Show of Farce: On the HuffPost bus to the Stewart/Colbert rally

The "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear," hosted by Comedy Central's pundits, draws people wearing costumes and carrying signs to the Mall.
By Julia Duin
Sunday, December 12, 2010

As a half-moon shines overhead, a crowd of youngish people clump together for warmth like so many penguins. A good many of these folks belong to a youthful generation derided as slackers and scoffers. Yet, it's 5 a.m., and they rose two hours earlier to brave the New York subway to reach this vast parking lot at Citi Field, just south of LaGuardia Airport in Queens.

Clad in hoodies, jeans and woolen scarves, they bounce up and down, trying to keep metabolisms humming as defense against the chilly wind. But no sacrifice is too great for the cause: a massive meeting 209 miles away on the Mall in Washington with the schizophrenic title of "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear." The event stars Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and his sidekick Stephen Colbert, best known for their late-night antics on "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report."

Advance PR has billed the gathering as a rich feast of absurdity, its main purpose seeming to be to mock a previous rally -- also on the Mall -- organized by conservative Fox News pundit Glenn Beck. Liberal Internet diva Arianna Huffington amplified the buzz, announcing that she would fund "as many buses as people to fill them" to get fans from New York. More than 10,000 people, enough to fill 200 buses, enlisted within a few weeks, forcing Huffington to suspend registration on Oct. 24. And so, in the wee hours of Oct. 30, here we are at Citi Field, home to the New York Mets, preparing to shuffle through a primitive security system, present proof of online registration and allow our backpacks to be searched.

The thousands standing here in predawn 42-degree weather aren't wild about this extended wait. Some grumble; others, like Brooklynite Sarah Altshul, 60, are taking a more mature approach. Bundled up in a purple scarf and heavy brown jacket, she is staying upbeat.

"It seemed like this year's Woodstock," she says, adding that she missed the 1969 event.

"I was outraged by the whole Glenn Beck thing and the mob mentality going on there," she says, referring to the Aug. 28 "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial. "Jon Stewart is a counterpoint to that."

(Previously in The Washington Post Magazine: Tea Party Road Trip to the Glenn Beck rally)

Suddenly, a svelte, familiar-looking woman in a black-and-gray outfit walks by, followed by a cluster of TV lights.

"Arianna, thank you!" people shout. "You rock."

Positioning herself in front of the cameras, the blond-haired new-media mogul says that by helping people get to Washington, she is trying to do something beyond "demonizing Republicans."

Then, one of the cameramen points out that Huffington is standing perfectly in line with a neon sign in the background. It reads "left field."

"It's a left and right crowd," she counters. "It's fantastic that people wanted to get up on a Saturday morning in the cold to make an impact."

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