When the nice Republican volunteer ladies at the Convention Center saw our RNC issue last week, they told us the stripper illustration in “The Seven People You’ll Meet At The Convention” was “disgusting” (although we think they were more disgusted by the Republican-bashing). We sort of regretted the stripper, too, after every media outlet in the world resorted to lap-dance jokes to characterize our region — where, really, there are other things to do.
But regret is only one of the feelings that get stirred up when you’re hosting, as we were so often reminded, “the biggest party in the history of Tampa Bay.”
Continuing a theme, here’s seven of ’em.
The hype got more hysterical by the day. Fifty thousand visitors were headed our way, not including a predicted 15,000 protesters. Would Tampa meet the challenge? Or would there be a strong likelihood, as CL’s Kate Bradshaw put it, of “getting arrested or teargassed or being proximal to brute force and people who throw poo?” And then came the topper: Hurricane Isaac was veering in our direction, too. (Pundits couldn’t resist talking about “the perfect storm.”) And then there were the purely professional anxieties: Would we be in the right place at the right time when the shit went down? Would our lawyers have to work overtime? And would we get the credentials we needed to get into the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Convention Center, and most importantly, the CNN Grill?
The sheer bigness of it all shouldn’t have been a shock; after all, the enterprise cost an estimated $100 million ($50 million from the feds for security, approximately $55 million raised by the Tampa Host Committee). But the thousands of law enforcement officers in khaki, camo and riot gear; the miles and miles of fencing lining most of downtown’s streets; the scope of the media operation (15,000 credentialed media, and that’s just the ones lining up for free coffee at the Google Lounge); the swarm of conventioneers before and after the sessions at the Forum; even the size of the flat-screens that served as backdrop for the Republican podium (whose wooden tiers got famously compared to a Swedish sauna) — Tampa has hosted four Super Bowls, but this was more mega than anything we had ever seen.
Who are all these people? Between the delegates in cheese-head hats, the giant Ritt Momney puppet, and the constant game of “Isn’t that [fill in name of media star or C-list celebrity] over there?,” we had plenty of opportunity to ponder that question. Oddest celeb-spotting: British lit star Martin Amis, looking small and dyspeptic at the CNN Grill. Favorite protester: The ubiquitous Vermin Supreme, presidential candidate, quote machine, and master of protest as performance art. Most photographed delegates: Georgia’s Oscar and Edna Poole. Must have had something to do with the stars-and-stripes top hat. And the mustard-yellow suits.
Democrats watching this convention at home had the option of screaming at the TV; Democrats trapped inside the Forum could only seethe and wonder at the spectacle of Republican faithful wildly cheering outright lies. (Paul Ryan’s speech alone may have driven some fact-checkers to suicide, as more than one observer quipped.) But outside the arena, there was another kind of anger — the shocked disappointment of businesses who’d believed the pre-convention hype and stocked up on extra food, additional staff and patriotic gewgaws, only to experience one of their worst sales weeks ever. Delegates stayed hermetically sealed inside buses, brunches and the security perimeter; regulars stayed away for fear of traffic snarls (which were minimal); and only some hotels and pre-booked restaurants and clubs saw an uptick. (Hurricane Isaac didn’t help any, of course.) Adding insult to injury, the visiting media didn’t do any visiting, it seemed, reducing Tampa Bay to the same old tired tropes of strippers, sweat and giant insects.
Maybe the security was over the top. But the fact remains that for all of our fears of violent chaos à la St. Paul/Philly/Chicago, we got through the week with only two arrests. Hurricane rumors held the number of protesters down, true, but Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor and her officers kept their promise to treat demonstrators with respect, opting for détente over confrontation — and the demonstrators returned the favor. Jane, you done us proud. (The fact that you’re an out-and-proud lesbian? Well, that makes a lot of us even prouder.)
Two words: Clint Eastwood. And even though The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart was one of the worst offenders when it came to Tampa-bashing, his takedown of Eastwood’s address to an imaginary Obama was absolutely fucking brilliant. For the many Tampa Bay residents politically at odds with the GOP revelers, the live shows by Stewart and crew (and the well-timed gig by Bill Maher two days after the RNC) were positively cathartic.
The fences are gone. The visitors, too. Life is back to normal. Sigh.