Monday, September 22, 2008

Danny at the DNC!

I spent most of my 7 days in Denver on the 16th Street Mall Shuttle. Imagine an entire city centered on one street, and a bus that stops at every block. This was my experience at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Larimer, Lawrence, Araprahoe… Araprahoe, Larwence, Larimer.

As a staffer for a US Congressman, I had a chance to mingle among Democratic leaders from across the country. In the midst of going back and forth on this endlessly crowded bus to receptions at fancy hotels and restaurants, feeling completely out of my league, I brushed shoulders with NY Governor David Paterson, NJ Governor Jon Corzine, Madeleine Albright, NY Congressmen Nadler (!) and Rangel, Senators Clinton and Schumer and, of course, Denver Mayor Hickenlooper –yes that’s his real name.


Spike Lee was on my plane. I shook Chris Matthews’ hand, and when I mentioned I play piano occasionally for “Obama Girl,” he smiled and replied “Ha! You’re great!” (By the way, he was much more put together and suave in person than the disheveled personality he plays on TV)


I ate a lot of shellfish (which isn’t kosher my gentile friends), met a lot of interesting people from unions and local city governments, and learned a lot about public policy. I even had the chance to visit Coors Field and watch my colleagues practice hitting with the Colorado Rockies. Not to mention rolling deep at the Google Vanity Fair Party. I was one lucky guy.


But then you stepped outside with everyone else…


Thousand of people packed on the street; Dozens of kiosks selling Obama buttons, t-shirts, and teddy bears; MSNBC broadcasting live at their outdoor studio at Union Station; Booths set up across the city from different corporations and organizations (Coke, MTV Rock the Vote); Every 4th person on the street holding a camera or a blogger’s credential, and every establishment along the way hosting some sort of cocktail reception.


This is not to mention the dissenters… To the right, you had trucks rolling by showing aborted fetuses or Osama Bin Laden, and Jesus freaks with cardboard signs. To the left, you had groups marching in support of Hillary Clinton’s nomination (though a much smaller amount than the media displayed); A tent full of Iranian and Palestinian sympathizers; 9/11 conspiracy theorists with bullhorns; a major city park inhabited by a radical group called “Recreate 68” (in reference to the 1968 DNC riots in Chicago); a political forum of independent parties hosted by Ralph Nader.

All in all though, it was pretty great to feel like you could strike up a convo with anyone in town because of that sense of common ground (“We’re both Democrats! Let’s have coffee.”). This is a stark contrast to the rather cold, ant colony feel of New York City


“But Danny,” you must be asking, “What about Obama? Biden? Clinton? What was the Convention Hall like? That’s why I clicked on your damn blog in the first place!”


Well, my friends, I have some hilarious stories about my nights at the DNC, and they all revolve around luck.


Wednesday:


To start, trying to get credentials (or tickets, which everyone wears around their neck for some reason) is seemingly impossible, even if you work for a congressman. You’ll see political operatives in hotel lobbies scrambling on their cell phones for hours trying to secure credentials for staff and donors or trying to trade up for better seats.


On Wednesday night, we were lucky enough to see Joe Biden accept the VP nomination, sifting out Arena level credentials, though we weren’t quite sure what that meant. Still we hung it over our necks proudly.


Making our way to the Pepsi Center with a spring in our step, we past the troops with machine guns, and a parade of ten thousand shirtless people protesting escalation with Iran. “Hi everyone!” I waved.


After waiting on the security line for a half hour, we walked into the facility and there it was. The magnificent Pepsi Center… sitting aside the magnificent CNN Grill. That’s right , CNN bought out an entire restaurant for the week with special credentials required for entry. One Wolf Blitzer Burger please! Mmm...


We made our way up the escalators and thought we had arrived when we were told to go up yet another floor. This happened 3 times. Finally, upon arriving at the Mezzanine, we approached an usher with our credential.


“I’m sorry, this section is full.” Confused, we approached the next usher. “I’m sorry, this section is full.”


When we reached a third usher, he responded “Sir this pass will not get you inside the arena.” I didn’t understand. “This pass will not get you a seat inside, but feel free to stay in the hallway here by the concessions and watch on television.”


Was this a joke? Why would they let us in the arena if we can’t go inside? Who was the sick and demented mind that thought to create, print and distribute passes for people to watch from the hot dog stand?


Bewildered, I tried to outmaneuver the system. Casually approaching yet another usher, I said. “Excuse me, we were just sitting here. I’m with the Congressman.” He made an expression that reminded of that line from Wayne’s World: “Yeah, everyone’s girlfriend is backstage. Take a hike”


But luck would have its way with us yet again. Just when we were getting desperate, a man with a worker’s union hat tapped me on the shoulder. “You two looking for seats?” “Yes! Of course.” “Then Follow me.” And just like The Wizard, this man led us past the usher and into the big bright lights of the Pepsi Center, as dozens of others looked on with envy. We followed him up to the very last row of the arena (literally) where he conversed with his buddy.

