Twenty hours awake at the DNC: July 28th

Election 2004 | Access/Network
writing that blogs are most associated with. The stage was set: I was sitting in the bloggers section (320) at the FleetCenter. There was a laptop in front of me (Laura Rozen’s, who got claustrophobic and left to take a break downstairs) To my left was Aldon Hynes, who had invited me to blog for GreaterDemocracy.

I wrote a paragraph. and then another. And then a mild tragedy struck– a black-badged convention staffer stopped by to collect saying that Laura was having an asthma attack downstairs, and she wanted her computer bash. So, I sheepishly explained that I had to “wrap up my blog”, and emailed it over to Aldon, to perhaps finish later in the evening from his computer, but I never did.

So while I didn’t blog at all, my Dad started his own that evening. I tried to convince him that he could an “online essayist,” but he’s happy with the term. He discovered BlogHarbor, and created a site RJGPublicThoughts. Which is great, because my Dad is one of the most prolific writer of all media– from postcards to letters to travelogues– of Westchester County, NY, that is, until a new fellow moved in up in Chappaqua and began writing. The next step, of sending long emails to friends and family, is to blog.

As for me, I thought I’d one-up the blog format. The common blog is a string of write about each moment throughout the day. I thought I’d just write it down all in one, somewhat narrative piece. It’s 5,000 words. Sit comfortably.


Having stayed away from the convention the previous night, I was able to rise at about 6:40am. According to my volunteer schedule I was supposed to downtown and ready to drive ten minutes earlier, but I had learned on Monday that the expectations to show up on time were merely strong suggestions, like traffic signs on Boston roads. On Monday I had impatiently waited on my conventional credentials from Kerry HQ at 60 Canal St., only to learn that I wasn’t in absolute demand at noon. This day I wasn’t absolutely in demand at 6:45 either. I called the Transportation Desk to check-in; they told me to get in when I could. I told them 45 minutes. This calculation had assumed that I would bike in, as I had the previously few days. The weather report had forecast rain for the whole day, so I figured I’d on the dry side and take the “T” in.

I was amongst the hundreds volunteering with the Kerry/Edwards campaign; there were 14,000 volunteers for the “Boston ’04” convention committee who were more visible in their white polo shirts throughout the city (many more visible than my sister’s assignment: manning the Charlestown Navy Yard on Saturday afternoon). You may not have read much about us. One reason was that we were working long hours and didn’t have much time to scribe. Additionally, many of the Kerry/Edwards volunteers had signed confidentiality waivers regarding the campaign work. I didn’t, as nobody explicitly asked me to, and I didn’t think I would keep up to the agreement. That’s not to say I was ready to spill the beans (see my piece on The Journalactivist’s Concerns). I had a little inside information, but not all that much: a couple of fellow-drivers I knew chauffeured around some high-profile personnel, who are often described in the press as a “senior Kerry speechwriter” and a “senior Kerry daughter.” As for my passengers, they are strictly confidential.

My experience on Monday taught me that most of what you do as a driver is sit and wait. So I picked up the Boston Globe at Summit Ave., and read it on the streetcar ride in. Normally when I commute in the fall and winter I read a magazine or a book, so it’s now a treasure to read the Globe and the whole Globe. Other people read the free Metro, which, if I’m not mistaken, is compiled by three guys with scissors and tape at about 5am. The Metro resembles a newspaper in much the way a cardboard box does a TV, but it’s a way for people to avoid eye contact on the train.

