On the Campaign Trail with Bono
- Saturday, May 01, 2004
PHILADELPHIA — Bono had the stage, so to speak, and I was closer than a front row seat.
I could've shaken his hand, if I'd wanted to. Nobody could've stopped me, not even the countless media outlets, their intimidating boom mics, or—in the case of local TV personalities—their slicked-back hairstyles.
The pressroom definitely allowed for that kind of physical contact. It wasn't indoors, but on a second-floor terrace, only yards away from hordes of fawning, overzealous fans who knew little about the occasion other than that their favorite frontman was about to give "some speech about AIDS."
The Irish demigod was supposed to meet the press between 1:30 and 2 P.M., a time slot I deeply resented in light of the daunting task that is finding parking on the narrow streets of Philadelphia.
The minute I arrived, I was surprised at how behind schedule everything was. Crowd size in front of Independence Mall was only in the hundreds, and for a moment it seemed that concession tables and other humanitarian organizations at the scene were more aware of the event than the actual general public. Even members of the press—radio, print, and Fox News, among others—seemed more abreast of what was about to transpire than Philly locals.
Considering Bono's imminent advent, I was surprised by the laxity of it all. Just seconds prior to his grand entrance, a woman apologized for the unorthodoxy of the pressroom and the lack of amenities, and kindly asked us to stand three feet away from the table where the ONE petition—Bono's new organized initiative to get lawmakers to send aid to Africa—was to be signed.
The instant the rock luminary walked into the place—followed by a procession of public figures including hoarse-voiced basketball star Dikembe Mutombo, World Vision president Richard Stearns, and Michael W. Smith—the pressroom literally swarmed about him, taking pictures, shouting out questions at random, and violating the three-foot rule.
It was all about Bono.
If I was to catch a glimpse of the star, I had to be assertive and squeeze through the bodies that were blocking my view. So I simply went under one of the cameramen's tripods and got close enough to rest my elbow on the table.
Once there, I simply took notes on the exchange between members of the press and Bono. I never asked the two questions I had prepared for the occasion, partly because I confess to being mildly star struck, but mostly because I figured Fox or another big player would ask better questions. I was wrong! Questions like, "Why did you come so far for this?" or "If you had a chance to talk to President Bush, what would you say to him?" were as deep as the inquiries got. I ended up kicking myself for not asking mine.
Bono might be a rock giant, but I was surprised by his unimposing 5'8'' frame. He wore distressed brown jeans, a relaxed brown shirt, beach sandals, and those otherworldly wraparound shades he wore during the Elevation Tour. Despite the cool he exuded, the creases on his forehead and below his eyes gave the impression he's lived every single one of his 44 years.
The conference culminated with everybody in the room, including me, signing the ONE petition. As I signed my name, I noticed Bono had written "MARS.COM" as his e-mail address, whatever that means.
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