Friday, August 20, 2010

9000 Backpacks

When I arrived at the Amway Arena at 10AM on Saturday, I was immediately greeted with a line of people that stretched as far as the eye could see. Inside the Arena, 9000 backpacks were being given away packed with pencils, rulers and hand sanitizer. Hope Now International organized this event, which featured free immunizations, hair cuts, Community resources, prizes, entertainment and music.
It was insanely hot outside with temperatures well above 95 degrees and the humidity making the air thick and wet. Green hand fans were given to people waiting in line and large pallets of bottled water were on hand, but parents and children still had to wait in line for hours on end just to finally get into the arena. I had wanted to sketch inside the arena but in the parking lot I read a sign that read: "No backpacks are allowed in the Arena." I thought that was rather ironic, but I decided my task was to document the mass of humanity who were made to wait in the sun.
I sat under the only large tree and leaned back to do this first sketch. Occasionally children would wander over to see what I was up to. One small boy stood right in front of me watching each line as it was put down. His mother yelled at him when the line inched forward and he ran back. Another boy stirred up an ants nest at the trees roots behind me. He and several other children played in the grass in front of me. The line of people waiting for backpacks stretched from the Arena all the way past the Bob Carr theater, probably a quarter of a mile, and more people kept arriving so the line never got shorter.
Three police horses clomped out on the parking lot pavement. One of the volunteers was Karen Cali, a fellow artist. Her horse walked up to a small tree in the parking lot and started to eat the Spanish moss that was hanging from it. Later these three horses walked up to the shady spot on the grass right in front of me. Rather than worrying about the obstructed view, I took the opportunity to sketch the horses and the crowd of children who gathered to pet them. The volunteers had to keep shouting, "Don't walk behind, get in front." They were concerned that if a horse got spooked he might kick back.
It wasn't until 1PM that the line finally got shorter. At this point I had finished both sketches. I was hot and sweaty and smelled like mold. Watching this huge agonizing line reminded me of news reel footage I had seen of bread lines during the Great Depression. More and more people are finding themselves without a job and struggling to scrape by. An estimated 25,000 people waited to get into the arena that day. The evidence of hard times is obvious. Do the math.