Let other writers complain about how boring the Republican National Convention is this year; I, for one, am thrilled to be in Tampa. Every four years athletes get the Olympics and nerds get political conventions.
On Sunday, I actually overheard a man bragging, “I’ve been the head parliamentarian of my delegation for eight years.” These are my people.
And because I was born and raised in Georgia, I feel particularly at home in a place where the media “schwag bag” you get from the Tampa Bay Host Committee contains a beer cozy. In case you accidentally left yours at home, it also contains sunglasses and a copy of the US Constitution. Then there are the University of Tampa brochures, as if to say, “covering this convention is going to cause you to seriously re-think your life choices.”
Not me, no sir. On Sunday, I skipped out of the media check-in and across the street to find a shuttle to the center.
It was there that I first saw the troops. Six national guardsmen on one corner viewing with suspicion nine “Code Pink” protesters chanting, “GOP hear our voice, it’s our bodies, it’s our choice!” to no one in particular. These were the only protesters I saw that day.
Despite the seeming lack of opposition, as I got closer to the convention center the paramilitary presence grew, as did the sheer variety of uniformed security. In addition to the national guardsmen, there were secret service members and police and sheriffs from various localities. I half expected to turn the corner and find an entrance guarded by a Boy Scout Troop or a platoon of UPS guys.
For a generous perimeter around the center, roads are closed to traffic so one has to walk several blocks through a labyrinth of fenced tunnels to get to the Great Alabaster Temple of Air Conditioning. And with the hurricane approaching, officials removed only the covering from frames that are supposed to be tents, leaving large aimless iron spiders at every turn. As I made my way, sweaty and disoriented, my only source amusement was watching young interns determinedly teetering along the course in high heels. Even dystopia can be funny.
Finally after at least three checkpoints, I got to the convention center where my bags were x-rayed and searched while a police dog paced nearby.
All of this in stark contrast to the inside of center, with its calm pastel color scheme right out of a Golden Girls episode. I felt like I had gotten all the way into the Green Zone and found a retirement home. Everyone was friendly and helpful, even the secret service agent I pestered with questions like, “who here looks dicey?” (sadly, “no one yet”) and the concession stand employee who showed me neat iPhone tricks.
I’m glad to be here early so I know what to expect and I can’t entirely blame the city for taking such extraordinary precautions to get into the center. This party will cost $55 million dollars and host billionaires, millionaires and fancy affairs. It is a Green Zone in more ways than one. Beer cozys and all.