I arrived at the Boylston T. at about 7:45 and walked town Tremont to our “Motor Pool”, the open-air lot adjoining Stuart Street (which my Arrow “Big Dig” map identifies as “Loew’s Hotel Site”). Gary, the burly gentleman running the show that morning, emerged from under some canvas over the tailgate of a minivan, and had me sign in. He gave me a key to a van and a Motorola radio, and suggested that the van might a comfortable place to sit. So I sat, reading my Globe, catching up on whether there was any news in the world. Finding none, I turned on WBUR, and caught up on the news about the bus bombing in Baghdad. A bad day for drivers around the world. Luckily, a familiar face came buy the lot to cheer me up: neighbor, and fellow board-member at my synagogue Shu Kahn. Actually, cheering me up was secondary to her reporting to duty. We walked over to the State Transportation Building across the street so she could pick up some coffee, and so I could toss away the Globe and pick up the Times. I remembered but one story from that paper, another one vaguely about transportation, the brisk business of travelers leaving Iraq to visit Damascus.

Finally, one assignment came in; not quite the road to Damascus, but somewhere seemingly as far from the Hub. Gary asked, did I know how to drive to Springfield? Sure, just keep going West on the Pike, I hemmed and hawed. It was still 9am, so a trip across Massachusetts and back wouldn’t ruin my whole day. (It’s 82 miles to Springfield, roughly the distance from Baghdad to Najaf, I learn now; Damascus is 465 miles, which is as far as Pittsburgh is from Boston, which was important information for the first World Series in 1903.) The distance really didn’t trouble me at all; I had gone out to Worcester previous weekend, which is most of the way there Good fortune struck: somebody else got the gig, and Gary took for breakfast. Maybe around 10am an assignment came by into my lap. One of the dedicated drivers needed to get to the new Ritz to help our a senior aide needed to just polish up a PowerPoint presentation. “You can sit at the curb; I’ll show you where. It won’t take more than twenty minutes.” I’m not sure the doorman at the Ritz would believe this line. But I had a few more sections of the Times to read, so I went, and sat at the curb on Avery Street in my Ford Taurus amidst the Town Cars.

After about forty minutes, a suit came by and needed to get to the Four Seasons, so he asked me who was it I was waiting for? The VIP’s name I had forgotten, though it reminded me of some Irish tavern. By contrast, the campaign volunteer had the name of a falafel restaurant on Harvard Street, which I gave the man. The name, not the falafel. Nope. The suit figured that it was a nice day– mild and no rain yet– and he could just walk across the Common to get there.

Not too much longer after that, the doorman stopped by to say hello, how much longer you gonna here, my falafel-and-corned beef tandem finally appeared. Naturally, where they were going, to a foreign policy briefing, they would not identified as course ethnic stereotypes, but I played the part of the naive taxi driver. I dropped them off at the Park Plaza, and weaved back to the motor pool to return to my regular vehicle, the 12-passenger van. The van’s a much better ride, in my book. My fear that I would dissing the public transportation system by operating an internal combustion vehicle was quickly allayed once I realized I could cut in front of taxi sedans at will. I wanted to take on an SUV as well, but I think they all left town to go to the Cape. Hey– at 12 passengers– I am public transportation, I thought. I was carrying more riders than the CT2 bus does on a rush-hour jaunt from Kendall Square to St. Mary’s.

So in the van I went back to the Park Plaza to pick up a handful of New Yorkers, probably my age, talking amongst themselves to get to the Sheraton, a six-block walk. Columbus Ave. and its side streets are still a bit of terra incognito to me– after Arlington and Berkeley you get to Massachusetts cities & towns, and West Newton is what gets you back to the Sheraton. I didn’t have much time to chat beyond telling them I was from New York, welcome to Boston, I like it here very much, thank you. Columbus had a few obstacles like a lumbering garbage truck in front of me, so I kept my eyes on the road. I dropped off my passengersm, and reverted to my super-macho CB talk like “I just checked out of the Sheraton. Any other nice places to visit downtown today?”


It was close to noon, so Gary radioed back that there were plenty of drivers to take the next shift. I returned my van and radio and then walked back to the Park Plaza, My Kerry Volunteer pass got me upstairs. I was still missing one enviable piece of neckwear– a US Secret Service-issued photo ID. I hadn’t needed it yet, but I didn’t want to go home without it. I don’t think it would get me out of traffic tickets, but it might get me into some more parties.

