him, I feel that in a tiny way we got close to a part of history in the making – we are in a presidential race, friends, where the top two Democratic candidates are a woman and an African-American – please, God, don’t let this part of the party ever end.