|TAKE MY LIME GREEN PRESS PASS AND CRAM IT UP YOUR TOOTER.|
The Black Table has a strict "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to a number of things, like mystery pills found in the medicine cabinet, lingering smells in bedrooms and sex with strangers. So
we're not even about to ask how Neel Shah, Gawker's house slave, got a press pass to the Democratic National Convention. We don't want to know what he did to get it, who he got it from, or if he'll have to work out any issues in therapy. All we want to know is what he saw.
So, this is what he saw.
Let's beat a dead horse: The Democratic National Convention's a massively hyped three-ring circus that can be distilled into two quick sound bytes: We hate Bush, and we're giving Kerry and Edwards the task of getting him out of office. We all know the Democrats are masters of inefficient politicking, but even so -- 28 hours of programming over the course of four days to drive this sentiment home seems a tad bit excessive.
What the fuck is actually going on all up in the Fleet Center? In the spirit of "journalism" (or a penchant for wanton self-abuse), I decided to postpone my nightly quest of uncovering underage Kerry staffers blowing lines of Al Sharpton's man titties long enough to sit my ass down in the Fleet Center for a few hours. The results are none too pretty.
First, a bit of context. The entire convention space is cordoned off from the public with yards upon yards of metal fencing and barbed wire and is framed by the concrete remnants of Boston's Big Dig. The whole thing looks about as pleasant as post-war Berlin. Snipers patrol local rooftops, and there is a heavy-duty artillery brigade stationed on the tarmac in front of the Center, conceivably to beat the fucking piss out any of the 11 protesters who step out of their designated "protest area."
I know I'm Indian and am supposed to be good at math and shit, but there are more Secret Service men and FBI officers than I can count. Someone who does real reporting tells me it's in excess of 300, and that's just in the actual center alone. Good thing I heeded my mom's advice and left the turban at home.
It takes about 10 minutes to get from the press entrance to the actual media tent, which is adjacent to the Fleet Center. There are at least five separate occasions on which throngs of Kerry for President volunteers ask you to kindly produce your press credentials, as well as your basic trio of airport security measures: metal detector, pat-down, anal cavity search. You are also asked multiple times to leave all food and beverages outside the convention space, a clever ruse designed to force poorly paid journalists fork over $12.50 for a shitty roast-beef sandwich and a 12-ounce coke inside the media tent. Party of the common man, indeed.
I arrive to the entrance of the Fleet Center at 5:00pm on Tuesday -- one hour after the day's programming began. I look at one of the dozens of flat-screen TVs stationed along the concourse of the Center to see some dude from West Virginia on the podium, discussing how happy he is to be in Boston with all the delegates from the great state of West Virginia. Clearly, I am not late enough.
Each section of the Fleet Center is demarcated by a specific color, and only those with a pass that matches the color are allowed into the respective area. For example, to get access to the actual floor (a "red" zone), you need a red pass. Seems simple enough. My pass is green, which, from the look of things, allows me to sit in the second-tier seats. I ascend the escalator and turn into the closest entryway.
"Excuse me sir, you can't get in here with that color," says
a teenage usher.
His face is expressionless. "Sir, please just follow the procedure. It'll make everything run more smoothly. And next time, please have your credentials positioned with the "press" label up, so we can facilitate the movement of people into the center."
I contemplate telling him to facilitate killing himself, but whatever. I thank him for his time, enter at the appropriate gate, and take my seat.
Inside, I must admit that the Dems did a pretty bang-up job getting the center ready for the convention. A massive elevated stage has been constructed on the floor, with two podiums that flank each side. Behind the stage, an Imax-esque movie screen broadcasts the action live, conceivably so that all the octogenarians from Arizona who flew out just for the opportunity to wave their American flags and feel all patriotic and shit can see actually see what's going on from their nosebleed seats. Many of the luxury skyboxes have been converted into temporary TV studios, enabling the talking heads of CNN, Fox News, et al, to go live from the center immediately after the last speaker gets off the stage. There's also the largest collection of helium balloons I have ever seen in my life. What I would give to see the fracas that would ensue should someone pop 'em a la John Malcovich in In the Line of Fire.
