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Fleet perimeter pass impressions


TUESDAY, July 27, 2004 -- I wander down toward the FleetCenter at about 8 p.m. on Monday evening. In the blocks surrounding the arena, the descending darkness is punctuated in every direction by flashing blue police lights, suffusing the air with the ominous sense that something bad has happened. Or that something bad is about to happen.

The sight of scores of Lyndon LaRouche supporters, confined behind the barricades of the protest pen, their voices locked in loudly-sung spirituals, adds to the unease. One of them approaches me and hands me a 48-page magazine called Children of Satan III ó The Sexual Congress for Cultural Fascism, which lays out the case for how said SCCF "ruined the USA and gave us ĎBeast-Maní Cheney." The suggested cover price is $5. I donít pony up, but do take the tract for further perusal. I look forward to reading more about the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and wonder why the Democrats canít work some reference to the God of Thunder Cult into the party platform.

Itís at this time that I run into an acquaintance whoís fleeing the Fleet in boredom. He is happy, however, to have just had a run-in with Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps and his homophobic minions. "A true inbred," my friend marvels. "His eyes are so close together!"

As weíre ushered into the maze of metal barricades leading to the FleetCenter, the din of the chanting LaRouchies fades to an eerie quiet. Nonetheless, there are a few hecklers grasping the bars from the outside, taunting us. "Joe Lieberman is not in my Democratic Party!" screams one, apropos of nothing. "Tuck in your shirt!" yells another.

At a security screening under a large white tent, a collapsible umbrella is taken from my bag and confiscated. Sure, Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was done in by a ricin-filled dart fired from an umbrella on Londonís Waterloo bridge in 1978. But, I assure you I had no such intent. Itís also at this time that I remember I have a small penknife attached to my key chain. Gone. $20 down the drain! Know, John Kerry, that Iíll be deducting that from any future campaign contributions.

Inside, a photography exhibit is set up, showcasing John Kerry through the years. One photo has him standing near John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s. Another finds him standing next to John Lennon in the early 1970s. How many people on this earth can claim to have met both? Man, that guy networks like crazy.

On the way up the escalator, one of the first people I see, coming down the other side, is Dennis Kucinich. Kooch! Heís even shorter than I thought, and really is quite elfin.

Inside, the concessions perimeter is, predictably, a zoo. Scores Democrats waddle in funny hats and covered with loads and loads of buttons. Somewhere, a T.G.I. Fridayís is missing its wait staff.

Many flat-screen TVs are scattered about the perimeter, broadcasting the proceedings inside the hall for those taking a break for a foot-long wiener and a Coke, or for those (like me) not cool enough to be allowed in. One of the strangest set-ups, though, is a mock living room, set up by Comcast to advertise its on-demand digital cable. In front of the sofa is a triptych of televisions, a large one in the middle carrying the convention, and two smaller ones hawking Comcastís programming. So, as Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) orates, sheís flanked by a montage of cartoons -- the Flintstones, Tom & Jerry, and the Smurfs. White, black, brown. . .blue. The Democratic Party truly does have a big tent.

For all the many millions spent on security, the miles of fencing designed to keep the riff-raff out, Iím surprised to see several entrances to the hall itself blocked up with a single strip of tattered duct tape.

Since Iím more or less confined to the concessions area, I opt to make it worth my while and purchase a soft drink. The man behind the counter is heavyset and speaks with a heavy Boston accent. "Hey, a reporter!" he says upon seeing my press badge. "Ya wanna interview me?! Hereís what I gotta say. Everybody around here thinks theyíre the president! They all think theyíre better than me! We all put our pants on the same goddamned way! I put my pants on the same goddamned way as anyone else! President, vice president, CIA!" He slams his fist on the cash register a few times as he says this. Delegates passing by look startled as his voice rises. I stare uncomfortably at a mass of hotdogs slowly rotating as they glisten under a heat lamp. Wow, I think. Itís only the first night.

Beer, it should be noted, is not being sold. Or if it is, no one is drinking it.

I find a spot just inside an entryway that overlooks the action of the convention. From this high vantage point, the view ó a sea people below, surrounded glowing, ever-moving hues of red, white and blue ó is actually rather stirring. And during the tribute to the victims of September 11, when the lights dim to pale blue and the hall profuse with candles, a sea of stars, the effect is all the more arresting. As violinist Gabe Lefkowitz finishes his moving version of "Amazing Grace," a teenaged attendant waves me over. "That," he says, "was beautiful."

I stand and watch Bill Clintonís speech from high above and behind. Never his biggest fan, I still canít help but marvel at his oratorical command. When not cheering wildly, the small group of people around me -- several African-American men, one of whom looks to be a veteran, an Indian guy with Al Sharptonís bouffant, two middle aged white couples -- stand rapt. When Clinton draws to a close, the applause is some of the loudest Iíve ever heard.

As the conventioneers spill onto the streets, one thing thatís striking, given the contentious picketing that led up to the convention, is how smiley the police officers are as they offer directions, sometimes with several people harping at them at once.

From the FleetCenter, my friend and I walk to a reception thrown by Dick Gephardt, the populist avatar and hero to the working, at Trattoria Il Panino downtown. When we arrive, we hear that Gephardt is up in the VIP area. But just steps from us, Teamster boss James P. Hoffa and United Steelworkers prez Leo Gerard are giving each other bear hug. Around them, several dozen other beefy guys in sports coats sans ties mingle about, slapping backs and drinking beer. A few of them glower rather intimidatingly.

We stand around munching on vodka-soaked cherries and hors díoeuvres, but Dick has still not arrived. We wait. And we wait. Finally, at almost 1 a.m., the Motown stops and a voice comes over the loudspeaker. Finally, Gephardt will address the gathered faithful. Well, no, actually. "Ladies and gentlemen, weíd like thank you for coming. We remind you that this is a union event, so please take care of the wait staff." My friend and I leave a tip at the bar and leave. Outside, we hear that Gephardt had left before we even got there. On the sidewalk, I ask the teenaged valet if he got to meet him. No, he says. But he did meet 50 Cent in the North End a few months ago.


Issue Date: July 26, 2004
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