The event — thrown by the city of Los Angeles to rename Rodeo Boulevard to President Barack Obama Boulevard — started at noon. Or at least it was supposed to. By 12:30 p.m., the only people inside the event were people who were working at booths and food trucks.
As Sheila E.’s band rang out with an R&B version of the national anthem during their soundcheck, I wondered if Francis Scott Key would be more upset with the nightmarishly loud speakers distorting the words being sung or the trumpet player who clearly forgot what key the song was in.
“Turn up the saxophone,” yelled one of the band members as the saxophone blared through the speakers louder than a jet engine.
The only thing I could think was, “Oh no, please turn down the saxophone.”
It wasn’t until 1 p.m. that the crowd of thousands began pouring in through the seven total metal detectors at three separate entrances. Lines extended for blocks past the entrances. One even wrapped around a local strip mall, no doubt impeding the businesses located there.
As event-goers pushed and shoved to nab one of the free t-shirts being distributed just past the entrance, it was painfully clear to each and every person in attendance that very little planning had gone into the logistics of Obamafest.
The vendors, however, were a different story. Inside the event, close to 80 booths were lined up just past the entrance. The owners varied in age, race and ethnicity and a myriad of products were being sold, which was illustrative of Obamafest itself.
People from every background crowded around the small event stage to hear L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and others deliver moving speeches.
The new President Barack Obama Blvd. lies at the intersection of the former Rodeo Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in a historically black neighborhood. The impact that this event will have on children growing up in the Crenshaw area was not lost on Garcetti.
“I would never imagine … that today, in my city, we would be dedicating this boulevard [to Obama],” said Garcetti in an interview with the Courier. “It’s a reminder to every kid. If [you’re] black or brown, no matter what your zip code is, you can be anything and do anything.”
Garcetti also spoke about the importance of Measure EE, which would increase funding to LAUSD schools. Garcetti said that the measure is an extension of the vision Obama had while in office.
“There’s concrete things we can do now,” stated Garcetti. “It’s not just [about] words. It’s about funding and resources. We have to not just say good things, but do good things.”
Obamafest was more than a ceremony; it was a party. Immediately following the unveiling, crowds rushed to the main stage.
Luckily, Sheila E.’s band was much better with Sheila E. herself at the helm. The strange rendition of the national anthem they played during their soundcheck transformed into an entertaining and introspective piece of art, supplemented by quotes from the men for whom the streets at the intersection were named after.
Each musician that performed felt strongly about the renaming, and they weren’t shy expressing their feelings about being invited to perform.
“It’s iconic. It’s going to go down in history, and I get to be a part of it,” said Mark Knox. “I don’t know what I did to deserve that.”
Rapper Gavlyn put it best when she said, “This street has new meaning to L.A.”
Unfortunately, the event itself had a few flaws.
For example, the event coordinators restricted items that could be brought into the event, including water, but provided no water sources inside the event, nor was there any shade.
But more concerning was the so-called “Kids Zone.” The area consisted of an old parking lot — riddled with potholes — that housed a terrifying “Thomas the Tank Engine” which pulled a wagon and several out-of-commission golf carts painted various colors.
Directly behind this nightmare contraption was a 15-yard-long go-kart track with several go-karts which appeared to be lacking seatbelts.
The only attraction in the area which seemed remotely appropriate for kids was an inflatable obstacle course. Unfortunately, guests were forced to walk past a large truck with garbage cans stacked up inside to get there, as it was parked conspicuously in the middle if the “Kids Zone.”
To deal with the heat, I visited the “Happy Ice” truck, where they served a “vegan-friendly” dessert reminiscent of Italian ice. The “Rainbow Rocket” option included a sample of each flavor in a single cup. The creamy ice-based dessert struck a perfect balance of refreshing and sweet which satisfied more than I thought possible by a dessert of this nature.
Unfortunately, not every food truck gave its customers such a satisfying experience.
Shad’s New Cali Catering — a food truck run by Michael “Shad” Lawless — claims the title of “Home of the Crunchiest Chicken.” The truth in this statement is questionable at best; the “crunchy” skin was closer McDonald’s chicken nuggets than it was to fried chicken, both in the texture and taste of the breading and the amount of meat that’s actually in the item.
A more accurate slogan would include the outright ridiculous amount of time it takes Shad to fry three pieces of poultry.
I’d like to think that Shad made an honest mistake with my order (I only received two of the three pieces I paid for), but it’s more likely that Shad was running out of chicken and hoped that no one would notice, as many other people who had waited the same hour and 15 minute I had also received only two pieces.
Judging by the mobs of people surrounding each food truck, it’s likely that many people had this experience elsewhere. But hey, at least the honey butter biscuit was tasty.
“Kobbler King” seemed to strike a balance between the two extremes I had encountered. While they seemed to be working outside of traditional business practices — accepting only cash and Venmo transactions — I waited only seconds for an apple cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream. The cobbler-cream combo ranked fair; nothing compares to a homemade apple cobbler, but this was a close second.
Ultimately, the event was a mixed bag of inspiration and disappointment. While the landmark ceremony sparked feelings of joy and hope, the event itself resembled a failing amusement park.