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Convention Watch 2

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Convention Watch 2

Saturday greetings, possums, from the Mile High City—Denver, Colorado. At 12:41pm it is 78 degrees, but feels much hotter, and gathering clouds seem to be promising a downpour later today. My flight from Oakland last night was sweet as… we took off just before the sun began to set, and by the time we got over Nevada, Utah, and the Rocky Mountains, the lights of towns sparkled below. Perhaps because when you’re cruising at 38,000 feet over mountains that rise up towards you, the towns seemed not too far below. In fact, the view from the plane reminded me of what I saw on the very first plane ride I ever had, as a seven-year-old, in a DC3 from New Plymouth to Paraparaumu.

As we came in to land, I noticed a huge orange presence low in the sky. It was the almost-harvest moon, looking for all the world like it was peeping out from behind a door, showing just half of its Halloween costume. Red, with streaks of clouds across it, the moon was dressed as Mars, and played peek-a-boo behind the wing spoiler of the plane as we landed. I got in just five minutes too late to catch the shuttle I’d planned on taking, and ended up being driven into Denver with a different shuttle company, my companions three extremely disgruntled United Airlines travelers, who had arrived from San Francisco more than an hour before.

“I spend $1300 a week on plane travel,” said the solar energy consultant among us, “and I’m never sending another dollar United’s way again.” Because of engine problems in San Francisco, he and the two women travelers—one a contract medical coder and the other an auditor—had all missed their connecting flights out of Denver, and there hadn’t been enough room on the shuttle to the hotels all the passengers were being put up in. So they’d stood and waited at the airport for another hour, only to find the hotel shuttle wasn’t coming back.

The two women didn’t know there was a political convention in town—perhaps that really was Mars in the sky, and they’d arrived from there instead! But the shuttle driver sure did, and he wasn’t happy about how things were going so far. “Where are all the people?” he asked, “When will they be arriving?” Conventions aren’t good for small operators like him, he said, because only a few companies have the permit to sit on Island 1 at the airport and have check-in counters inside the terminal. And that’s Super Shuttle, which is a nationwide operation.

“The big companies bring in limos and buses and vans from all over the country so we get shut out of the overflow business you might expect with all the extra people in town. You want to know about Denver?” he asks. “Denver is crap.” I’m not sure I’ve heard him right. I didn’t. “Denver is CORRUPT,” he says, “Nobody can get those permits because once you’ve applied and been approved, they still have to signed by the mayor or the governor and they refuse to sign them.” I think of how he and the other independent shuttle van drivers looked, standing over on Island 2 while a long line formed on Island 1 waiting for the permitted vans—like badly treated servants waiting for a crumb to fall from the master’s table and forced to watch as their rival company gorges on privilege.

Speaking of gorging, the first order of the day this morning was to have breakfast. Denver Breakfast Sandwiches are famous all over the country for their heartiness, so the chance to have the real thing, sans the bread wrapping, had me heading for Mama’s Café, a 24-hour diner. It’s across the street from Pete’s Kitchen, another 24-hour diner that is next to the happily named Satire Lounge but already has a line forming outside by 9:30 in the morning. I’m more than happy with Mama’s fare and service, however, and intrigued by the elderly gentleman seated at the next table who is wearing an eagle-and-flag emblazoned baseball cap and also sports a button that says “Bald heads are solar panels for a sex machine”. Hiding his light under a bushel, perhaps?

I take the bus into town and take a stroll around the vicinity of where all the official events will be happening. There aren’t many people about, considering that some estimates of visitors run as high as 60,000 for convention week, and the many purveyors of Obama ’08 T-shirts and other convention regalia seem to be having a slow time of it. Besides the lamppost banners, the only building decorated in a style I associate with nominating conventions is an old unoccupied building on the 16th Street Mall in the tourist area of Lower Downtown.

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Tonight there will be a DNCC-sponsored party for media—15,000 are expected to come to Denver, which is 3 times the number of actual conference attendees. And the anti-war movement will be holding a press conference this evening about tomorrow’s march and related actions. Judging by these newsclips from the local CBS affiliate earlier in the month, there’s a fear that this shindig will turn into Chicago ’68 all over again. For a refresher course on what happened back then, you should take a look at this 1996 NewsHour piece.



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