Life in a Parking Lot
PHILADELPHIA--Tent city is a lonely place. There are 6,500 miles of fiber-optic cable, millions of inches of wires, more than 10,000 like-minded souls--and there's no one to talk to. It is Monday night, 7:26 p.m., inside the temporary Philadelphia headquarters of a major television news organization. The evening news has ended, the union crews are on a break and there are a few hours until we next go on the air. Most of us are just sitting here, clicking through our news wires.
A lonely city is the soup of stories. Particularly a lonely city full of single journalists with expense accounts who cover politics.
Outside the major news organization's tent, the Japanese television network NHK is pissed off at its tent city neighbors, the major news organization. Between its two trailers is a great shortcut into the convention hall, but NHK wants its preciously paid for space all to itself. So the network taped a "DO NOT ENTER" sign to a sun-withered chair. It is ignored. And so are the resulting curses from Japanese television technicians.
On the other side of one of the NHK production trucks, Peter Jennings is walking up a series of steps, holding in his hand pages of a script. Jennings is a famous man who has been on American broadcast television for 40 years. More than seven million people watch him each night. Inevitably, a bystander recognizes him.
"Oh, that's Peter Jennings," emits a man who swings his head around as the tall news anchor passes by. The bystander looks about 67 and has a yellow delegate credential hanging around his wide tie. "Dad," says the man's twenty-something daughter, "he's probably busy. Just leave him alone. And besides, I don't have my camera with me."
But that didn't faze Dad, who huffs up the hot sidewalk to catch poor Peter (whose sole protection was two young assistants, each of which had papers in their hands and heavy bags on their shoulders). But Peter is nice. He says a kind word and takes refuge under a magnetometer in a security tent. The daughter finally finds her camera and snaps away.
Peter walks inside the First Union Center, turns left, passes a group of yellow-shirted conventioneers who are headed into the hall. A guy with glasses is giving instructions: "Now, a lot of media are going to ask you questions, and a lot are going to want to get to places they can't go, so no matter what they tell you, just tell them that you don't have the authority to allow them to go there." A reporter watches the group with bemusement as he sips water from a fountain--he knows very well that he'll get where he can't go, or else he'll be fired.
The reporter walks downstairs to the convention floor, turns the corner and heads beneath the stands. He walks into a small room enveloped in blue drapery and full of thick wires. It is an anchor booth. To save costs, a major television network decided not to outfit a skybox. Packed in the tiny room are about 12 technicians and stagehands.
Outside the "blue room," as it is called, Jerry Falwell, his face caked in makeup, tries to walk down a hallway leading to the Republican National Committee. A security guard named Jim, who has long hair that probably reminded Falwell of something a little uncomfortable, stepped in front of him. In no uncertain terms, Jim says "No." "Ok, then," says Falwell, and he leaves. The guard's partner, Greg, comes walking up. "Boy, you ain't gonna be in Jerry's prayers tonight, Jim." To which Jim replies, "Not the first time."
Falwell passes Gov. Christine Todd Whitman on his way in. I don't think he recognized her. There are about ten people in front of Whitman. They are white. Behind them, two black security guards stand chatting. Whitman ignores the white people, and walks to the black people. "I bet she's telling them that she's nicer than she was in that photograph," says someone standing next to me.
A few steps away, an affiliate television station reporter is staring at William Baldwin (who is rather tall and sort of good looking)--ignoring the pleas of a nearby state chair desperately seeking media attention. Claire Shipman of NBC News thinks about a first question to ask Baldwin. What pops out is, "Will you be staying all week?" Shipman is distracted by lots of young, female delegates who are pawing and pushing and pouting. It is sort of funny.
And now I can't get off the floor. Gerald Ford (who we would later learn had just suffered a stroke) is about to take his seat. Secret Service agents and red-shirted First Union Center security guards are blocking my way. I use to like the Secret Service, but now I am annoyed.
And I am even more annoyed by Philadelphia's finest, who are dressed in their finest, who have lapel pins and plastic ear coils and who don't hold a candle to the Secret Service when it comes to politeness, tact and physical fitness. But I love the cops. I mean, they stood their ground this week when zany and stupid protestors tried to provoke them.
As I am sorting out this digression, in the hall, the Republicans are speaking. Many of them aren't white. Most of them aren't white men. White men are tokens, tonight.
Outside the hall, thousands of demonstrators think the Republicans--not the token white males on the platform, but the 82 percent of audience which is them--don't care about them and their causes.
And outside Philadelphia, a plane in Wyoming makes an emergency landing.
And outside the United States, Ehud Barak has slimly survived a no confidence vote.
I am back in the tent now. Clicking through the wires.
Marc J. Ambinder '01, a Crimson executive, is a history concentrator in Lowell House.