But his friend had given away the two seats he thought were available. Now we were left standing awkwardly blocking peoples’ view in the center of the aisle. “Hi everybody… How about those liberals?” Tomatoes and other raw vegetables were thrown in my direction.


However, we glanced further up, only to find people standing behind the last row of seats. Squeezing towards the back, a man next to me remarked, “If you’re gonna stand back there, I suggest you duck down when the fire marshal passes by.”


And so, like a 4th grade teacher, I was unanimously appointed the ring leader of the back-row-standing-section, intermittently pointing the group of 20 to duck down for their lives. This was a real thrill for me.


The good news is that we saw speeches by Bill Clinton (most captivating speech I’ve ever seen), John Kerry (where was this spirited guy in 2004?) and my main man Joe Biden, who I originally supported in the primary. We ended up watching it on the big screens for most of the time because we were seated so far away, but it was very interesting being inside...



For one, it seemed strange watching one speaker after another without some kind of host or common thread. It was like watching a Jerry’s Kids Marathon, but without Jerry...or the kids. Second, fire marshals gave out signs and banners every 10 minutes to everyone in the crowd—those “Change” and “Hope” signs you saw on TV. This would have been awesome had we not been hiding like a game of laser tag each time she came around. But the biggest surprise for me that night was all the interesting and informative speeches that the TV audiences didn’t see. Do we really need all that political analysis on cable channels when there are actual politicians speaking? Our media is so intrigued by the behind-the scenes meaning of speeches and events, that we’re less concerned about what’s actually being said.


Thursday:


We woke up Thursday morning determined to see Obama speak at Invesco Field. With 75,000 tickets, there had to be 2 available somewhere in this small city (compared to New York of course). We schmoozed at the NYS Breakfast. Nothing. We played the NY Delegation lottery. Zilch. We called friends and acquaintances including the Manhattan Borough President. Bupkus.


The hours were passing by, and it was becoming increasingly glum. After an exciting trip, this would be the anti-climactic ending we had always feared. Watching Barack on TV with college students at the Young Democrats Screening. Not to mention that, like an idiot, my cell phone had slipped out of my pocket in a taxi the night before. Our luck, it seemed, was changing for the worse. It was approaching 3:00 and everyone was already on their way to the stadium. We missed the shuttle buses. This was just awful. Just awful.


And suddenly I ran into an acquaintance at the hotel lobby. He had scored us credentials! Hollellujah it was a Democratic miracle! Rejoice! The tides had turned again!


We arrived at the back of the line and walked a couple miles down steep hills and winding roads in the industrial side of Denver, making small conversation with folks and passing scores of merchandise along the way. Reading a newspaper, I learned that the Beatles were banned in Israel until earlier this year. Go figure.


We past security, and arrived in our section. Dead center, perfect view. Since we were in a football stadium, we bought oversized orders of Nachos Supreme and Buffalo wings and pigged out to Al Gore and Bill Richardson like it was the Jets vs. the Rams. “Climate change is bad! Get those Republicans! Woo!”


But nothing could prepare us for what was about to happen…The wistful silky voice of nostalgic beauty. The mellifluous tones of a plain-spoken troubadour. That’s right. Michael McDonald was singing “America, the Beautiful” A moment frozen in time.




And then we looked up to see Hillary Clinton sitting a few rows up in the press box!Check her out in the white pants suit by the American flag...

Soon after many more speeches and a performance by Stevie Wonder, out came Senator Barack Obama in all his glory, and I’ve never heard a more roaring crowd. It didn’t help that the stadium floor was made of metal and shook violently to my great horror. Here’s a video from his intro….


video

After the speech and the fireworks, the energy was palpable and we felt in the middle of history. It was time to go home and revel in this sense of pride.


But as we were walking out of our section along with 90,000 other Democrats, we discovered a small crowd assembling by the concessions. I saw a podium along with cocktails and food. “What’s going on?” I asked. “See that podium? Barack’s gonna speak at this Party.”


So Dani and I sneakily and stealthily maneuvered our way through the onslaught of people, and past the security checkpoints. We had somehow ended up at the official Obama VIP afterparty!


And so we planted our feet by the podium and awaited the next President. Ten minutes turned into an hour and half, as we drank cocktails and noshed on snacks. We were getting testy, but standing next to 2006 Delaware Senate candidate Ned Lamont (the guy that beat Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Party thanks to moveon.org but couldn’t finish the job). But soon enough, out came Barack and Michelle, with Joe and Jill Biden, looking just like they do on television, but a little sleepier.


They thanked their supporters and came around to shake hands. I missed Barack but a hand or two, but I managed to get Joe’s. And I haven’t washed since…


Over the next few days, Rich and Diana (who I have to give special props to for allowing us to stay and showing us around town) brought us out to the mountains and Red Rocks Amphitheater...


Well that about does it. Hope you enjoyed our journey through Denver and the DNC. I know it was long, and probably not worth the read. But hey, at least you killed 10 minutes. See ya next time!


- DR