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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

DNC Night Two: The Kind of Content-Free Content That Only I Can Try to Pass Off as Meaningful

Note: Photos and posting to other sites will come tomorrow. Right now I need to find my way to bed.

Taking Denver’s light rail line to a destination downtown imparts an interesting sense of journey that the short trip certainly can’t support. It’s the feeling of being on one of the airport people movers complete with ding-ding sounds and the whoosh of a train passing close to walls as I head into the city. For me, on a personal level, it lent an air of excitement to an already exciting moment.

In fact, I was almost as giddy today heading to my first taste of the DNC credentials as I was when I first heard the stirring refrain of “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.”

What I can’t decide is whether the moment was cheapened or heightened by the well-dressed, nice looking, and ridiculously drunk forty-something getting on the train and hitting on the women heading down to pick up their own credentials. Like any good drunk, he interpreted a polite smile and an innocent query as sexual interest. The bright pink “Vote for Change” button on his lapel made the moment just a tiny bit better as he slyly winked at me and quietly mouthed, “Watch this. She’s gonna dig me.”

He approached his target at the front of the train, blearily introduced himself, and then wobbled off contentedly. His dignity may have taken a massive hit, but he’ll never notice. I found myself wondering if he had managed to debark at the right platform.

And then the cold slap of reality.

During the convention, light rail doesn’t quite make all its normal stops. Instead of dropping off across the lot from the Pepsi Center, it drops off at Invesco. Normally that might not seem like much of a walk, but with all the lots barricaded, entire streets shut down, and the Pepsi center surrounded by tall fences and cops, the walk becomes quite a bit longer. Normally that might not seem like much of an issue, but I was already running late--or, at least, later than I had intended to be. Which was already later than I wanted to be.

If you take my meaning.

The long walk around the parking lots lets me get a good look at the amazing profusion of concrete barricades--and to take a few trips down dead end detours. If I were a rat and that was a maze, I would have flunked the final exam.

Finally trekking down the right sidewalk, I realized that I was happy about the hordes of cops. Watching them keeping an eye on the handful of kids wandering through looking like extras from Recreate68 media events (or, at least, like members of the Anarchists’ Progressive Hair Club for Men), I actually feel secure. Not that there are enough of the kids to make them even remotely scary, nor are their squirt guns filled with urine in evidence. Whatever mayhem was promised or planned has mostly fizzled in a powerless display of some of the dumbest of America’s next generation.

I’m not complaining.

As I finally rounded the corner at the Tivoli (oh, how many drunken evenings have I spent at the Tivoli?), I saw Checkpoint Charlie, another gathering of Denver’s finest, and a couple anti-Obama protesters. Denver’s finest were posing in a group photo for some of the folks who seem to be treating the convention as a vacation opportunity. And there are a lot of them. Later, the trip down 16th Street Mall surprised me with just how energetic this little city can be when properly motivated. Apperently the proper motivation--minus the occasional world title in either football or hockey--is the influx of thousands of out-of-towners, a few million dollars, and the giddiness that only Obama can bring into our lives.

Sadly, these realizations come pretty far away from Pepsi Center. A call to my benefactor revealed two unhappy truths: I would be stuck at the checkpoint until he could manage to work his way over to me, and, no, he wouldn’t give me the hall pass for the night.

Damn. Still, the Perimeter Pass has to have some value, right? The cops I asked at Checkpoint Charlie weren’t sure. The first one wasn’t sure it would get me through the first barrier, but suggested I ask. Cop two, at the barrier, said that, yes, it would get me in but he wasn’t sure it would get me past the next checkpoint. What was striking, aside from the fact that they didn’t know where I could and couldn’t go when I finally got that Perimeter Pass, was just how jolly they were. Happy men.

None of which mattered since I had to wait for Robert. The waiting which wasn’t helped by either my poor directions or his inability to spot the big, freakin’ smokestack that said “Tivoli.”

Not that I blame him.

While I waited, one of the cops who probably noticed my artlessly disheveled hair and unshaven face, wandered over and asked what I was doing. Even while he gave me a quick questioning, his happy demeanor never wavered. “You know,” he explained, “we’re just here to make sure everyone has a chance to be heard. Everyone has the right to speak their minds whether we agree with them or not, and we’re going to do our best to make sure that they get that chance.”

“Yeah,” I answered, “but there are some folks down here right now who don’t really play that way.”

“True. Some of the anarchists and such. But it’s been pretty quiet and hopefully it will stay that way--a good night to me would be a boring night.”

