It’s about 63 as I write this outside, and the wind makes it colder. Long pants and long sleeves. Straight into fall without prologue or apology. We’ll get the warm weather again, he said, not believing a word of it, but the sudden shift from thick humid summer to disinterested sun and prickly winds was a surprise, a backhand slap from a suddenly enraged paramour. And we had been getting along so well.
We’re having a block party tonight – yes, another block party; damned community can’t stop organizing itself (if I may repeat something I said over at Tim Blair’s place – successful communities, or those on track to becoming successful, organize themselves; if you need someone to come in and do your organizing for you, he might as well call himself Mollusk Wrangler or Sloth Herder. I say this as a former community organizer myself, but that’s another story) so we’ll all stand outside and chat and eat pot luck. Tomorrow real life begins. Tomorrow it’s up with the bus, out to the corner, and then back at the appointed hour in the afternoon to meet the bus. I missed all that last week. It still seems wrong; I didn’t get the end of the Fair, didn’t get Labor Day, didn’t get the usual transitional elements that ease you out of summer’s fields back into the chutes of duty.
Well. I had better get this down before it’s all forgotten, and Lord knows we cannot rob history of the recollections of a man who walked around downtown Denver for a week then edited video in his hotel room.
It began poorly. I landed in Denver, and discovered that the airline had lost my luggage. I was as pleased as you might expect, and after filing a complaint I went back to the carousel to wait for a clerk to process my particulars while I shot hot spiky waves out of the top of my head. Typical. So. FARGIN'. Typical. Then I noticed one lone bag riding the steel river, and that’s when I realized that my bag is only red on one side. Upside down, it looks black. Sorry! Nevermind! Hugs, much love, peace out. Went out to catch a shuttle to the hotel, and was informed there was no shuttle to the hotel. Took a cab. He had never heard of the Hilton Garden Inn Airport Hotel. I suggested that it was somewhere near the airport, but this didn’t help. Googled it on the iPhone, showed him the address, and off we went.
Fifty-two dollars later, I was dumped at the Hilton Garden Inn, located in a 1970s office park carefully designed to eliminate needless distractions, like bars and restaurants. Went to the front desk. They had no record of my impending arrival. They said they’d call the other Hilton Garden Inn. There’s another? Yes, by the airport.
Argh. Stood outside in the wind and the mist, shivering, waiting for a cab. The cabbie, he was not pleased with the other cab. “This he should know,” he said emphatically. I was deposited at another hotel in another suburban office park, but this one had bars and restaurants. I was happy. The clerk gave me a card-key; it felt odd.
“It’s wood,” he apologized. “They made us use wood keys.” They being Denver, or the DNC, or Paris and Nikki. The writing on the key said it was made of SUSTAINABLE WOOD, which sounds like some sort of Viagra sold in co-ops.
“They break,” said another clerk. “People put them in their wallet and they get bent or wet and they don’t work.” She also showed me how to orient the key when I used it: there was a hole punched on one side to guide blind users. So I’d been in Denver 45 minutes and I’d already been screwed by public transportation and given a strenuously correct hotel key. What next?
I checked out the room; it was fine. There was no Garden, per the name, but it had outlets and a flat raised sleeping surface and a TV and a bathroom full of Neutragena products worth hoarding, so I was happy. View: an office building. Mood: hungry. I went across the street to Ted’s Montana Grill, sat at the bar, and did not order the bison. The menu had lots of bison. You had to work to avoid bison. Conversation with the barkeep explained it all: the “Ted” was Ted Turner. Brilliant: the man buys half of Montana, fills it with Bison, kills them, then sends the rendered products to a distribution network that makes up the overhead on liquor. I had the chicken. It was fantastic.
Spent the night working out communication issues with the Strib mothership, then slept.
The next morning I went down to check out the shuttle-bus situation. Denver had set up a table with delegate info in the lobby, staffed by cheerful, helpful volunteers. The previous evening I’d been told the shuttles would run every half hour after noon. This morning I was told there was no shuttle buses. They were unaware of the existence of such buses. I asked the hotel manager to call me a cab, expecting as always the old hoary rejoinder: okay, you’re a cab. But instead he said “okay, you’re an out of towner, so I’ll call you a limo, and use the guy with whom I have an arrangement, if you know what I mean.” Well, no, but he might as well have; the limo arrived in the form of a van, took me into town, and relieved me of $55. The driver was a Palestinian Jew. We had an excellent conversation about Mideast Politics. (Bottom line: it’s very complicated.) He dropped me off across from the Brown Palace Hotel - “See the police, guns? Obama, he’s there.” I noticed that the Brown Palace flower shop used the Coquette font, created by a Minneapolis guy:
But who cares. Well, I care. Anyway. spent the afternoon walking around, shooting video. The Strib team was scattered all over town, like paratroopers who overshot the D-Day coordinates; finally connected with Diaz, our DC reporter, outside the convention center. Note: the convention was not at the convention center. There was an interfaith rally inside; outside, an anti-abortion demonstration complete with the large photographic depictions of aborted fetuses. Whatever your views on the matter, I think we can agree that having someone take your picture in front of a grotesquely bloody picture of a sundered fetus while making peace signs is probably disrespectful on 99.9 of 100 possible levels. When the anti-abortion people chided them, they screamed: “FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT.” And swore. Of course. Nothing communicates your passion and authenticity to the world like an expletive hawked at high volume. If anyone asks me the key difference between the two conventions, it’s this: vulgar T-shirts.
