I had left work early because there was nothing happening. I had a few errands to run, and then I thought I would stop by Headquarters and see if there was anything to do. Input data, stuff envelopes, box up a computer or two. I would be useful there. I was driving up Snelling Avenue to return some videos. Listening to public radio, looking at the campaign signs. Snelling Avenue North near the state fair in Saint Paul, Minnesota is Vegas for campaign signs because of its high traffic. I watched them flash past as I drove through the cold rain thinking, for certain, for the first time “We’re gonna win. We are going to win.” The numbers were looking good. The “no” vote, against the impending war, timed to hurt those running for office, had defied the pervasive political sensibilities and given him the lead. People trusted him and understood him, whether they agreed with him or not, and that respect led to a jump in the polls. “We are going to win.”
P.J O’ Rourke was speaking on the National Press Club, and his words about “pork” in recent federal government bills were ringing in my ears as I dropped off the videos and browsed for a few minutes. When I got back into the car, Gary Eichten, our Midday host on public radio, was speaking. “…no confirmed reports, but it appears that a small plane that was registered to the Wellstone campaign has crashed in northern Minnesota near Eveleth… it is not known at this time whether Senator Wellstone was aboard….”
No no no no no… please say no.
I headed down Larpenteur back to Snelling and back down the road. No. What are we supposed to do now? What am I supposed to do now? My cell phone rang, and it was my mother. She was crying; she was wondering what I was doing. Crying and driving and listening to the radio. She asked what I was going to do, and I said that I had been intending to go to Headquarters, but now I did not know what to do. She said I should go. So I did. I drove past a small crowd of reporters gathered around the doors to the building, parked, and walked over. The press manager was talking to the reporters, and he went to stop me, took one look, and waved me in. Inside Wellstone Campaign Headquarters was a feeling that had never been there. It was quiet; it was somber. People whispered and moved about as if in a trance. Some were crying, and no one really seemed to know what was going on. They were waiting; we were waiting. Hoping against hope, when we all knew the truth.
But I did not believe it until I looked up and saw Senator Ted Kennedy entering the room, followed by Walter Mondale and another man who, if he was not George McGovern, should play him in the film. They were all crying. They walked through the group of volunteers and staff, offering their condolences and hugging us in turn. This was real. But I felt like I was floating, dreaming a bad dream, and I would wake up.
No. No no no.
What are we supposed to do now?