He wandered off after deciding that, while ugly, I didn’t pose a threat to the world.

A few minutes later, Robert wandered over the Checkpoint Charlie’s fence. A brief moment gazing through the chain-link fence and an exchange of credentials brought a little hope back into my world. Finally working my way through CC led me down another street toward Pepsi Center and the holy grail of the political bloggers: bumming about with real media folks at a national convention. And there I came face-to-face with the unexpected.

Happily, I was told that my pass would get me through CC, Part 2, wasn’t sure if it would get me anything else, but that I had to get in line with the rest of the media folks to find out. Disneyworld has nothing on the line to get into the freakin’ perimeter of the Pepsi Center. Suddenly, hobnobbing with “real” media seemed less fun, especially given the nature of their conversation.

I’m sure not all of the members of the media are shallow, self-interested loudmouths. I’m sure aren’t all so bold in their open support of a political agenda. Im sure it was just the folks who surrounded me. But shallow, self-interested, and boldly supportive of Obama is what they were.

A woman--perhaps the loudest of the bunch--wearing a Reuters lanyard, talking to a handful of others, proudly proclaimed herself a true believer; she couldn’t understand how her mother, a die-hard feminist and Hillary supporter, could even consider withholding her vote from Obama. “ A vote for McCain doesn’t just hurt women, it hurts everyone.

It was a sentiment that I had heard earlier by a couple of black women who were waiting back at CC. When a man from Montreal (complete with heavy accent) approached them to tell them just how important this election was to folks up north, the older woman answered, “It’s important to us, too. It’s important to everyone. Those folks voting for McCain are just being silly and they don’t know what all this means--what it means for everyone.

There’s a part of me that wonders how Obama could possibly live up to the expectations of his biggest supporters? That’s not a critique of the man, nor is it a prediction of failure, it’s just that expectations of that size are often impossible to fulfill.

If there is a dissenting voice inside the first checkpoint, it’s probably embedded in the bloggers’ room or in one of just a handful of conservative reporters covering the event. It’s a see of liberalism. Again, that’s not a critique: this is, after all, the Democratic National Convention and filling the seats with true believers is part of the point of the show. You can’t rally the troops if the troops aren’t already predisposed to follow the leader. That doesn’t change the fact that, for a Republican, it’s eery to be surrounded by so many people who are openly hostile to my beliefs, who would call my beliefs silly.

Which is why I keep my mouth shut, keep as low a profile as I can, and hope that no one notices my innate conservativeness. Because, let’s be honest, if they suspected that I’m a thrall of Big Oil (or any of the other evil Big industries), they will probably openly scold me or something equally irritating.

But I endured the line, I endured the comments about Bush, and I endured the comments about McCain ("It was so cute when his little girl looked at him and said, ‘I really don’t like McCain.’"), and I endured the piercing voices--all to get inside The Perimeter.

Which was kind of useless, if you want to know the truth. After clearing the gates, walking through the metal detectors, I found that the outside of the Pepsi Center was fairly covered with Perimeter Pass folks like me either watching the CNN broadcast on the TVs at the CNN official bar or wandering somewhat aimlessly outside the facility and glancing longingly, wishing they were inside doing something useful.

Which is pretty much what I ended up doing until I got bored by eavesdropping on the half-baked policy ideas of reporters waiting for their rides. Hybrids, of course.

Leaving was much easier than getting in and, after managing to wind my way through more maze-like barricades and vendors selling everything from bottled water to Obama Frisbees (my current favorite gift idea for the Democrats on my Christmas list), I ended up at the light rail station by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. A black gentleman was waiting there and he helped me figure out which line I needed to be boarding. He ended up giving me the moment that made the evening all worthwhile.

Living out in Aurora near where I live, he was biking into town daily to see the event. “This is great. I’m taking a bunch of pictures for a scrapbook for my grandchildren since I didn’t get mine in the sixties.”

It wasn’t an angry statement, it wasn’t even particularly racial in nature. It was a guy saying that he was happy to see another man, with his skin color, taking part in the race for the highest elected office in the land. A lot of conservatives will make a big story about the percentage of black folks who vote for Obama and how, if we are truly in a post-racial America race shouldn’t be the deciding factor in an election. There’s a lot to be said for that sentiment. But it ignores the reality: sometimes race matters and, right now, many black folks are feeling a sense of inclusion in American politics that they’ve never quite felt before.

That’s not a bad thing; in fact, if it brings us closer to the point where a black man or woman can fun for the office without it being a big deal, then it’s a damned good thing.

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