Newly identified, I thought I’d stand around and take in the air of self-importance, and see if anyone needed a hand. Saturday I did this and ended up helping a delivery from Cort furniture rental. Sunday I did this and ended up doing a driving job that took two hours. Better not to volunteer, perhaps. Today the Park Plaza was absolutely congested with volunteers, it’s like people materialized out of my imagination to show up and help. My college classmate Vanessa, who I thought was holed up at Harvard working on her PoliSci dissertation, zipped by. I then thought I’d give a call to Zack Exley, the campaign’s director of Internet organizing, to see if he could use some help at that very moment. Apparently that was precisely what he needed– a girl answered his phone and remarked that she was at the Westin, and desperately trying to find him, to return his phone. Another volunteer located Zack for me, and he didn’t seem to notice that his phone was missing since he still had his Blackberry. That solved, we said we’d try catch up again in cyberspace.

I went downstairs to see if I could catch a shuttle. Two of the greeters, Danny and Yume were there and promised to flag a shuttle for me. Danny had a look at my badge, and realized that I was the same person who’d got him housing with my neighbor for the week! He was the son of a friend of a friend of my mother’s, a teenager in New York who came up to help. If that doesn’t say dedication, then 30 hours of greeting people at Logan sure does. I told them to cancel the van, and see how well the T was running against out route. I rode along with a radio host from Seattle, and at Park St. met the wife of Kerry’s crewmate Del Sandusky, sitting in front of me.

It took me twenty minutes to get to 60 Canal Street, the ordinary Boston headquarters for the Kerry campaign, in the blocked-off zone adjacent to the FleetCenter. They had my “Special Guest” Convention credentials for the evening. I was now glad I had left the bike at home, since I hadn’t done too much walking around town over the week. I walked back to Haymarket, which is one of those places where you realize you’re walking distance from everywhere. Behind you is the Fleet Center, to the left the Freedom Trail takes you over the Big Dig and through to the North End; straight ahead, the Freedom Trail leads you through the 6 glass towers of the New England Holocaust Memorial, and then on to Faneuil Hall (surrounded, as it was, by some metal grated barriers which would appear to protect the national historic site from a speeding car, or, for that matter, Olympian hurdlers). Behind which is Quincy Market, where you can get some really good food court food (such as a carved turkey sandwich that I got), or sit down at a decent touristy restaurant (as I advised some media crew to do). Quincy Market is not to far from the Financial District, where I found the Langham Hotel which was holding a pass for Avalon that my sister asked me to pick up. Then for fun I thought I’d the one customer to stop by the headquarters of the Fleet Financial Corp., and have my bank card replaced. It had failed in the FleetCenter the previous day, postponing my purchase of political paraphernalia. That must the ultimate insult, but the Bank of America will get the last laugh once it begins the process of gobbling up the Fleet brand next month.

All this moseying around downtown Boston cost me some precious time after I picked up a National Journal to see what in the heck was going on this afternoon. It was past 2pm, and I had missed the “Building a Vast Left Wing Conspiracy” meeting at the midtown Copley. At the time I hadn’t cared much to see the speakers, reformed conservative David Brock, or unsuspecting campaign technology evangelist Joe Trippi. But I thought I could catch up in the networking department.

So I beat it down Franklin St. towards the Park St. T station, taking my chance with the mid-day T once again. I caught the train to Copley, and then zipped past the library on the way the labyrinthine skyways and mallways leading from the Westin to the Marriott, where I took an escalator or two up to suite H-K. And there it was nice to see familiar faces for once, so familiar that I can see them anywhere around Boston: Jorge Miranda of 2020 Democrats; Danielle Safran, who I’ve synched up with at a number of campaign events through the spring; a few other people who recognized me from DL21C events. Finding Danielle’s stack of cards, I eyed I name that must pronounced in the proper jazz-DJ baritones whenever you encounter it …”Baratunde”… and the young man (well, a year or two younger than I) to my right perked up.