Walked to the Pepsi Center; died from the heat. Once inside I shot some video in the interior, listening to the sound check; I was happy. Hadn’t done this in a while. I was very happy. Then I took a cab ride back - it was $26, and I tumbled onto the whole limo-scam bit. I was reminded of the words of the driver: he had an arrangement with the manager of the hotel. Well. So I went to the front desk, explained that I had requested a taxi and gotten a limo, paid twice as much, and what are we going to do about this now?
I was comped three breakfasts. Somehow free eggs and bacon = limo overcharge. It's things like this that make you take all the daily allotment of bathroom products, including the sewing kit.
As for the convention? Oh, who cares. Here’s some photos of Denver –
No, not yet. In a minute. Random notes:
You can find my Strib convention videos here, here, here, here, and here. Dave Barry fans - which is to say, everyone - will enjoy # 3 and #4.
The Strib booth was close to the Media Spa, where tepid Coors bobbed in bins of melted ice. It looked deserted most of the time, so it was often used by others who wanted to pretend they had their own office, or find a quiet place to write, or needed a space to accommodate seven journos who found themselves in the presence of Sen. Chuck Schumer and needed a place to record his thoughts. I had the temerity to reclaim the Strib space while Sen. Schumer was holding forth; after the journos had left I noted that one of the reporters had left her voice recorder behind. I managed to track down the Post reporter to whom it belonged, and she was on the phone when I gave it to her so I understand why I was given the same amount of gratitude you’d give the guy who delivers the sandwiches. (In an alternate universe in which I can see the future I ground the recorder under my heel.) I met some nice people who were camping in the space, so I’m glad we served as a way station for the dispossessed.
Captain Morgan was TOTALLY AWESOME and RESPONSIBLE.
I tried to get Dennis Prager into the hall, but failed; I had more juice than he had, but not enough juice to get him in.
On the bus down the Mall I was crammed up against a pretty blonde, and we made conversation. She was a liberal, her husband was not. When she heard I was from Minneapolis she said isn’t that where Ed Schultz is from? I said I thought he was in Fargo, where I was also from. She shrugged, and said her husband reads Mark Steyn; did I know him? I said we’d met. Then she said “and he reads, James Lileks, do you know him?” I pulled out my press badge and held it up and she OMGoded and said We have all your books! Any writer will tell you that this is as good as it gets. At that point we passed a riot, and the bus slowed, and I said I had to get off – dashing, riot-covering man of the world that I was.
The rioters stunk. Jeebus. Years of compacted unexfoliated bong-sweat.
Had breakfast at an actual Diner with Vodkapundit, who is actually smoother and more put-together than his reputation; the man’s like a featured cocktail from an issue of GQ they had to pulp because you could see Ann-Margret’s nipple.
Hung around with Dave Barry, an up-and-coming writer you’ll be hearing a lot about in years to come. We watched the Obama speech from a restaurant while discussing more important things, such as Webkins and Disneyworld and other things important to fathers of small girls. He really is a capital fellow, but if you’ve followed his work over the last month or two you probably know that. I snuck a peek at his cellphone contact list, and it contains everyone in the world who was, or is, funny. It has entries like Swift Jonathan (Ghost)
I ate at Johnny Rockets, twice. Why? Because it was empty and I could spread out at the counter and crunch video while I ate. Both times I asked if I could have the fries with the hamburger, which is apparently impossible. Fries are part of a sequence. They are the first course. You can ask for relish, but it’ll come after the burger, like dessert.
All in all: loved it, loved Denver. Now the photos. Literally:
Downtown had a few ghost signs that gave me joy:
This: sounds like a German duck clearing his throat.
The Pop Artists of the 60s couldn't have come up with this on their own in a hundred years;
The architecture was a mixed bag - they had a boom in the 70s and early 80s, poor dears, and that led to some regrettable tall buildings. But the old buildings were incredible - bulky, due to the usual ill-informed height limit, but gorgeous. The Equitable Insurance company built this:
Looks ordinary enough, you say? Check out the front door:
All this ponderous stone was offset inside by a beautiful green stained-glass window by Tiffany himself, with mosaics in the Roman style. What was an affectation then now looks contemporaneous with its influences. It actually looks like the Romans invaded Denver and built this thing to celebrate the victories of the 12th Actuarial Brigade.
The Paramount theater looked like it had some variant of Elephant-Man's disease, except that it only struck terra-cotta:
The entrance to the phone company building had murals that depicted the struggles men made to lay the lines. (More here.) The first is rather Soviet-flavored, and the second has a Wyeth feel:
It was an era of big dreams, and even bigger pants cuffs.
New Matchbook - see you at buzz.mn, albeit briefly - video and other assignments today. The Twitter feed will be open for business all day as well - sign up and get microblather. Free!