By Ryan Broderick
"That rally for Sanity's in 10 hours, we could always just leave right now if you want," Jon said to me at a Friday-before-Halloween-party.
It was 2 A.M. and I would still have to change out of my Lady Gaga costume and pack a small bag.
We loaded up video equipment and stopped at the Sunoco station on the Hempstead Turnpike on the way out of town for potato chips, cigarettes and gasoline. By 2:30 A.M. we were on the road, with Jon driving 100 miles per hour. He was also still dressed in his Ron Burgandy costume, Will Ferrell's newscaster from the movie "Anchorman."
My friend Marc, The Chronicle's videographer, rode shotgun, giving directions. James, Jon's friend from Queens, sat to my left. Jim, The Chronicle's Business Manager to my right was still gurgling from the drinks at the party.
Jon seemed unworried about the 48 hour day he was in the middle of.
"I don't think I'll have a problem with lack of sleep," he said, turning on to the Jersey Turnpike and holding up his orange bottle of prescription Adderall. "I'll make it."
At the Smithsonian subway stop you could barely walk out of the train car without immediately finding yourself in line to actually leave the station. Faced with easily a half hour line up the escalator, the five of us ran up the down escalator and popped out into the cold morning air of the Washington Mall.
It was 10:00 a.m. and it was already full of people.
Whether it was because of The Rally falling during Halloween weekend or just the wild air of the event, many rally-goers were in costume, thankfully for Jon.
"I think I almost fit in," he said. He did. He spent the day taking photos with people and talking in character, "stay classy, San Diego," he'd say to passersby.
Much of the immediate rally coverage has been focused on all the signs, and rightly so. Being surrounded by that many people coming together to be funny was pretty incredible, walking passed signs like "Frustrated Arizonians Rejecting Tea (F.A.R.T.)," "Use Your Inside Voice," "God Hates Signs," or the more bluntly put "Don't Be A Douche." It was one of the few times I was proud to be an American.
The five of us figured it would look like the equivalent of a college dormitory, a lot of young, liberal, progressives wearing snarky t-shirts and tight jeans. We expected a Washington Mall flooded with people that looked just like us, but all around us were families and aging baby boomers, like an older man in the crowd behind us.
"See, I remember Woodstock but I didn't show up. I could have. I thought this might be like that," he said, walking his racing bike through the crowd.
The mom with the family in front of us started to jump up and down and scream when Yusef Islam came on stage to sing "Peace Train."
And as Jon Stewart talked about in his opening, the crowd wasn't predominately white either.
"If your crowd is too white, then you are racist and if your crowd has too many people of color, you are asking for something," Stewart said.
The Rally was essentially all fun and games and music. At 2:40 though, Jon Stewart came on stage alone and apologized for getting serious.
"The country's 24-hour, political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder," Stewart said. "The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the dangerous, unexpected flaming ants epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing," he said.
A few people around us were tearing up by the end, including Jon. He blamed it on the lack of sleep.
The five of us tried to get out of the mall, but the mass of people are trying walk at the same time was paralyzing, with easily a 15 minute wait to move in any direction. By 4:30 we had made it to the Washington Monument and by 5:00 we were back on the subway, taking a subway stop closer to George Washington University in an attempt to bypass the clustered mess at the Smithsonian subway stop.
Yawning with eyes half-open back on the Orange line going towards the New Clarendon Metro station James repeated, "This is still the stupidest thing I've ever done," laughing and yawning.
"Yeah, but, and I don't want to get too cheesy here, but I do feel like this will be something I talk to my kids about."
Marc and James would have agreed but they had already fallen asleep.
At the station we all piled back into Jon's now-filthy car, brushing chip crumbs off the seats and all lit up the first of many road cigarettes. Jon chased his last Adderall with a sip of Red Bull and we were back on the highway to home.