“I’ve been waiting all week to say this,” I said, turning toward him. “I remember you from the last startup.” I had been involved in my one and only one startup here in Boston, envisioned by a Harvard Law student, Gene Koo. Gene had found an old web study I had written on annotation software, and decided that I was just the type of talent he needed for his CoWisdom effort. It didn’t faze me that in the summer of 2000 that a bright guy like Gene would depart from his law studies for a bit; what astounded me a bit was some Harvard under grads a few years behind him who were starting a technology incubator— the type of group that funds and nurtures technology startups. Baratunde Thurston was in that group. I never did commit to CoWisdom (just hosted it on this server), and stuck with my day job. Baratunde, in the intervening years has become he has a new book and a comedy career. I also met Josh Koenig of Music For America, and we had the most productive discussion about our vision for Drupal and CivicSpace and all sorts of wonderful online projects which are beyond blogs.

Around 3:45, the room was more empty than not, so I heeled it back to the Copley T, to catch the Green Line home to change. I needed to recharge my Nokia 8295 as well. While the AT&T store in Coolidge Corner was beckoning delegates to “Replace your batteries here!”, my Verizon wireless reseller was not as helpful.

I thought I’d dress up for once, departing from the ultra-casual look I carried all week. I had worn the standard midnight blue Claiborne suit on Sunday to the Jewish party, why not my more casual battleship grey? But the grey wouldn’t go with the corny Liberty Bell tie. Ok, the grey-and-silver tie. On TV I heard Congresswoman Nita Lower on C-SPAN; my parents still live in her district so I gave my Dad a call and told him to tune her in. Lowey is on her way to sailing towards her ninth congressional term, and three minutes at the convention was her reward. Then some more important phone calls– to coordinate plans with my non-convention-going friends who were trying to meet up that evening. There was a Massachusetts delegation party from 8-12, and then an NJDC party till 2. I thought, for some reason, that I could at least show up at the Mass. party at the Children’s museum “early” (say, 8 o’clock), and then return to the convention, then hit the other… eventually I just told Elizabeth to hang out with Alex. And I called Alex to make sure he was in town. He was,

Then the last piece of wardrobe, a red umbrella. No, it hadn’t rained. Yes, I was going to need this suit dry-cleaned anyways.

Back to the T, where I met Mark, a fellow I know from Brookline whom I hadn’t seen in a while. He was on his way back to the convention. Once again, we wondered why the C-trains were turning around in government center instead of going the extra stop to Haymarket. We got there about 7pm, and for once I had a quick trip through security, lacking a bag, a bike helmet, even a camera. The security made sure that I would lack an umbrella as well. I tucked a little business card in the umbrella in case someone happened to walk away with it.


I knew the FleetCenter quite well by now, having been in Monday night and for Tuesday afternoon. I knew, for example, that it’s just quicker to go up the stairs than to try to find out where the single “up” escalator was to get from the main level (4th floor) to the balcony (7th floor).

Once in the FleetCenter, I met my Mom’s boss, Kim Davis, who had come up from NY. Kim’s a big donor, and is a member of the Council of Financial Relations as well, so it was nice to at the same level of seating with him. He’d already eaten, so I bought some chicken fingers, fries and a Coke for $10– somebody had to pay for this event, after all. The soda came in a “souvenir cup”, which were leftovers from the Bruins season (no one had thought to print a DNC logo on them). I gave my old Brookline friend Julie Goldberg a call, who had nicely saved a seat in the front of section 321. When I sat down, she explained that the seat hadn’t expressly been saved for anyone in particular, but I might as well take it to fend off future seat-seekers. She had a good view. We sat through some more minor speakers. But this being my very last night, I wanted to get to the floor. Somehow. While Dan Rather may have been bored of having done that for the 24 previous conventions, I was not.

