Leola Brock-Reese learned who won the presidential race from the best source in America: President-elect Barack Obama himself.The 71-year-old Detroit grandmother and her best friend, Freddie Simmons, 77, drove five hours early Tuesday to her hometown. All day, she guided her friend through her Chicago: visiting the grave of her father, a city employee until he died at 87; seeing the remains of the Ida B. Wells housing projects where she grew up, and walking along the Magnificent Mile — until their bodies reminded them they had been up since dawn.At dusk, they walked to Grant Park for what they felt would be the 8:30 p.m. victory rally to embrace indescribable emotions. But they couldn’t face the throng, and their tired bodies spoke again.”We found some concrete steps, and we sat on those steps,” she said. “But after 15 minutes, we said, ‘This is not going to do. Let’s go back to the hotel.’ “
They entered the Hyatt Regency and rode the elevator to the 28th floor, their comfortable room and CNN. But in the hall, they encountered men in black suits near a room marked “Employees Only.”
Suddenly, a group emerged surrounding a single man.
” ‘That’s Barack Obama,’ ” she recalled her friend saying.
“He walked toward us with his arm out, welcoming us,” Brock-Reese said. “He put his arm around me and said, ‘I want to take a picture with you.’ We said, ‘Oh, fine!’ “
She said she was too dazed to take a photo of her own, so as she gave Obama’s photographer her address, a starstruck Simmons told Obama they were hoping for the best.
And Obama told them: “It’s over. I’ve won. I’m on my way to Grant Park now.”
Brock-Reese said his words didn’t even register.
“Freddie just said, ‘OK,’ “
And the two friends stood as a small army of people, all smiles, passed by.
“I said, ‘They sure are grinning. They are really glad to see us!’ ” Brock-Reese recalled as she laughed at herself.
The two friends, who drove five hours to see the new America for themselves, watched history walk down the hallway. Once again, in a small and quiet way, Obama had displayed the kind of connection that he has made with voters nationwide.
The hall empty, the pair went to their room and turned on CNN.
The television flashed the news that they’d just heard from the man himself.
“It still didn’t dawn on me what he told us,” she said.
But the feisty grandmother, who had the day of her life and still needed a souvenir, finally remembered that she had her camera.
“I took a picture of the TV.”