I called for a taxi. I feel like this is an important part of this story. It was 8:15 on Monday morning and I had to be at the convention center for a 9:45 AM segment for KPIX CBS 5. My hotel is 15 or 20 minutes away from the bulging perimeter of the Mother Ship. Big hair? Check. Sensible shoes? Check. Rolling bag of gadgets? Check.
Instead of a taxi, a shuttle pulled up. A van full of journalists driven by a nice local woman who regarded Tampa as “the big city.”
As we started off toward the center, she asked if anyone was in a hurry. I am, I told her. I need to be at the door by 9 AM. She shook her head understandingly, but perhaps the fact that we had each paid a flat rate removed any incentive for her to drive more than 15 miles per hour. I was running a bit late but she was nice and kept referring to Tampa as “the big city” so I didn’t complain.
She dropped us off at a grocery store in the middle of a suburb and told us to walk over the highway to get to the entrance. I walked in my sensible shoes, hair trying to hold on, and dragging my electronics bag up a quarter mile up the concrete ramp. As with every entrance to the center, there was a handful of National Guardsmen.
“I bet you want to get to the convention,” one of them said.
For a brief moment shrinking the military budget seemed like a very, very good idea.
“Well, you’ll have to go around there and two blocks down,” Sergeant Smart-Alec said and pointed back down the ramp toward a residential street.
Back down I went and took the right turn to find a cluster of houses with a large white building behind them. It was a local NBC affiliate. I walked around the building hoping to even see the convention center so I could get my bearings. In the back were two men smoking, so I asked how to get to the convention center.
“It’s over that bridge,” one pointed to the distance. “You’re three or four miles away.”
At this point, it was 9:18 AM and I called my producer. I’m not too proud to admit that tears were welling up in my eyes as I sputtered, “I got dropped off at a dang supermarket and now I’m totally lost! I don’t know what to do.” Just keep us posted, the producer said.
When I hung up, one of the NBC employees had found me a ride into Fort Romney. “I’ve been on assignment and found myself in some strange situations,” he said. “We gotta look out for each other.” I hugged him tightly and jumped into a white van with three employees of a local paper.
Sweaty and nervous, I texted my producer. “Found a ride. I’m going in!”
After two checkpoints where we all had to show credentials, there was a third where we all had to get out of the van and let it be searched. Tick, tick, tick, was all I could think as four security guards and a dog checked the van for (presumably) drugs, bombs and Ron Paul supporters.
When we finally got to the entrance of the convention center and I had to jump out, it was raining and windy and I looked like a feral cat. It was 9:40. I got in line for security behind a calm, happy and familiar group of people. The journalists I had been with in the van. I didn’t ask.
I made the shoot, bedraggled but present, and went to the forum.
See, the convention center is where all the media is housed but the patriotic political animal habitat that you see on television is across the street at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. To get there, you have to go through a square canal of white fabric that gives the impression one is being sterilized before entering a sensitive environment.
I found my little spot of real estate between the Schenectady Daily Gazette and the Bradenton Times (I am not making this us up) and tried to log on to the internet. It wasn’t working, so I called facilities services, which sent me to the Bright House technical support group, which is the service provider. While I waited for two and a half hours for assistance, two delegates from Massachusetts came by and I offered to take their picture. I pulled out my (now well-traveled) tripod and got a great shot. We chatted for awhile and finally representatives from Bright House showed up to tell me that I didn’t have an account but the sales department was separate so they couldn’t help with that.
I mustered the calm to thank the “helpful” technicians and called the sales department. While I was talking with them, a woman interrupted me to tell me I couldn’t film in the forum from the press section. No problem, I figured. I’m not filming. There wasn’t even a camera on the tripod anymore. I went back to my call.
She interrupted me two more times to tell me to remove the tripod.
I lost it.
I put my finger right up to her face and said, “I am not filming!!”
“But you have to put down the tripod,” she demanded.
“Because we don’t allow them in the press section.”
“Because we don’t.”
I was officially arguing with my mother over a piece of equipment I wasn’t even using. I slammed the tripod on the floor, but after hearing her hissing to other people about that woman from the San Francisco Examiner, decided to leave.
I went back through the gadflygestive tract over to the convention center and continued my quest to get on the Internet. Finally I had made all the arrangements and just needed to pay.
“One thousand, four hundred …” I confess that I didn’t hear anything after that.
It was now 3 PM and I was expecting to meet and interview the Vice President of the company providing security software for the convention.
My phone beeped with a text from him. He couldn’t get past security to get in.
I took a deep breath. And then another. And then several more.
All dignity gone, I left Area 51 and met him at a restaurant where we did the interview and waited for a break in the weather. It was 7 PM when I got back to the hotel. Without Internet access, I hadn’t been able to research all day. I quickly dove finalized my column and sent it in.
Finally able to relax, I watched the news and then checked the video of the interview I did at the restaurant with the security executive.
There was no sound.
Hurricanes are frightening and dangerous and I hope everyone in the gulf is safe. But whatever the reason, I was grateful that Monday’s proceedings were cancelled. Tomorrow the convention really begins. And I could really use a “do over.”