To get down to the floor, I had to go up, back up to the bloggerville in 320. I had gotten friendly with a number of bloggers over the last two days. This despite my regular assertions that my website was not a blog. I saw Laura, and she suggested a very quick and easy way to get to the convention floor. So I did that without much trouble, and came back upstairs to attempt to blog it. Returning my seat I saw Laura leaving to get some air, and I eventually used her computer. What follows is actual, unedited, live, as-I-was-there blogging. Be careful of turgid prose, inconsistent tenses, and complete non-sequitors,

I feel like John Kerry when he gets strums along on guitar at campaign events– going through the motions, trying to look cool on stage. My stage is the blogger platform right now, using Laura’s computer, because she was getting verklempt up here. I called my parents to report in and found out that my dad has now become a blogger: he realized that long emails can live for posterity on weblogs. Well, stream-of-consciousness is a good exercise for me.

Blogging is the future of politics, according to the all the media attention up here. Why, just now, a contingent of the Yanomamo from the Amazon just came up here to find out what blogging was about. I thought I’d make some space and actually bring the message of blogs to the floor, where there appears to very little room for computer screens. Some of the blogger-delegates actually come up here to write. I switched my green tag with a red tag from Becky of Oregon and hit the floor. Or actually, hit the people on the floor. It’s crowded as the green line down there, and just as pleasant. I found the Massachusetts delegation, and magically found some fellow Brooklinites, who steered me to Steve Grossman. I went to Princeton with Steve’s son, for which I remember his unforgettable performance as Big Julie in “Guys & Dolls” (which performance of that character isn’t?) I told Steve of my somewhat less-memorable performance in fundraising. He was thrilled to hear of it. I took a picture with Julie’s camera; Julie is sitting over in section 321 to our left; Julie is my friend through Kindra in Brookline; Julie met Aldon in the Dean campaign; Aldon is sitting to my left and had previously been nudging me to begin blogging.

PArt of the reason it had been so jam-packed on the floor was that it was for the speeches of Elijah Cummings and Al Sharpton. These were powerful– so said my Mom via text message– though I will point out that the crowd was not as enraptured as they were for Clinton the other night, or Edwards I expect. It’s like watching a baseball game in here; no one hushes up until the ninth inning when the game is on the line.

We have American flags at attention in the softdrink cups here; they were handed out to wave during the John Mellancamp rendition of “Small Town” which got the place shaking. We’re now back in the doldrums of the G-speakers: wh

And thus I was cutoff when I learned that Laura needed her computer back. The “G” speakers I had referred to were Graham, Grenholm, Gephardt, (who had spoken the previous night), Garfunkel (who has gone way over his time in this essay). Incidentally, I had been making my way around the floor for perhaps the most electrifying trifecta of non-prime-time speakers: Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; Steve Brozak, whose traits as ex-Marine but a ex-Republican won multiple whoops and hollers from the crowd; and then Al Sharpton, who needs no introduction and perhaps benefits from that sometimes. While walking around downstairs, and more precisely, waiting for Steve Grossman to have a moment, I took one look up, and around, and thought, my God is this cool, but for all my self-absorbed coolness somebody must yelling at me to sit down and I can’t hear them at all.

Back in bloggerville, I didn’t start work on the laptop just yet. It was needed as a convenient prop for someone to type on while being interviewed German television. (none of the interviews cared to spend more than a microsecond with the fellow with the not a blog hat on). As with Monday night, there were a number of ordinary citizens seated among the bloggers. I figured that I could offset my kibitzing amongst the bloggers by sparing them the consternation of having to explain blogging to the normal folks who just happened upon those seats and wondering what the laptops were all about.

By 10pm the Edwards family trotted out to introduce their dad, and then dad spoke. Whereas on Monday night Bill Clinton came out an connected to us like an old friend, John Edwards was still somewhat a lawyer addressing an unfamiliar jury. But I’m not sure how much it mattered that he couldn’t pace his speech around the applause as Clinton had; when I watched the speech later on TV, it sounded like he was very confidently talking above the crowd hollers. I was one of those standing up and hollering “hoooooooooooooooooooooo!” at applause points during the speech, to the point that some of the bloggers turned around to stare at me. For all of their famed partisanship, the bloggers were relatively tame during Edwards’s speech. It’s tough to stand up with a laptop on your lap. Also, we had the speeches. All of ’em. Which sort of cut out the surprise. I was ready to chime in the chorus on the first “hope is on the way!” but it didn’t seem like the section was.

