This past Saturday was hands down one of the greatest days of my life.
It began with the blaring of my alarm clock at 5am. My friends and I groggily got ready under the disorientingly bright light in my bedroom, rushing one another in hushed voices.
By 5:38 I was seated in the backseat of an Uber, speeding down the near-empty freeway through a thick layer of fog and fighting to stay awake.
At 6:15 we were the fourth party in line outside The Warfield music hall. It was cold, it was dark, and it was far too early in the morning. I was in a bad mood.
For the next two hours I stood there as the sun came up. News vans rolled up to the curb and sharply dressed anchors walked up and down the line of people waiting, asking questions about the event. At around 7:30 a few members of the Secret Service walked past us, and a few feet over VIP guests (those who paid upwards of $1,000) began to line up. I was sleepy, my legs were tired, my stomach felt weird thanks to the bag of Hot Cheetos I had just devoured, and I was less than excited.
Finally at 8:30 the doors opened and the line began to move. After passing under metal detectors and being double-checked by a wanded Secret Service member, I was in. The Warfield, if you’ve never been, is an incredible venue with ornate ceilings, a carpeted entrance hall, and an overall aura of regality. When I entered the auditorium I was shocked at the small space. From the front row of the balcony (the 5am wake up paid off), I was only about 50 feet from the stage. Now I was excited. The room was brimming with energy. People rushed, panicked, among the rows trying to snag the best seats possible. Everyone was shocked by how close the stage looked and rumors circulated that everyone from Hillary Clinton to Drake would show up.
And then we waited another hour and a half. The mixture of anticipation, impatience, and exhaustion in the space was tangible. After a while, I fell asleep, slouched in my red velvet seat with my head propped on my friend’s shoulder. I woke to a barely contained frenzy of voices and the distinct cry, “Waaaaariors!” I shot up in my seat and leaned over the balcony, fervently blinking my contacts into focus to see the NBA championship team file into their seats directly below me. They were larger than life, brimming with swag, and looked incredible in their perfectly tailored suits. My friend had a panic attack.
For the next hour, we leaned over the railing and watched like hawks as Stephen Curry checked through his social media. At one point they passed around a pack of gum. Draymond Green hit on a woman sitting in front of him and gave her his number. I was extremely jealous.
Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, was the first person to take the stage, and after a brief speech she introduced the team and their trophy. When they announced their plan to win another, the crowd went wild, and as they returned to their seats the room was charged.
The energy lulled once again as we waited about 45 minutes for the next act. And then it happened. With absolutely no warning a woman’s voice emerged from backstage, “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.” Everybody leapt from their seats, roaring in awe, disbelief, elation. Barack Obama strolled onstage, waving and smiling. I could not have anticipated how utterly shocking it was to see him so close up.
For the next twenty-ish minutes, he delivered what was by far the best speech I have ever heard in real life. Our president is really funny. Not just makes-you-chuckle, able-to-deliver-a-joke funny. I was laughing out loud throughout a majority of his speech as he made fun of Kanye’s political aspirations (Video: Obama on Kanye) and fired shots at Republican critics with incredible comedic timing. He spoke casually and appeared relaxed. At one point, he stopped his speech mid-sentence to shout out to a crowd member, “I love you too!” He became serious- but not stuffy- to talk about key issues such as environmental justice, immigration reform, and healthcare. The crowd was audibly moved when he discussed gun violence. He made compelling claims about the importance of political involvement, which aimed at the crowd comprised mostly of students. I am somewhat of a political cynic, but President Obama’s speech was relatable, inspiring, and unforgettable. After he shook hands with the reveling crowd members and exited the stage, I was at a loss for words.
Then we waited another hour for a man with enough social capital to make him almost as powerful as Obama himself, Kanye West. The show began with a screen covering most of the stage and a beige-clad woman with haunting vocals crying into the microphone. As the screen raised, an army of twenty-or-so men stood, statuesque, on stairs behind West and his microphone. The show was incredible. He performed some of his biggest hits including Love Lockdown, Gold Digger, Power (fitting for the event), Runaway, and All Day. The intimacy of the venue made the concert a personal experience (I swear Yeezy and I made eye contact), and at the end of his set he even jumped over the barriers and joined the crowd.
At the end of it all, I wanted to scream and cry and laugh hysterically all at once. As the thousands of people in attendance poured out onto Market Street, the passion that had saturated the auditorium followed.
By 2pm I was back in Berkeley, sitting at a booth in McDonald’s devouring a McChicken and small fries, feeling more charged and inspired than I have in a long time.