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‘We won the war in three days’

by Chris Wright

WEDNESDAY, July 28, 2004 -- Walking through Faneuil Hall this afternoon, I was confronted by a clutch of black-clad state troopers, standing around one of the shops, guarding, presumably, the knick knacks. But it’s easy to laugh at these guys right now – Boston is a peaceful city, even – have you noticed? – a friendly one. You find yourself thinking, what’s the worst that could happen?

Near the Fleet, there’s a guy doing double duty, a Bring-the-Troops-Home T-shirt on his back, a change cup in his hand. I ask him if business has picked up since the convention started. He doesn’t answer.

At the black steel barrier, a grizzled old man wearing Stars-and-Stripes pants, holding a Bush placard and a picture of Clinton with a Pinnochio nose, poses for a picture with a young delegate. I ask him what he’s doing here.

"I’d like to tell people about the war," he says. "We won the war in three days."

"What war?"


"The Iraq war?"

"I think so."

The guy’s name is Bill Donovan. He says he’s my age, "about 95."

I ask him if he likes John Kerry. He says no. I ask why. He says, "I think I’ve heard enough about him. I turn the radio off now."

Later, I see Bill Donovan in the nearby 7-11. He’s holding a newspaper, reading a story about Democratic up-and-comer Barack Obama. "We wanna make him a Republican," Donovan says to no one in particular. "Give him some money."

In the Fleet compound, near the Media Tent, a blond, middle-aged woman flops down onto a step and picks up a copy of USA Today. "This has been my world for three days," the woman says gesturing at the delegates passing by. "It’s getting kind of tight." The woman explains that she’s been brought in from Nashville to help with the food situation. Before she has a chance to read the paper, her walkie-talkie beeps. "Boston cream pie?" she shouts. "I haven’t seen any Boston cream pie."

You see things here you normally wouldn’t expect to see. Near the Fleet, for instance, there is an Army-green truck, about the size of a roach coach. From the top of the truck, rising maybe 10 feet into the air, is a long pole, atop which there is a ball of tines, like a three-dimensional star, a Christmas ornament. A sign on the truck reads: "US Secret Service personnel only." No shit.

Back outside the compound, two guys talk over one another. One is chatting into a cell phone, saying, "It’s a start-up company. You could lose it all." The other is pushing a trash barrel on wheels, grumbling about a stack of left-wing newspapers left on the ground: "Whose are these? Whose are these?" The two guys almost bump into each other, but there is no sign of recognition between them.

In the protest cage, a man is saying, "The Fleet Center, Boston, the whole country’s on Native American land." He takes it up a notch: "We should have a Native American president!" When this fails to get a response, the man says, "Well, anyway," before trailing off.

At the Top of the Hub, at a reception to honor Victoria Reggie Kennedy, a middle-aged, well-heeled woman approaches a velvet rope separating the ordinary side of the party from the VIP side. It is human nature to want to get onto the other side of velvet ropes, and the woman does.

Outside the Prudential, a group of young delegates stand around burdened with the bunches of convention passes strung around their necks. It reminded me of the ski passes people wear all winter, like badges of honor. Later, the mayor’s spokesman Seth Gitell points at a chintzy name tag I’d left on from a previous party and says, "Hey, no one else has one of those."

Back outside the Fleet, on Portland Street, a man asks me if I have any extra tickets. "This isn’t the Red Sox," I say to him, laughing. "No," the guy replies. "I got one last night. They’re everywhere."

A skinhead with a Band-Aid across the bridge of his nose is giving directions to a black dwarf wearing a red shirt, black cowboy hat, and a huge gold medallion. "Run around the truck," the skinhead is saying. "Run around the truck." I ask the skinhead what on earth they are doing. "Just making an indie film," he says. "Sorry to disappoint you."

As I enter the convention, Greta Van Susteren is on her way out, laughing. Maybe she managed to score an extra ticket.

Issue Date: July 28, 2004
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