I take my seat at 5:30 pm, just in time to hear International Teamsters President Jim Hoffa address the crowd. Nauseating boredom kicks in after approximately 4 minutes. Using resident fatty Michael Moore's agitprop editing techniques, though, I can attest to you, dear reader, that he did say this:
"I'm Jim Hoffa, President of the International Teamsters. I'm here to outsource John Kerry and send him overseas."
Fine with me -- I'm not sure who would actually notice.
5:38 pm, and Hoffa's off. Hooray! The next batch of speakers includes some bullshit no-name characters from New Mexico, New Jersey and some Teaching Union. Boo. Three things are becoming readily apparent:
1. There's a good reason this thing lasts seven hours a day for
four days straight: superfluous filler. My high school graduation could
have lasted seven hours a day for four days straight if the substitute
teacher I had for three days in my ninth grade English class was invited
I set off to wander about the main concourse to fulfill No. 3. The concourse turns out to be a far livelier scene than the actual convention. Radio stations have set up shop to air live segments and interviews; television camera crews run around trying to get face time with any politicians and celebrities not on the convention floor; promotional corporate tables every 10 yards remind you that it doesn't really matter who you vote for -- Big Business still runs the show. Tons of people are hawking shit from booths and tables. It's a bit like a posh, reverse flea market; every possible trinket or souvenir is for sale at a huge markup from what it should normally cost. Get your very own personalized "Kerry for President" button! Get your ass to the Fleet ATM cause the shit costs 12 bucks!
It's now 6:15 pm. Some stream-of-consciousness rambling for you: I just stole a "Union Sportsmen for John Kerry" t-shirt off a tabletop, which will be, like, totally ironic to my hipster friends in Brooklyn. I amble around a bit, passing Hillary Clinton (surrounded by a clusterfuck of cameras and reporters) and OC star Benjamin McKenzie (surrounded by a clusterfuck of 17 year-old girls) in a span of 20 seconds. Al Sharpton and Chris Heinz engage in an off-the-cuff question and answer session. I pass paramedics and stretchers at all of the stairwells and escalator accesses, just in case one of those pesky bomb-things goes off.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a floor-to-ceiling banner saying, "Labatt Blue welcomes you to Boston." There is hope! I do some further investigation -- just signage. There is failure.
Dejected, I head over to the designated press area, which is actually located behind the main stage. Just as I take my seat next to some New Republic scribes, the lights dim. Finally, perhaps something worthwhile. The din of the crowd ceases as a pleasant-sounding lady announces over the loudspeaker "her great pleasure to introduce musical guest Peter, Paul, and Mary." Peter, Paul, and fucking Mary?? And pundits wonder why black people don't vote.
Evidently, though, the group is hugely popular among the fine delegates of This Great Nation, because there is a massive rush to the front of the stage. As "If I Had a Hammer" comes on, and delegates lock hands, raise arms, and sway like epileptic monkeys, I consider hurling myself off of the nearest balcony and onto the floor. I'm almost positive that many of those I would crush on impact would thank me.
Luckily, it's a brief set. Aforementioned pleasant sounding lady introduces the next speaker, the Mayor of Detroit. How cute -- they play some Motown music in his honor! This Democratic Convention is just soo adorable. Uh-oh, though. Duder rolling out on stage isn't actually the mayor of Detroit. The Motown music ceases, much to the embarrassment of the guy at the podium. I love Convention hijinks.
"Michael and Alice" sing the National Anthem at 8, via satellite in their native tribal tongue, which seems about as contrived a stab at pseudo-diversity as a Benetton add. Some more senators and governors speak, but don't seem to be saying too much. At 9:30, I've decided I've had my fill for the day. Add one more thing to that list of things readily apparent:
4. The convention is a lot like this piece: lots of fluff, lots of bullshit, not much substance.
Oh well. It beats watching the Celtics. Sharpton, watch out. I'm after you.
Neel Shah is an intern for the New York Observer and Gawker.com.