The original plan was to write about each day’s adventure but I didn’t realize how little down time I would have. I was going from early in the morning until late at night. Despite being really tired, I had a rewarding and interesting experience in Cleveland.
First things first, I didn’t get hit or accosted by Trump supporters, or any political supports no matter their positions. The Christian evangelicals were the ones who, at the very least, I would say were the pushiest to me. Now, I want to put that visual into context. I had a lot of people who wanted to pray for me, who handed out water to me with religious messages on it and there were a few occasions when a friendly getting to know you talk veered into, “let me tell you about my Lord and Savior Jesus.” The only “your gonna burn in Hell” Christians were the ones that walk around with a large police escort, bullhorns and told everyone they were sinners going to Hell. Yes, annoying but not out of the ordinary for a large event like this.
When I arrived Monday afternoon the area known as Tower Square was packed with people. This was the free speech zone where anyone could sign up for a set time to talk. That didn’t stop other people from making speeches, I guess they would be unauthorized speeches, in the same area but not on the platform.
When I got there, a crazy guy, and I still don’t know if what he was doing was an act or not, was saying all sorts of junk to get attention. He talked about Trump being our big daddy and how Clinton should go to prison and other over the top material. What I saw in the days at the convention was the crazy talk the speaker was giving wasn’t too far from the sentiments of the supporters of the RNC and Trump in particular.
In the days I was there I made it point to hit the crowd centers and some places on the outskirts of the circus. Being in the middle of the crazies you’re going to get crazy ideas and crazy people. The rants they give may not be the views of the majority of people. For instance, I got an impression from the many news reports that I’ve seen over the past few months that only rabid Republicans care about the email scandal and Bengazi. I found, as many conservatives have mentioned for months also, many Republicans and some Democrats don’t like the Clinton style because it seems like their hiding something. They may not be, but the secrecy and constant questions the right wing media dishes out every day convinces a lot of people Clinton would be a secretive President.
Going back to the first day, there were lots of colorful characters in the area. I was so tired on the first day I didn’t make it to the free concert. It was relatively close but I wasn’t as familiar with the area as I should have been and couldn’t get my bearings on where it was.
I got a good number of pictures that day (however the next 2 days would change my perception on what a lot of photos mean) and I met my friend’s downtown before I headed to their home. It took me a few minutes to remember I had been to their home before. It was decades before and it is a nice, friendly kind of home. I met their two daughters and they are typical right at the teenage year daughters. Like the home it took me a few moments to get on their vibe level. The oldest daughter is a Harry Potter fan and the youngest is hooked on the Hamilton soundtrack. At any given moment she would break into song about Hamilton. Oh, I forgot to mention the very big dog, the deaf medium sized dog and the cat.
For the first few hours I felt like I was in the episode of Good Times when Mr. Johnson wanted to die at the Evans apartment for New Years. When the Evans kids started fighting and Florida told them to shut up, Mr Johnson said to let them be because all the fighting was a sign of love. I used the line myself when the daughters first started up, then I could see myself marveling at my friends parenting skills because it was patience. It wasn’t that the daughters were particularly bad or annoying. They were just being teenage girls and if you haven’t been around it, it can be challenging. Once I got the dynamics of the family it all made sense how everyone worked with one another, just like a sitcom, and I could appreciate the squabbles.
OK, maybe what won me over was Star Wars. I don’t know how it actually happened, not that I was going to object, for each of the three nights I was there we were going to watch a different Star Wars film. The daughters and I debate about half an hour before it was decided that The Empire Strikes Back would be the first film seen. They knew about Star Wars but not fans of Star Wars like myself. It seems their mother and father, and I’ve known both for decades, told them about some of my eccentricities. They knew how I got their parents together, my trip to Cleveland for the Special Edition of Star Wars back in 1997 and other odd facts.
We started on Empire pretty late. We didn’t finish it until midnight. Even though I has been up since Sunday night and other than a few cat naps I hadn’t had a good sleep, I woke up at 3am on Tuesday. I edited the photos and from the first day of the convention. I was able to post video from the convention.
Tuesday was the really big day for me. My original plan was I was going to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame then hit Tower Square. I’m glad I forgot that the Hall was going to open at 10 am. I took some pictures as I wandered towards the Hall of Fame. When I got there I saw a few people standing outside, then I saw a lot of police and one news truck. I looked up and saw this large anti-Trump poster set up between two flag poles. I saw two people on the pole and at first I thought they were taking it down. I took a few pictures on my smartphone and sent them to Instagram. I brought out my Canon and took a few more and thought they would have the poster down soon. It hot me after a few minutes that the people on the pole were the protesters. Once that hit my head I moved in closer and took a lot more pictures. Soon more reporters showed up and I was in the middle of an active news story. I kept clicking away, moving around for better angles as well as watching the reporters around me to see what they were shooting for.