Meanwhile, I had coordinated with my friends on the outside world, they were at the Young Professionals for Kerry party at the West Street Grill. I thought I’d head over to the Massachusetts Delegation Party at the Children’s museum, since that was the first invitation. Some of the bloggers invited me to the blogger bash, which might have been fun (here are somebody else’s pictures). But I’m not a blogger.

I walked out with David Weinberger and woman with a mohawk, who I recognized from her publicity photo: Rebecca Blood, author of the “Weblogger’s Handbook”. I told Rebecca that I’d quoted her about blogs eventually being one part of community web sites, and she said, “Yup, blogs are just the first step.” I pointed them towards the Charlestown bridge, to put them on the path towards City Square in Charlestown.


Returning to the security tent I discovered that my umbrella, alas, decided to go home with someone else, and still hasn’t called in a week. So that left me free for the evening. I hopped a bus to the harbor hotels; where I teased out the merits of Clinton v. Edwards. “No comparison; different type of speech!” offered a Virginia Delegate. Walked over to the Children’s museum. My name was not on the guest list, but my neckwear of convention credential and DNC Staff ID were good enough. I got a new “Sam Adams” necktag, for no reason. I met the Boston campaign staff, as well as some of the Democratic organizers. What’s great about political parties, perhaps, is that people really do want to meet and know you; they can use you someday.

And then I found a group of folks watching a HDTV widescreen showing C-SPAN. Somebody pointed out to me that they were watching their cousin and father. The guy on TV looked vaguely familiar. I had met him just four days ago. He was Jim Roosevelt, grandson of FDR, who had been at the opening of the FDR Heritage Center, my trip out to the Worcester train station. His cousin, Ford, told me that he had supposed to make it out there, and I told him that I had actually been there. It seemed like the Roosevelt family is to the Kennedy family as the Worcester’s train station is to the Boston’s North Station. The latter is still very much in the public eye, but the former commands a grace and a link to a glorious legacy. While the whole city was doing some Kennedy-spotting, I was hear counting the number of Roosevelt’s I’d met (equaling my Dad, who as a member of the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, has met a few as well).

The night was all downhill from there. Leaving the party at 1am, I welcomed a woman who I thought I knew from volunteering at the vans. Nope, she was my State Senator Cynthia Creem. I caught a cab to Aria, site of the National Jewish Democratic Council party. On the way I my mentioned to the cab driver that I had to apologize that I had been taking some of his fares this morning. He didn’t think I needed to sorry, but then I pointed out that I wasn’t charging anybody for the rides. Well, the important thing was that he was solidly for Kerry. He thought the Iraq war was a mess.

Outside Aria, I found my friends Rodan, Emily and Katie on the way out. Inside were scores of young Jews already paired up for the evening– many with an assist from the open bar. I somehow found Elizabeth, and we got out at the 2am closing time. Outside again, some jerk was sticking out his hand to everyone exiting the Wang, and saying “Congressman!” The fifth time he does it, I look over and see the U.S. Representative for New York’s West Side, “Congressman Nadler, how are you this evening?”

And that was it. Across Tremont St. from Aria was the ol’ Motor Pool, whose operations had closed down for the evening an hour or so ago. So Elizabeth and I taxied home to Brookline. The next day would little less exciting and a little more productive.

Postscript, August 19th: I added some pictures to this page this week. The pictures were actually taken Monday and Tuesday. The actual ones I took with Julie’s camera on Wednesday are on the way. Some of you may have been looking for pictures of famous people instead of a boring five thousand word essay. Here’s your reward: Anna Weisfeiler’s photos. Anna worked her ass off on the technology staff of the DNCC, so she deserves to get a little more of the glory.