To get to Hempstead and attend the second presidential debate, I had to leave Plattsburgh first.
I gassed up at a Stewart’s Shop and grabbed two michigans for the road and set out from the overcast chill of Plattsburgh to the crisp, clear autumn of Nassau County.
I cruised the normally long trip in five and a half hours, and after a brief stop in Queens to pick up my mother, Christine Tully, we made our way to Hofstra University and the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The coliseum, the home of the New York Islanders, was where attendees had been instructed to park their cars and pick up their tickets. The process was painless, and Hofstra’s student volunteers helped direct hundreds of people to lines for ticket pickups, refreshments and coach buses that would shuttle us to the debate hall.
All types of people milled through the corridor of the venue. Men wearing expensive suits and ties and women with designer dresses and pinpoint stiletto heels stood in line with people wearing blue jeans, sweaters and sneakers. What these people shared was the tickets they held, described by news anchors as “the hardest tickets to get on Long Island.”
Money could not purchase those tickets, and of 6,500 Hofstra students who entered the raffle to get one, no more than 300 did.
After going through a security check of metal detectors and another line, we crowded onto coach buses. The ride was just minutes long, yet it passed through security checkpoints staffed by what seemed to be every police officer in Nassau County. Everywhere one looked there were cop cars parked sideways across double-yellow lines. Their lights flashed and motors ran, and I could smell car exhaust on the air until I entered the debate hall.
The inside of the debate hall was packed. In the hall was the stage, the carpeted area where television viewers would see the candidates, 82 undecided voters chosen to ask questions and the moderator, Candy Crowley.