COLUMBUS, OHIO--Like many in DC, New York, and other big cities, I've been fascinated by the proliferation of Obama gear on the streets. T-shirts, hats, bags, scarves--you name it, and somebody's selling it. A friend working for the Obama team in Chicago said he and others have received loads of t-shirt design submissions--most of which were politely rejected for being a tad on the gaudy side.
So it was no surprise today that as an expected 30,000-person crowd greeted the Obama family at Ohio's state house, dozens of vendors were hawking wares on the surrounding blocks. They came hours early and set up shop anywhere; some had booths, others found benches, and still others sat on fences or crowd barriers and pulled what they had to offer out of worn backpacks. There were the usual "Change" and "Hope" t-shirts in all shapes, sizes, colors, and designs, but other sellers were more creative. My personal favorite was a black t-shirt with a mock-up of a green Matrix poster on the front; Obama as Neo wore cool shades above the logo "That One." Others included "Mission: Possible" and "Superchange" shirts. The latter showed a Clark Kent-style Obama ripping open his button-down shirt to reveal on "O" on his chest. One guy in the crowd sported a shirt that said "Obama is my homeboy" in silver letters that encircled a huge picture of the candidate's face. (I could see why my friend in Chicago has rejected so many submissions.)
In comparison, at the McCain rally here Friday, people stuck to "Joe the Plumber" or "McCain-Palin" shirts--although there were a few "Hasta la Vista Obama" ones floating around, in honor of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
One of the vendors at the Obama event, a tall skinny guy named Ryan sporting neon green plastic sunglasses, beckoned me to his set-up along a fence when he saw my press credentials. Ryan, who grew up in Columbus, offered me one of his shirts, which read "Barack Obama for Illinois State Senate 13th District '96," for a "media photo" and whatever money I had in my pocket. He said he'd also settle for a cheeseburger if I was broke.
As it turns out, though, some of these vendors are making a killing, and not in Big Macs. Ryan recently sold his Illinois State Senate design to Urban Outfitters, and he said another woman down the block had quit her day job to sell shirts at rallies--and now makes $1,000 a day.
Not a bad deal if you ask me. One can't help wondering whether there will be an explosion in new "Change is finally here" apparel if Obama wins Tuesday.