Mary’s DNC Diary – September 2012

When our kids were little, I would ask them, “How am I so lucky?” That’s what I asked myself during the three days the DNC convention was in Charlotte. Many friends and neighbors left town because of the madhouse they envisioned. Not us. We embraced the idea of thousands of out-of-town guests and the excitement that would mean. We made arrangements to be here and even planned to run a sort of B&B. Amy Cowman, a local NBC reporter, learned about our plans so did a story on us in April:  http://www.wcnc.com/news/local/Homeowners-offer-BB-experience-for-DNC-guests-142973185.html

She mercifully did not use the footage of me holding up the commemorative Obama plate I got at Goodwill for $1.99. But our guests got a chuckle out of our political décor.

First off, I want to make it clear, I am very much an independent when it comes to political parties. Unless I hear about a candidate or issue, from a primary source, I have big, fat doubts. I like Pat McCrory, the Republican running for Governor of North Carolina (I happen to know his sister) but I think Democrat Obama is the man, now that I’ve attended all those raucous, inspirational convention events. To be totally serious, I watched the Republican coverage the entire week prior and didn’t find anything to hang my hat on. It came across as robotic, platitudinous, and sometime absurd (a la Clint Eastwood).

Tom, of our B&B guests Tom and Brenda, was Kevin’s friend from high school and college. Their daughter, Kristina, who works for the DNC, was in charge of credentials for the Thursday Stadium event – Obama accepting the nomination. Her life was turned upside down when, because of weather, they moved the affair into the arena reducing the crowd from roughly 65,000 to 25,000. But we were the lucky ones. Because of her job, we got to attend all the convention events.

These were the credentials that went unused from the Bank of America Stadium event.

No problem that we sat in nosebleed seats. We weren’t delegates, we were just at the right place at the right time.

Part of my objective to running our makeshift B&B was to get in on the action. Another part was to set a deadline so we’d finish decorating the darned uncompleted rooms. They were finally done the Friday before Convention Week! Thank you, Peggy, our incredibly able painter!

Our other DNC B&B guests were referred by Kristina. Kimberly and Scott were friends of one of her colleagues. It was comforting that people sleeping in our house knew someone we knew. Kimberly and Scott turned out to be lovely guests, even feeling comfortable enough to request an iron to spiff up a button-down shirt for the big Obama event. Kimberly is a very accomplished writer and editor and interesting person. She’s a weekend DJ at a biweekly rock party in Atlanta, and a beekeeper. Check her out at: http://litreactor.com/team/kimberly-turner

One problem, which we didn’t expect, related to the cat. The guests knew we had a cat on the premises. Anyone who knows cats, understands how compelling a closed door is, but when there is something behind that door desperation sets in. We didn’t realize how sad she was to be left out of the fun and frantic she was to get through those closed doors. She would body slam them, ultimately falling into the rooms. At this point she would quickly scoot under the bed. The last night, Kimberly and Scott got in at 3 a.m. The next morning Kevin saw their door opening and kitty being pushed out. She must have gotten in the room before they climbed in bed. Uh oh! If it were our kids we’d be embarrassed, but this was a cat. And not even our cat – it’s the cat we are watching for our daughter who lives in Oxford, England.

On Labor Day Monday, prior to the official event, we braved the inclement weather and went to CarolinaFest with 30,000 other folks. It was fun getting caught up in the frenzy, watching celebrities and listening to Jeff Bridges and Baby James. I tried to edge up behind John Oliver and Jason Jones, of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, doing a schtik with a chocolate vendor. John and Jason stuffed bonbons in their mouths until they could no longer talk. I didn’t get into the shot and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, the bit ended up on the film editor’s floor.

This same afternoon, we met up with, Nancy Barrett, a sorority sister of mine. She was in charge of college students learning about the political process through their internships with The Washington Center.  http://www.twc.edu/   It was so interesting hearing about all the parties and events to which they were invited. She was running on empty, following the same schedule as the students – up at 7 a.m. to bed at 2 a.m. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

There was a fellow on the street painting the scene on a canvas in oil. Turned out he is spearheading an effort to bring together 1,000 artists to create art during the inauguration, regardless who is elected. I guess you’d call it an art installation of an art installation. http://www.athousandartists.com/

Unfortunately, for the musicians, vendors and patrons, later in the day the skies opened up and dumped sheets of rain. Nary a dry shoe in the place.

