My journey to a Donald Trump rally starts on Sunday night while I'm watching my favorite show, call me basic, The Walking Dead, when I get an email asking if I want to go to a Trump rally.
Normally I'm totally DTF with something like this, but I had literally just read a New York Times article about how tense and violent Trump rallies have been lately. Was this...a sign? Am I going to die? NGL, I was legit nervous.
I have two (or three) glasses of wine and decide what to heck, I want to see what's up.
I'm doing this. I'm going to Youngstown, Ohio, where Trump had just scheduled a "massive rally" on the eve of Super Tuesday 2 or 3 or whatever it is. I'm nervous but also excited.
I fly to Pittsburgh the next morning, grab a car, and drive from there to Youngstown, Ohio, where the rally is being held in a giant airport hangar.
For this rally, attendees have to park at a minor league baseball stadium and then be bused into an airport hangar about 10 minutes away. There is no parking at the actual venue. I assume this is to prevent and deter protesters from interrupting the events.
That's cool and all but I don't like being stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
I park, get my stuff together, debate on bringing my Starbucks iced coffee, leave it, and walk to the bus. Some volunteer yells at me. "YOU CAN'T TAKE THAT BAG WITH YOU!" Fuck. "Thanks sir!" I go back to the car and try to fit as much as I can into my pockets. I put my camera over my shoulder. Will people be mad at me for having a camera? Can I even bring this in? Stay cool, Matt.
I make it on the bus and walk down the aisle with my head down.
The bus ride to the rally is stuffy as hell. It feels like there is bad energy in the bus but honestly it's probably just because it's really hot and they didn't turn the AC on. I'm sweating.
The people around me are talking about the cameras and reporters outside the bus.
A twentysomething's father tells his daughter she missed her chance to talk to them. She responds with, "Well, they would have twisted my words anyway." Dang.
I repeat a Mean Girls–inspired mantra in my head: I'm not like a regular reporter. I'm a cool reporter (lol).
I hear more political chatter. Some guy says: "A Bernie vote I could understand, but not a Hillary."
Interesting. I'm still sweating.
We finally get there. This place is huge and intense.
The venue is caged in, complete with a gate opener. There's TONS of security. I'm getting major Walking Dead vibes. Is this some Terminus shit? (Walking Dead reference.) Are they going to eat us alive?
Some person comes on our bus and says the rules:
1. No selfie sticks.
2. No wooden sticks (like to hold signs up)
3. No lighters.
4. And no beverages with a cap on (so basically you had to have cap-less water bottles)
We walk in single-file lines as each Trump volunteer sizes us up. It's tense as hell. I say "hello" to one of them, which surprises them. I'm just being nice.
We have to make it through a strict security line of four metal detectors, then get wanded by those metal detector wand things, and then finally a pat-down. It's a lot.
A man with a pocket knife on his keychain has to leave it behind.
I make it through.
It's pretty empty so far. The space is cool. The setup is nice. The lighting is good.
Trump is going to literally fly into the airport, park his plane in front of the stage, and give his speech. I'm in for quite a show.
Music is blaring.
And here's a thing: Trump basically only plays three songs at his rallies:
1. "Tiny Dancer"
2. "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
3. And explosive opera.
It's getting to me.
There is a man with an (awesome) eye patch.
It's 3 p.m. and we have about three hours before Trump is supposed to go on.
There is no water. There is no food. This is The Walking Dead.
Still, the mood is good and personally I'm excited to see Trump speak. I've always loved Celebrity Apprentice.
An hour passes and the place starts to fill up.
All around me people are talking about protesters. "Will they do it?" "Are there any?" "WHO ARE THEY?!"
I overhear a bunch of middle-aged white people talking about the Trump supporter who sucker-punched a black protester at a rally. They were disgusted. "He should be put into jail!" "Who does that?!" "What a coward!" Cool.
I wonder if any of the people around me are protesters on the DL. You have to be stupid to mess around here in the middle of nowhere. We are caged in an airport hangar in the middle of nowhere.
Then I meet some people who are NOT Trump supporters.
I'm walking around asking people to write in a notepad what they think the world would be like if Trump doesn't become president, and I meet these two bearded bros who are pretending to be big Trump supporters. Then one of them takes my notepad and writes this:
All right then.
Earlier I had someone come up to me and ask if I was trying to start a ruckus by having people make Bernie signs. I don't want to get kicked out.
I continue asking people the same question and get some dramatically different answers.
This guy says, "We did not have this problem when slavery was in." Completely surprised, I say, "Oh." He tries to clarify by saying, "It wasn't just about black people, you know, even Irish people were slaves too." Oh.
