Most everyone is probably aware that the Democratic National Convention will be held next week in Charlotte, North Carolina. It concludes with a primetime stemwinder from President Obama Thursday night.
As a Democratic Party Precinct Chair in Raleigh, less than three hours by car from Charlotte, I was thrilled to get my special “Community Credential” to hear President Obama speak next Thursday night in Charlotte. It looks real cool: a shiny blue plastic thing with a chrome finish punched to hang around my neck. It even has an individual bar code which I used to "activate" my credential online.
Sounds like a great chance to see the President speak in person (a rare occurrence in anyone's lifetime), and just three hours away, right? Yet, after looking into the logistics a bit deeper, I don’t think I'm going. Why not? Well, because it sounds like it will be a fricking nightmare:
· President Obama speaks at 9:00 PM Thursday night at the Bank of America Stadium.
· If I ride on one of the Democratic Party/Obama campaign buses, the buses will leave Raleigh at 3:00 AM Thursday morning.
· Whether driving my own car or riding the Party bus, all vehicles coming in from the north and east will be forced to stop and park at the Motor Speedway in Concord (30 miles north of Charlotte) where a shuttle service will transport people to the Bank of America stadium in Charlotte. I was told this is by order of the Secret Service. People coming in from the south and west will be stopped at Carowinds just over the border in South Carolina.
· People will be dropped at the stadium on one of the 150 shuttle buses to queue up with thousands of people already in line who arrived there Wednesday night. Any folding chairs or umbrellas I might have brought to be comfortable during the long hours of waiting become the property of the Secret Service when the gates are finally opened.
· Gates to get in the stadium open at 1:00 PM. By then people will have been waiting in line since early morning if arriving from Raleigh (like me). People who arrived the previous night to wait in line will have been waiting for 15 hours or more.
· Food and beverages will be available for sale inside the stadium, but it’s still another 8 hours before the President speaks.
· Afterward the event finally concludes (presumably after 10:00 PM), shuttles will transport the out-of-town people back to their cars or buses in Concord. This is expected to take until the wee hours of Friday morning considering the inevitable long lines for the shuttles. People driving back to Raleigh (or returning by bus) should expect to get home between 3:00 and 5:00 AM Friday.
· Therefore, it’s essentially a 24 hour marathon with no sleep.
· The most disconcerting information I was told is that the Obama campaign is distributing 3-4 times as many tickets as there are seats in the stadium to assure there are no empty seats for TV coverage. When the stadium is full, the Secret Service will turn away any still in line. Therefore, I could make the trip to Concord, and then to Charlotte, wait in line for hours, and still not get into the stadium to hear the speech. If I choose to ride the Democratic Party/Obama campaign bus, presumably it would not return to Raleigh until after the President’s speech, so I’d be stuck there with no way to get home until early Friday morning.
Since my cool-looking credential appeared so special, and because it actually has "Section 108" printed on it, I thought maybe it might be a guarantee of getting into the stadium. After investigating, though, I learned that my fancy shimmering blue "Community Credential" is just like everybody else's and doesn't cinch a stadium seat.
What does this say about the extremes of security that we Americans must now live with in the post-9/11 era? Well, the good news is that Amtrak will be allowed to run its trains through town as usual, and public transit (buses, light rail) will operate as usual, too. That should help Charlotte residents going to the stadium (though it won't guarantee them a seat even with a "credential"). I'm told there will be law enforcement on each transit vehicle that penetrates the downtown areas near the stadium, and a big area near the Stadium is off limits to vehicles.
As an aging Hippie, I can relate to the "happenings" like Woodstock of my misspent youth, but those days are gone. This sounds like a painful endurance contest more than something to fondly remember. I don’t think I can roll the dice on a 24-hour no-sleep commitment with no assurance of getting in, a lot of airport-style security even if I do, and also miss a day's work. Since not even the Obama campaign people can can tell me for sure whether I'd get in, I am pretty sure I'll stay home. Yes, I am disappointed.
However, I'll do my best to nurse my regrets lounging in my living room, stretched out on my comfy leather Ekornes Stressless chair and ottoman watching the President's speech on my Pioneer Elite 65" Plasma HD 1080p flatscreen while sipping chilled French Champagne from a crystal flute and consuming a wedge of good Brie. Afterwards, I'll crawl into my comfortable bed at a reasonable hour, reflecting on how I could still be among the stalwarts inching their way back to the buses that will get them home about dawn.
And I doubt I'll have any regrets at that moment.
P.S. If you are flying through RDU soon, free wifi starts there this Saturday. Free for the first 45 minutes, anyway. After that, you have to pay.