Politics Lite: Inside the Xcel

After popping into PetSmart for a new dog tag and Home Depot for some new levelers, I head right next door to the Doubletree Park Place in St. Louis Park. How convenient! My plan is to catch a ride to the Xcel Energy Center with whatever delegation happens to be staying there. It turns out to be the Georgians, and they’ve taken to referring to their quarters as "The Georgia Hotel." I like their sense of claimstaking.

A friendly man in a neon vest asks where I’m looking to go. Thinking I’m busted, despite my legitimate credentials and earlier phone inquiries, I play it cool but slightly miffed. I’ve already had to change my outfit in the parking lot after realizing how underdressed I was. Grateful for the bag of preppy teacher clothes waiting to be dropped off for donation, I throw a sweater over my polo shirt (instant fancy!) and change out of my summer sandals. These Georgians aren’t messing around: high-high heels, slinky dresses, snazzy sportcoats with zippers on the pockets.

Now comfortably playing the role of dowdy journalist, I engage the friendly fellow in neon, who appears to be running the show. He turns out to be the brother of Debbie Woodward, the woman who turned around the Northrup King Building which houses our office. Well acquainted with The Rake, he takes a shine to me and lets me in on how things with the visiting delegates are going. "They’re dumb," he emphatically spits out. "I’m sorry?" I think I must have misheard him. "They’re just dumb," he repeats. "Did you grow up here? Be thankful you got a DFL education." He doesn’t utter these remarks in a mean-spirited way, rather he’s just surprised at how logistically difficult they’ve been to coordinate. I tell him something non-committal like, That’s always the way with big groups.

A genuinely fancy lady approaches and asks about getting on the shuttle. She doesn’t have her credentials, but assures us both they’re simply awaiting her pick-up at the Xcel. "You oughtta work for The Rake," he points at me. "They get their folks full credentials." "I work for myself," she replies, and thanks us for our help.

I hop on the trolley destined for Brit’s in Minneapolis. AT&T is hosting a party there for the Georgians and I’ll try to get in. On the way one of the cuter delegates talks about having eaten a cookie today. For about ten minutes she laughs about this. I am happy to see the out-of-towners making the most of our fair cities. We tour past the Sculpture Gardens, Walker Art Center and Loring Park. I take in the sights and make believe I’m viewing them with out-of-town eyes. I’m impressed by the city’s history as our trolley driver tries to be heard over the cookie laughs.

As you may have guessed, I am not allowed into the private Brit’s party, not being from Georgia and not being a delegate. I walk a block and catch one of the fleet of tour busses headed to St. Paul. Upon crossing the river, one rider announces loudly, "Uh oh! We’re going over a bridge!" It is apparent he is looking for laughs, but the joke doesn’t land.

To get into the Xcel I have to walk through the "FOX Experience." What you "experience" is an onslaught of Hannity and Colmes close-ups and volunteers thrusting geeky hats at you.

Inside I immediately take in the prevalence of these geeky hats and other kitschy wears. Blinky lapel pins, red-white-and-blue everything, cowboy hats galore. Is democracy supposed to be this tacky? Is this why we alternately hate/ envy the French? Would they be caught dead in any of this garb?

One woman in the Florida delegation catches my eye. She’s wearing a gold silk kimono-type dress with exaggerated sleeves. She’s wearing gold stilettos, big gold hoop earrings. She’s primed for Myth Nightclub. I like how she shakes her assets in time with the elevator jazz tunes blaring over the speakers. I also like the guy up high in the NBC skybox/ makeshift studio. He’s up against the glass, butt to the entire convention, shaking just like the Florida gal. I can’t tell if he’s sincerely getting down, or if he’s mocking the whole show. Whatever the motivation, he doesn’t stop for nearly ten minutes.

In keeping with my recent State Fair binge eating, I stop by the concessions area. Two women walk by me, "They got the food thing open today!" "Well somebody got a brain!" Yes, brain indeed. The concessionaires can’t slop condiments on fast enough. They’re almost out of sweet tea. Two bratty kids wearing Dorothy red slippers cry out, "Just bread and meat! Bread and meat!" They are unimpressed with the array of cheeseburger toppings. Not surprisingly, the line for vegetarian wraps and chef salads is non-existent. These are red meat eating delegates.

I feel like I’m in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Everyone’s potentially suspicious: that woman in the spotless chef’s jacket; that "priest." Two very serious men walk by, one holding some kind of device, the other holding an appendage of the device. I figure it’s a bomb-sniffing metal-detector of sorts. The guy holding the device keeps looking at the dials saying, "louder, louder," as they creep slowly past.

The speakers:

Jo Ann Davidson, co-chair of the RNC, keeps pronouncing it "NAY-tional, NAY-tional." I’m unsure what that accent is, but it also leads her to proclaim the VP nominee’s name as "Sarah Paw-linty."

Norm Coleman amps his East Coast tenor with several sprinkles of "haaaaahd" work, and other such classic JFK-isms. He tries a joke with the punchline of, "I’m not indecisive, am I? That coulda been an Obama campaign slogan!" The reporter beside me leans in and points out, "He used to be a Democrat, you know? Talk about indecisive."

Rake favorite Michele Bachman takes the stage and makes Minnesotans look like a pack of idiots. "It’s not just a saying," her crazy-eyes open wider than could be healthy. "We really ARE nice here. We’re FRIENDLY, HAPPY PEOPLE! And we do have a lot of liberals in Minnesota, but they’re HAPPY liberals." How many times she repeats the words "happy" and "nice," she sounds like a foreign language learner who stopped trying after chapter one.

Big cheers all around with any mention or jumbo-tron photo montage of Lincoln, Babs, Reagan, the usual. Babs and George Sr. do show up about halfway through the night, almost too much of a surprise for the giddy delegates to handle.

Current President George W. Bush is introduced by his wife (in person) and speaks to the convention (via satellite). It’s only slightly awkward when he’s unsure how long to wait for laughs after cracking a joke. (Laura’s wearing a spicier outfit tonight, possibly in response to Cindy McCain’s hot number the night before. And it’s cute how she says the word "muh-skituh" when mentioning the pesky insect.) The scary stay-the-course steadfastness makes an appearance in Bush’s remarks when he proclaims, "To protect America we must stay on the OFFENSIVE."

Miles McPherson, former San Diego Charger, current pastor, underscores that "Character is doing what’s right even when nobody’s looking." This was one of our core Army Values when I was in, although we used his phrasing as the definition for "integrity." There’s a lot of riling up the troops here that’s reminding me of past Army leaders’ attempts at the same.

Each speaker is framed by bucolic, digitized, small-town backdrops. Sometimes they morph into wheat fields. Sometimes they’re stars and stripes. Always they are undeniably iconic Americana. And so is Miss Florida. And the brat kids wanting a plain burger. And even Norm Coleman’s gigantic teeth.

I head back to the busses forgoing the media open bar. I’ve imbibed enough spirit here
to keep me tipsy for a good long while.






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