And then there is this woman who would actually vote for Bernie if Trump doesn't win the nomination but is just nervous about government-run health care.
People are there for wildly different reasons.
I make some random observations:
1. There are a bunch of people with Yankees stuff on. Apparently this is a thing at Trump rallies.
2. The only reason you bring a sign to a political rally is because you want to be photographed with it. Every single person with a sign is photographed by the press. Literally every single one.
3. Every minority is photographed extensively. I honestly counted only six black people and they were always having their picture taken.
4. Camo is in.
COME ON, TRUMP. I hear a rumor that Trump is running an hour and half late. I tell other people even though I can't confirm it. Gossip is always fun.
I'm getting tired. "Tiny Dancer" plays for the eighth time.
There's a guy with a Trump wig on. It's amazing.
There's also some dude with an actual Trump tattoo.
I make some more random observations:
1. I can't believe there isn't any water.
2. There are lots of groups of bros. Bros love graphic tees with Trump sayings. My favorite: "Donald Trump: Making America Swole Again."
3. The crowd is diverse in age but definitely not in ethnicity. Every POC truly sticks out.
4. They keep on keeping on playing "You Can't Always Get What You Want." I'm confused by this message.
5. Some guy says he met Rubio in real life and that he's so short that he wears chunky heels.
It's almost time. The preshow starts.
A vet comes out and says the Pledge of Allegiance, then a preacher comes onstage and starts talking about God and how Trump is a good Christian. Then he goes on a tangent about heroin users and dead babies.
It's about 6:30 p.m. as Trump's plane slides in. It feels like we're watching a big-budget Hollywood movie. "Tiny Dancer" is blaring and everyone is screaming. The production is great. The timing (sunset) is perfect.
Some Rocky-type music starts playing. The type of stuff you hear at the beginning of basketball games. LET'S GET REAADY TO RUMBLE!
Trump comes off of the plane, waves, and walks down in true red carpet style. Literally everyone is taking pics on their phone because this is 2016 and that is what we all do.
A deflated Chris Christie introduces him (I feel like he always looks a little deflated no shade). People are excited for him, but he is underwhelming. He seems tired – like he had been brought along for the ride.
A man with a pit-stained "Obama douchebag" shirt runs around. It's not a cute look and you can tell everyone is a little grossed out.
Trump starts his speech by acknowledging the protesters (which I haven't seen much of tbh). He tells everyone to just chant "TRUMP" if someone in the crowd is acting up and someone will take care of it. Eek.
He moves on to China and Mexico and says that everyone in the room is more capable of running Washington than those in office now.
I love love love the way Trump says "China."
He's really fun to watch.
Trump calls out the bullpen press in the middle of the room. Everyone turns and starts shouting and pointing at them. It's all pretty aggro. Some dude in the press pen waves back at them. It's funny.
The air in the room gets more tense. The energy increases.
The biggest cheers happen when Trump mentions repealing Obamacare. People get really worked up on this.
People also get really worked up when Trump starts talking about "the wall." The wall was one of the hottest topics at the rally.
Trump says how Mexico is going to pay for it and that it's going to be 40–50 feet high, which is a little taller than the airplane hangar. That's huge.
Everyone starts chanting. It's the loudest chant of the night.
"BUILD THAT WALL!"
I realize why people like to scream it. It's kind of a fun chant to say.
He starts telling some story about a snake or something. Now I'm confused.
You can hear part of it here:
And that's when people, including myself, start to zone out.
People start leaving.
I think we're all so tense in anticipation of something happening that it made us all just really tired.
Trump finishes his speech telling people how important it is for everyone to go out and vote (unless they're actually dying). He sticks around for a bit and takes pictures and autographs Trump swag for people.
The same three songs start blaring ("Tiny Dancer," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," and explosive opera).
And I think it's safe to say everyone feels like this woman:
The room deflates a bit as people can finally let some of their stress go after the rally. Nothing eventful happens. The only things I see are a black man silently giving the black power salute and some college kids running out at the end with signs that say "My penis is bigger than yours."
People don't care.
The hangar empties as a thousand or so of us wait for buses.
I hear a soccer-mom-looking woman yell at some teenager who is handing out brochures. She screams, "OUR PRESIDENT IS A MUSLIM! YOU KNOW THAT, RIGHT?!" I hear a lot of talk about she-devil, Hillary. I meet a man from New York who has traveled all over Ohio watching Trump. He is basically a Trump Stan.
We look up to the sky and see Trump's plane take off and fly away. Some people wave to the plane as we, the herd of people, slowly get on buses hoping we make it back to our cars before the storm. Someone in line says, "I bet he's sleeping right now," while we watch lightning in the distance getting closer and closer.
I have survived my first Trump rally.