Kristina and Brett told us how nice the care packages were for the volunteers. Included in these package was a water bottle that cleverly rolled flat when not in use. Our pals, Manny and Evelyn Guzman, sold 35,000 of these to the DNC. Small world!

Despite all the hang wringing about transportation and parking we did not heed the traffic warnings. All four days, we drove uptown and found street parking just outside the security perimeter, so only had a short walk to the events. In every photo of me, I’m wearing my sensible shoes. I’m too old to care what anyone thinks of my footwear. Comfort >Discomfort!

The last day, while heading uptown, there was a rainbow low in the sky…meaning there was precipitation somewhere. That must have been a huge relief to those who called off the stadium event.

Kristina, Tom and Brenda’s daughter, had two smart phones. She was on one of them every time we saw her. She was so darned smart!

Kristina met a fellow staffer during the month she was in Charlotte. Brett was in charge of recruiting and organizing the 3,500 volunteers for the Stadium event. After that event was called due to weather, and the night Bill Clinton spoke, Obama made a special appearance at the Arena, surprising everyone. Kristina and Brett got a call to go downstairs to the bowels of the arena. Shortly thereafter, her mother got a text: “I just got a hug from the president.” They got to meet personally with the Obamas, who expressed their appreciation for the work they had done even though their efforts were for naught.

For Brett, it was more than a pin in his balloon when the venue was moved due to inclement weather…it was like a railroad spike in a zeppelin. Some of his volunteers were on buses, heading here from as far away as Arizona. He had to call and advise them to turn around. And to make matters worse, after telling them their services were no longer needed, he was instructed to recall 400 of them. This took place midnight on Wednesday and he had until only 7:00 the next morning for training. This is a job for the young. No doubt about it. Watching them, I could see it is addictive. Had I been younger, I could envision getting swept into the fray.

Learning about what went on inside the campaign, in even a small way, was utterly fascinating. I felt like the proverbial fly on the wall. Again, right place, right time.

The event was full of fun and surprises.

This sand sculpture was supposed to be Obama. Our coastal community of Myrtle Beach sponsored it. Someone had stuck their finger into it. When I went to point that out to the folks I was with, a security guard quickly reprimanded me. Not sure what he would have done had I poked yet another hole in the sandman.

We certainly felt safe everywhere we went. The hundreds of Men in Blue gave us comfort.

The protestors were creative but just kept shouting. You definitely got the idea they were mad at someone, but without visuals it might have been hard to figure out what pissed them off so much.

This was Google’s DNC headquarters. Very cool. Made from shipping containers.

There were dignitaries and famous folks. Since we didn’t go to any parties or hang around outside the arena much, our encounters with celebrities were limited. Recognize this guy?

Here was where it all happened. The first night we walked in through the rain with throngs, wearing our ponchos as instructed. However, many visitors were carrying umbrellas. With so many, I thought, they certainly won’t disallow bumbershoots inside. Wrong! Outside the door was a massive pile of collapsed, wet umbrellas.

From where we sat in the arena, we could see the various networks broadcasting the 6:30 news. A big-haired makeup artist worked hard on Scott Pelley, the CBS News anchor, patting on makeup and smoothing down his hair. We got to see Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw…ok from the back, but we got to see them.

We missed James Taylor in the arena, but got to rock with the Foo Fighters. Who are the Foo Fighters?

The magical speakers, the ones who really got the crowd going, were Deval Patrick (no photo), Jennifer Granholm (photo blurry, darn!), Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, the Obamas and, of course, Slick Willy. Much of it felt like a revival.

The “Most Touching” award would go to Gabby Giffords. I’m not sure any of us realized how disabled she actually is. The girl has guts! “Biggest Surprise” would go to Eva Longoria. She was poised and eloquent. It was amazing that one of the Desperate Housewives could be Obama’s Campaign Co-Chair.

My friends and acquaintances poked fun at me for rearranging our vacation so we could participate. Turns out they were wrong. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world! How could I be so lucky?

I am Mary Struble Deery, and I approve this message.

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