Thursday, July 15, 2004

Flashback: 1996

We knew about it over a year ago, after all. When former Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey quit his single-issue challenge to Bill Clinton it became clear that this year's Democratic convention would be as news-free as the even bigger hardware convention that would proceed it by three weeks.

So why go? The answer can be made in two words. Free Food. Lots and lots and lots of free food.
Oh yeah, I wanted to get into the hall too, just to see the damned thing in real life. So several months ago I sent the requisite forms and copies of articles to Anamarie Torres the head of the convention's press section, but apparently the publication for which I had originally planned to write this for had the wrong color stationary, or so they said, so after initially telling me over the phone that I was getting the passes, thereby inspiring me to shell out two hundred bucks to get non refundable tickets, they sent a 'drop dead" letter, leaving me stuck. " there are so many things you can cover in Chicago BESIDES the convention" One of Ms. Torres' assistants said.

Yeah, sure.

So with revenge in my heart and my press pass in my pocket(as well as a few invites to official functions I was accidentally told about by people I was pawned off on by Ms. Torres or her assistants and applied for) I headed west to the Windy city to eat them out of house and home.
I arrived on the Saturday before the convention, and that night the city and a whole host of corporate sponsors were giving a shindig for the media at the Navy Pier, Chicago's equivalent of Playland. It was called "A Taste of Chicago" which was an understatement if there ever was one.
Taking my brother and sister-in-law in tow, we got in with little trouble and grabbed first drinks offered, white wine and some coke, then came the food., A good selection of the restaurants in the area had set up booths and were handing out free their wares. Every conceivable variety of edible was available, burritos, egg rolls, pizza, you name it, to be washed down with beer or soda. The best was the chocolate mousse in toothpaste tubes. Yummy.
I figure that between the three of us we ate the equivalent of thirty bucks, more than enough to compensate my relations for putting up with me for a week.

But morally that wasn't enough

So the next day I decided to give the people at media credentials one last chance. Anamarie Torres was not the mean old hag I had imagined but was actually very pleasant, unfortunately she was just as unbending as before and so was her boss who lied that he had no extra passes even though I know for a fact that he did, since I know of a couple of people who got them. I got back at these people by going to the media hospitality suite and scarfing down three bananas and a couple of cups of coffee before going to the Sheraton and trying my luck there.
While chomping on my second banana, I snuck into a number of other pass distribution centers and noticed some invitations lying on a number of tables, just there for the taking. As other people were taking them I did too. This and a list of the official parties would be the night's menu.

Veterans were giving out munchies and booze. The Hispanic caucus was inexplicably shelling out Chinese grub, and the Americans for Democratic Action Thai shish kabob. But this was nothing compared with the official receptions given by the lobbyists for the state delegations.
There were forty of them all told and they were serving even better food than the people at the Navy pier did. Fish, steak, chicken, several kinds of pizza, hot dogs, tacos, burritos. even lobsters I was only kicked out of one party for not having the right credentials (DAMN that Anamary Torres!!) But a sixth helping of complementary chili aswayed my anger and by the time I returned to my brother's place I was well and truly stuffed and proud of myself for a job well done.

The convention was from Monday to Thursday and the schedule went something like this: First to the Mariott for morning coffee and some fruit. Then to the Hyatt for brunch and the morning press briefing, in which Senator Christopher Dodd(D-Ct) would be asked repeatedly about why there was such an appalling lack of riots. Following that, there was another brunch and a meeting of the woman's caucus, which had first rate speakers like Hillary Clinton and Al Gore. This of course, meant that it was almost time for lunch, which was at the Palmer House, and also included a speaker or two like Ann Richards or James Carville, who usually followed an opening act by the secretary of something or other.

One thing about these things that was particularly illuminating was the pizza. The people in Chicago make truly great pizza, but they can't slice the damn stuff correctly if their life depended on it. the cheese falls on the plate and all your left with is crust. Some things can only be done right here on the east coast I guess, pity.

After that and the mid-afternoon high tea reception and ordarves, it was time to go to the United center convention hall and revenge!

I didn't have a pass. Not the first day, at any rate. On the second day I got a used one and, after purchasing a pass-holder, carefully covered the date with a used pass that got me into the Sheraton the day before. Surprisingly it worked!

I crashed to hall the second day, and finding that I was too early for anything decent, I went outside to the press tents and discovered what I'd been truly looking for—the six o'clock feeding.
Ameritech, Chicago's equivalent of Nynex, had graciously sponsored a smaller repeat of the fun at the Navy pier of the previous Saturday. All the grub you could grab—gratis.
Ben Watenburg, a PBS pundit was giving a talk at the USIA cubicle, and afterwards I went up to him to tell him I was a fan. Bernard Kalb, now of CNN was there too. While they greeted me with the usual weary "ugh, a fan" pleasantries I mentioned it was almost time for the six o'clock feeding, and the venerable pundits demeanor changed. Their eyes grew wide and their voices resembled that of little boys at Christmas. "Where is it?" they asked. I told them.
Even before this exchange, the word had gotten out. Delegates and convention staff were soon filling up the tent and lining up for crab cakes, chili, barbecued ribs, shish kabob, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, chow mien, taco, burritos tacos, and other delights, to be washed down with Snapple® and beer.
The best part was the cheesecake. Eli's cheesecake is famous all over the Chicago area, and the guy at the booth seemed generally insulted when I mentioned it was only cheesecake. "ONLY cheesecake?!" He cried "Taste it!" Okay, it was better than the usual cheesecake. What was best was the chocolate covered cheesecake on a stick—heaven.
The final night they were checking passes to make sure only the media got in.
I couldn't get back into the hall, but I didn't mind, the press tents were fine enough.

The right-wing Weekly Standard denounced the six o'clock feeding, undoubtedly with their mouths full. Democrats having fun is always offensive to that bunch.
Having finished the democratic feast, I have to go on a republican diet. OOG!


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