Low slung suburbs and ratty convenience stores give way to long fences and fields, the black faces give way to white, brick and wood and verandahs, become stone and porticos … if Long Island suggests to you big houses in the Hamptons and trading quips with Dorothy Parker over a bath-tub martini, think again. It’s a lotta lotta ‘burbs, with Hofstra University — site of tonight’s final debate – in the middle.

Like most universities that Americans who get to attend, attend, Hoftsra is a middle-sized campus with a few old buildings and a bunch of lumpy modern ones, a not particularly exciting Union building, a sense of quiet innocence. The sense of overhwelming size, both crushing and liberating, that you get with Melbourne U or UNSW or UQ or whatever sort of thing LaTrobe is now, you don’t get here. It’s all gentler, more verdant, a feeling emphasised by the fact that there is nowhere to buy alcoho…

“There’s what!!!!!,” I think I hit an eight on the richter scale. Students milling in the forecourt turned round. I had a bunch of gear in the bag and had been planning to unveil our “Drill baby Drill” campaign to encourage teen pregnancy — a big picture of Bristol, Levi, Sarah and Bristol’s first daughter on the poster — and even in this proBama gathering there was no way in hell I was doing it on red bull.

“Yeah well you gotta be twenty one to drink,” the girl at the union information counter said. “So it kinds makes sense.”

Makes sense. Nothing about American drinking laws makes sense. You can get killed before you’ve legally had a beer. There are 20 parents currently in jail for buying booze for a kids party. But this is where a lot of Americans, especially white Americans, live.

“It’s a long way from Brooklyn,” James said, settling for a bowl of nachos, which looked more like a Mexican food milkshake than anything resembling a meal. James is currently using the couch surfer online service to find accommodation.

His kip in Brooklyn is a large apartment offered by a guy who likes to walk around naked, and needs people there to see him do it. Takes his mind off his work, which is playing a lead role in an all naked theatre company.

I was staying in the Waldorf Astoria, on free points, where a chicken sandwich costs $24, and you can call up an escort service whose staff are all PhDs. Four hundred bucks gets you a screaming argument about Lacanian psychoanalysis at the Four Seasons and a 3am hysterical overdose in the slate-tiled bathroom. Great town, New York.

But this was Long Island, and as dusk was gathering, the carnivale of the debate was roaring into full force. It was mostly white kids for Obama, with a lot of black students and, mostly, staff, with a few huddled McCain Palin masses, including one brave soul who was also running a pro-marijuana campaign — and a bunch of dorky looking boys dressed as giant squirrels, to highlight the alleged ACORN vote registering scandal.

God that was hard yards, on a hot indian summer evening, there you are turning up ready to do whatever needs to be doen for the party for that internship, hell you’d even do Larry Craig in a bathroom  … and someone hands you a giant orange rodent and tells you to go and annoy a six foot off duty security guard with a “Change” button.

“Where can we watch the debate,?” we asked the ‘bar’-tender, while sipping ice teas.

“Well there’s a mock debate by the young leaders of the future society in the main theatre.”

“What else have you got?”

“There’s a debate party…”

“Party? With booze?”

“No but there’s ice-cream.”

God help us.

So, anyway, as the debate gets underway — we found a ratty old pool room with a TV that looked like somewhere in Macquarie Uni 1976, and people who’d been there since then. Whatever happened in the debate, we weren’t going to get a great reading of its public impact here.

So it proved, for in the opening minutes it quickly became clear that John McCain had a new schtick which involved “Joe the plumber”. Joe was the guy who Obama told he wanted to “spread the wealth” around, but that 98% of small businesses would get a better deal. McCain took the initiative to talk to Joe directly down the barrel of the camera.

Obama took it back to more general issues. Obama came back with general issues. McCain talked to Joe again. He was becoming a sort of p-rn character forever appearing at the door, at every moment.

Wow by the half hour mark McCain was really going in hard and direct. But there was no new material, it was the $42,000 tax hike, it was “sending money to people who dont like us very much” it was “poor me people called me a KKKer” and so on.

Obama’s comebacks are in his usual airy manner, but since McCain is spitting and hissing like one of those planes he used to crash, that approach may work – the whole well formed sentences sort of thing.

Twenty minutes in (continued on liveblog) there’s no new light thrown on things, but a lot more heat.

“John even FOX news says your $42,000 line was untrue,” says Obama, and that got the biggest laugh so far.

“Isn’t it exciting!” a bubbly kid in an Hope t-shirt said.

Man if this is exciting, get out of Long Island, kid. Or get some drinks in here.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey