In Denver, it’s all about passes. You see them placed in lanyards that hang from the neck of every passerby in downtown. Press passes, photo passes, delegate passes, alternate delegate passes–they’re big, colorful, bar-coded symbols of acceptance. They signify, “I belong here.” So when we arrived at a cocktail event at the Denver Art Museum last night to hear Hillary Clinton speak, and we were the only media on the list without passes, eyebrows were raised. How could you not have them with you? It was a fair question. The answer was, of course, we really don’t belong here.
But because I dropped the name of a fine young FBvian, a Highland Park and TCU grad, Gravely Wilson, who is a bigwig at the DAM, they let us in the cordoned-off press area. There, Spider Monkey maneuvered her way to the front of the photographers, pressing herself through and into a horde of jaded, irritated shutterbugs, only to diffuse their anger with her Cheshire cat smile and “what, was that me, I’m sorry” look. I took my proper place–behind a transvestite journalist with a huge green afro wig, a sequined red dress, 4-inch heels, and noticeable back hair–and wondered what I was doing here.
It began, as so many adventures in our office do, with a Spider Monkey suggestion. “We should cover the convention!” she said two weeks ago. “Blog it! It would be amazing!” Zac Crain and I were standing there when she said this. I don’t know how much you know about Zac and me, but we’re a lot alike in several ways, including this: we can’t say no to a pretty girl, no matter the suggestion. (“Drop a load of fire ants down my pants, you say? Sounds awesome!”) We told her it was the best idea ever, and I went about immediately using my flimsy authority to c-block Zac out of the trip. It’s the way I roll.
Problem was, as Tim noted, we quickly discovered we were months past the deadline to get passes. We could get them, we said. Do the road trip cheap, have fun, blog it up. A bet was struck between Tim and Elizabeth regarding shaving of body hair (Tim’s hair into a Mohawk, Elizabeth’s eyebrows) and the procurement of said passes. So when we got a super-secret confirmation from a friend of a friend in the Democratic party that she could get us two press passes, we were elated. We get on the invite list to a few parties, we contact some of the delegates and Young Dems going–like Caesar, we have a plan.
Flash-forward to Monday. Our contact sheepishly tells us the original deal is off. Security is tighter than even she thought it would be. We see this first-hand when we walk toward the Pepsi Center to see if, perhaps, we can find some scalpers hawking passes. (Every show, no matter how hot, has scalpers, right? Even Creed.)
We quickly see why that ain’t gonna happen. Not only is the security zone around the Pepsi Center gated 10 feet high, not only are the checkpoints manned by Secret Service checking every badge, but you can easily see the snipers on area buildings focusing down on each and every checkpoint. “Just run through!” Elizabeth says. “You can make it.”
So we repair to Martini Ranch to listen to the speeches. (Ted Kennedy: fantastic, as always. I’m a huge sucker for the Kennedys. Sue me. Michelle Obama: eh.) We decide we need to nut up and act like journalists, not like over-the-hill pansy monthly magazine editors. (I am, of course, talking about myself. As you’ll see, Spider Monkey is really amazing: a photojournalist who can take glossy-quality pictures, and, frankly, a better reporter than I am.) We’ll go the DAM event, “cover” Hillary, blog about it. Then hit the party where the Texas delegation will be whooping it up until midnight.
Which brings me to the point where I’m standing behind a transvestite, begging reception guests who are outside the velvet ropes to please, please, please bring me an adult beverage and a tray of tasty snacks. Because that’s what I want to do, what I want to write about: drinking and mingling. Not something canned and scripted. Which is all it is. As my journo friend from D.C. says, “It’s like covering a commercial.”
But you can’t script everything. It was hot in the room, a packed house, more than 500 people crammed into a small space to hear their hero, Hillary. Two minutes before Hillary was to speak, as the crowd was being brought to a fever pitch in anticipation, a woman standing right in front of the lectern passed out. As Milhouse once told Bart when describing a building falling over, “I saw the whole thing. First it started to fall over. Then it fell over.” That’s what happened here. She fell forward toward the stage, like a deer struck by a bullet. I saw her red shoes: her right one left the ground, her left hanging on as long as it could before she blacked out.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a standing-room-only crowd when someone goes down, but here’s what happens: there is a collective gasp, and then no … one … moves. There is a body, prone, a speaker saying into her mike, “Oh, my,” and a bunch of people looking at each other. Two reasons here: everyone thought someone else was going to help, and no one wanted to lose his or her spot to see Miss Thang when she came out.
A few security guards sat with the passed-out woman as she awoke and tried to recover. “She’s going to be okay!” the lady onstage said. They helped the woman to her feet, where–and this freaked me out, because it happened right in front of me–she took two steps before her eyes rolled back in her head and she went down in a heap. Huge gasps. This time, security called paramedics. The speaker, in what she thought was an under-the-breath voice, but there ain’t no such thing when you’re miked up, said, sotto voice, “Get her out of here.” The woman was carried outside, in my full view through the window, where paramedics tried to revive her. Although they finally did, and she was finally okay, that took several minutes. But that didn’t stop the speaker from immediately saying, “She’s doing fine folks! Let’s move on!” They introduced Hillary, bad ’70s music blared, she descended the staircase like a rock star, and everyone ignored the tangential image of the paramedics working hard on the woman who had made this event unnecessarily uncomfortable. And, really, that’s just rude.
So Hillary came down and talked about how important it is to help women. (The organization was one that gives small biz loans to female entrepreneurs.) I’d been told she was magnetic in person. Now, I’ve seen her husband speak. He’s magnetic. Hillary is polished, she is smart, she is a fine speaker. But she couldn’t attract a paper clip.
She spoke for six minutes, then we went outside, where Spider Monkey, again proving what a better reporter she is, took photos of the green-wigged tranny interviewing a delegate who had just come out as a gay man. She interviewed them and got their names. (Nuclia Waste and Jacob Adams. I’ll let you figure out which was which.) Me, I was busy trying to remember the address of the Tex delegate party, because my iPhone died and there was nowhere to charge it. Lavin came bounding back, feeling like a journalist. Me, not so much.
Let’s be honest: Dave Levinthal eats guys like me for breakfast. He’s up at dawn, he’s tireless, connected. He has a press pass, for heaven’s sake. Me, I’ve got a self-delusional ability to think my life is one big caper, and everyone wants to read about it. And even if that’s true–and I’ll go back to believing it the moment I type this sentence–there are so few events that I can get into without a pass that I felt as though my time might be a waste here. Perhaps I should pack it up. That’s when Lavin, who not only is better with a notebook but apparently has a bigger set than I do, spoke up. She reminded me about the story of Hunter S. Thompson, at the ’68 convention. She told the story about when the riots were going on in Grant Park, HST went up to a young hippie paramedic and handed him his press pass. “Get inside the convention and clean yourself up,” he said, wearing his pith helmet, cigarette present as ever. “The real convention is out here.” Her point was that there are stories where you find them, and we should just soldier on.
My takeaway, of course, was this: “Even Hunter S. Freakin Thompson had a press pass!” That’s when she admitted she saw the story on craigslist, where she was looking to see if we could buy us some scalped passes. That girl really loves her eyebrows. She could always just take a cue from Nuclia.