Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Big Finish

Just to be a completist, I want to add my perspective to the last day of the convention. As a guest, I had a surprising amount of access throughout the con to caucuses, process meetings, speeches, events, and meals. The public entrances to these things were managed extraordinarily well. I thought I would have to wait in long lines while J sailed in on the wings of delegate power. Not so! When we attended things together, she usually came through the public entrance with me, because it was moving as fast and efficiently as the delegate entrance. Security was tight, and I've been through more metal detectors than I care to contemplate, but no complaints...

... until the big Thursday speech. Hoo boy, was that an interesting day. J elected to take the light rail to Invesco Field with me, even though she had the option of a delegate-only bus. At the station, we jumped onto a crowded train and cheerfully exchanged stories with the rest of the pumped-up Obama fans. Gamely trudging the mile or so from the train station to the stadium, we were still feeling great (see J's post about her amusing protester placation action).

Then we hit the line. I heard later that it was 6 miles -- that's six miles -- long. Jen didn't want to leave me, but I knew she'd never make it to her floor seat on time if she waited with me. We were getting estimates of a 2-3 hour wait. So she went off to find the delegate entrance while I kept walking along the line to find the end of it. Finally found the end in a parking lot above the main stadium parking lots. So I joined the queue -- thousands of people bunched together as far as the eye could see -- and sipped my water.

Ha ha, it sure is hot, I thought. I sipped my water bottle. The line serpentined tightly through the parking lot and then wound up and around a hill before heading back toward the stadium. No cops or officials of any kind were present, so people seemed to be policing the lines themselves. The line would occasionally lurch forward about 10 feet, then stop again. After about an hour, I saw something that filled me with horror.

Another end of the line.

Then another.

Others noticed it, too, and a small panic ensued. A-types started walking the lines, trying to figure out which went where. At one point, a man behind me was repeatedly yelling "IT'S A LINE TO NOWHERE! WE'RE GOING IN CIRCLES!" which was sort of funny except not. Because he was right. The line I was in circled back on itself.

I turned to the 77-year old woman next to me and said, "When we get to the top of the parking lot, we are going to merge with that other line... I think we can do it with a lot of smiles and not make them too mad... are you with me?"

She nodded, her lips set and eyes peering out at the horizon. I checked her water bottle. It was about 1/4 full, and the sun was beating down on us, reflecting off the pavement in nausea-inducing waves. I stood on the sunny side of the line, trying to provide body shade to my elderly friend.

Lines merged, tempers flared, curses were lofted to the DNC, the mayor of Denver, the police. Some people left, but one of the ways out was blocked by the police now (no, I don't know why) and the other way involved walking several miles back to the rail station, where, we heard, the trains were no longer running. A strange, heat-induced calm fell over the crowd.

Hours passed. We circulated slowly around the parking lot, thousands of us, just shuffling at this point, trying to ration out our water. Conspiracy theories surfaced. Alliances formed and were broken. My new friend's water was gone, and I was saving the dregs of mine just in case she needed it. A reporter behind me made a call -- "Hey, I'm supposed to be at an interview with Harry Reid, I'm not going to make it."

After 3 hours, the cops showed up. I think someone must have called someone, because they arrived in force, descending on our asphalt hell in SWAT gear with huge truckfuls of water bottles. The crowd broke into a ragged cheer and people poured water all over themselves and each other.

The police sorted out the multiple lines on our end and must have done something on the stadium end, because suddenly, we were moving... running even! Shouts of "Obama! Obama!" started up, and we coursed grinning and light-headed through the metal detector tents and into the stadium.

I was in my seat in time for the generals and admirals. Just missed Al Gore.

Total wait: 4 hours. I would have done it for a new Lord of the Rings movie in a heartbeat. I have no regrets, but I have some complaints. I think someone should have made a better line-handling plan for the crowd. It all happened because parking was not allowed at the stadium and everyone had to be personally searched. Both excellent and effective security measures, but both requiring a different management plan than the one used for football games.

Still, when Obama walked onstage, and I watched 75,000 people cheer their hearts out for a better tomorrow, I was as happy as a clam at high tide. I felt a surge of compassion and well-wishing for the convention organizers, for the hard-working police and hot dog vendors, for the protesters, for the delegates, for the politicians and bureaucrats.

What a great time I had. Thank you, J, for inviting me along.

Now let's get out there and get Obama elected so we can have some dang health care. Some of us have heat stroke.

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