What’s it LIKE, being at the convention?
The Fleet Center is a big sports arena. You already know what the hall looks like, from TV. I walked around on the main floor before the convention started, and it’s smaller than it looks like on TV. (Everyone says that about TV.) Things are close by. When someone is on the stage, they are right there, not too far from you. I’ll try to get a pass to walk around on the main floor today after the convention opens, to get a feel for what it must be like to be a delegate, so I can write about that.
From where I’m sitting way up in the stands, though, it actually looks bigger way down there, and your television is a much better seat for seeing the convention.
The proceedings themselves are entirely geared to TV. All day people are giving speeches and almost nobody is listening, except maybe the delegation of the state the speaker is from. Then there are the big speeches. There was times last night when the speaker would be saying something from the stage, and people would be cheering, and we’d all be going, “What did he say?” and the cheering would get louder and the speaker would just keep talking. (Probably to stay on schedule.) So on TV you would hear the cheering but not at the amazing overwhelming level that we hear it in the arena. It would be like the “Dean Scream” where the part you hear (over and over and over) makes him sound like a loon yelling his head off, but if you were actually there all you could hear was the crowd and him trying to talk loud enough for people to hear him.
I said it is a big sports arena, and when you go out into the hallway surrounding the main floor that is exactly what it is like there, too. There are concession stands with amazing prices (a large Coke is $5), and stands with people selling hats and buttons and t-shirts. It’s very hard to find a drinking fountain. (And of course it is about half ice.)
Now, for the political junkies, here’s how it is not like a sports arena. Steve Soto and I went wandering around for a while yesterday. We started out in the press area — which looks so different from what you see on TV or what you might expect. I posted a picture of the scene in the Press Filing Room yesterday — long tables covered with white plastic, little chairs, crowded, dirty with trash people have left behind and full wastebaskets. The press area is down in the part of the arena people never see, and it’s all cement and cardboard and pipes and wires. Cement walls and floors, and rigged up “rooms” with curtains for walls with signs made with marker pens that say things like “CBS RF”, or “DIGITAL DARKROOM.”
We’re walking around and Steve says “That was Wolf Blitzer,” and then “Sam Donaldson.” We passed a lot of people like that. The faces you recognize coming by every fourth person. We decided we’d become “The Blogger Story” if we told Andrea Mitchell “Your husband is Bush’s Bitch.” Anyway, we just stopped and watched press people go by for a while to see who we could pick out. A nudge from Steve, “Isn’t that…?” “Hey, look who’s over there…”
Then we went walking around on the ground floor, where there’s an area for talk radio shows, and there’s Sam Seder and Air America, so I’m talking to Sam about the right-wing communications infrastructure. The people who the New York Times Magazine story from Sunday talked about are supposed to be on either tonite or tomorrow, and I’m going to nail down when that is and be sure to be there to hear it live, maybe be on the show he says. AND I’m going to show up to see Randi Rhodes for sure. Of course, there’s Al Franken and I’ll make sure to see that live as well. I have run into him a few times walking around.
Running into people walking around… After we talked to Air America a while we went down to the McDonalds because drinks cost much less there. We’re in line and Ted Sorenson walked by, being helped by a couple of guys because he’s pretty old. And then Michael Moore comes in the door, and he is SURROUNDED by a cocoon of press and camera, with the TV camera guys walking backwards in front of him and the lights on him and the microphone booms overhead and this weird gaggle comes walking down the hall. I’ve never experienced anything like this. And they’re coming straight for us and the cameramen back right into us and look at us like, “Who the f… are you?” so we get out of the way and the procession slowly goes by. Al Franken jumps into the middle of it to say Hi. I’m thinking that I could never, ever live like that. And there’s another press gaggle down the hall a ways and we see it’s Jesse Jackson. And in the crowd around him Steve is saying, “That’s, oh darn, I can’t remember his name.” (Another one upstairs and it’s two of the Daily Show guys.)
So the power of celebrity and the power of the press? It’s everything you read about but still, when you see it, it’s both amazingly attractive and also somehow perverted and shameful at the same time.
It’s crowded. It’s a Democratic gathering, which one journalist speaking to yesterday’s blogger breakfast, Walter Mears from the AP, described as a big class reunion. That was a great description. He’s an old guy with a respected career in journalism and he talked about striving for objectivity (and the bloggers made faces at that and some of us thought about starting to chant, “Nedra, Nedra, Nedra” but we didn’t.)
I hope I have been able to give you some sense of What It’s Like to be at a convention — with a press pass.