It took about 90 minutes for the situation to get resolved. The protesters came down from the poles and were arrested. They were booked and placed into a police van. The fire department came with a ladder truck and removed the sing, not before a little scare because a backpack was left on one of the poles. It was scanned and proved to be harmless. By the time the sign was down and the women were driven off, one of the photographers approached me and asked what the sign said. I told him I had pictures, after trying to remember exactly what was written on the banner, and while I was going through the photos the photographer was impressed with the shots I had. He was the Editor-in-Charge of US pictures from Reuters. He asked, and didn’t promise it would happen, if he could get my pictures for him to pull 1 or 2 out for use by Reuters. I would be what is called a Handout; I would get credit for the photographs but no pay. I figured being associated with Reuters through my photos would be a cool thing.
Less than two hours later I got the email of the agreement I needed to digitally sign and the two photos picked. By this time, I was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the excitement of getting my photos associated with Reuters made me feel pretty good. While in the Hall of Fame I saw there was a blocked off area for actual convention goers. I didn’t think too much of it until I finished my tour of the Hall. Partially because I was tired, partially because of the photos, I saw a group of convention goers wander towards the balcony behind the wall (Oh, the special place for the GOP convention goers was behind a display of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.) so I followed them like I belonged with them. I was on the balcony with conventioneers looking at the lake and listening to them talk family and politics. The crowd I was with; Trump was their man.
As a side note, what I heard and saw for the four days I was in Cleveland was that there was unity in people about Trump. It could be the crazy guy shouting from the free forum, the guy walking around with a Donald trump sign, the conventioneers in unguarded moments; people in the party like Trump. I know there was talk of dissension in the ranks but in the people I ran into, if they were Republican and especially associated with the RNC convention they were cheering for Trump all the way.
Before leaving the Hall of Fame I picked up a few things, like buttons and free booklets, then walked over to the protest sight take more photos before heading back to the home of my friends.
We went out to a wings place for dinner and a few of the TVs were playing the RNC convention. My friend met up with a couple of their friends and doted over their new baby. As the results were coming in with Trump officially getting the RNC nomination, I thought about that baby. My friend’s kids aren’t fans of Trump and think he is a silly man. I realized that the baby my friend was holding was born into a world where it isn’t an impossibility that someone like Trump could get the nomination from a major party to be their standard bearer for President.
That night we all sat down and watched Return of the Jedi.
The third day of the convention, which was my last full day in town, was where I was doing a lot of catch up work. My friend dropped me off at the Westside Market, which is a staple in Cleveland and a big tourist attraction. I stopped by the café for breakfast which was interesting. Something I haven’t mentioned about Cleveland and the convention has been the police presence. Police from all over the country are everywhere. I made a quick stop to the Westside Market on Monday and I thought there were a lot of police then. On Wednesday morning the presence has almost doubled. When I went into the diner, there were 7-8 full geared SWAT officers eating breakfast and 3 beat cops eating. I’m not sure if he was a cook or the owner but he seemed like he was a retired cop, possibly a local cop, and he was chewing the fat with the officers. It looked like many scenes I’ve seen in cop shows. It a scene where the old bones retired cop has a bar, diner of some other hangout where cops can come in and feel at ease.
The Westside Market Diner was what I was looking for in Cleveland, and in general what I look for in a town when there is a big event that has national media focused on it. What I saw all four days I was in Cleveland and focusing on the convention were reporters looking for the sensational story. They were all in the same spot looking for the unusual. Basically if something didn’t happen around the convention it didn’t happen, but what upped the focus was the sillier the better.
I noticed this on Wednesday in particular in that there was a woman who was on the official free speech stage talking about female veteran care. No one paid attention to her. The black man shouting his support for Trump got attention, the woman dressed as a butterfly against Trump got attention and the Muslim (he said he was a Muslim) carrying the rifle got attention. It wasn’t until a man started shouting her, saying women shouldn’t be in the military, is when she started yelling back at him. All of a sudden the press flocked not to her but the man shouting at her. She continued with her speech but the man continued to heckle and more press showed up covering him shouting at her. Even after she was finished with her speech, the camera crews and reporters continued to cover him.
That’s what people learn from big events like the RNC convention. Do something crazy and you’ll get eyes on you. Say something outrageous and the press will focus on you. I have to add something else, and this is of the people seeking attention. You think you’re going to get on the major networks, possibly in prime time, but in reality you might get lucky enough to get on someone’s podcast. If you’re lucky that will go viral. In reality it’s a longshot that your video or photo will get to a level where it will inspire a mass amount of people. I saw people who had put time and effort in their particular cause very excited they were getting recognition from a website that might have 5000 visits a night. I’m not trying to bash bloggers, but many people who are trying to get their voices heard work on the assumption if they put it out there they will come, when the reality is if you aren’t promoting the site you’re not going to get the eyes you want.
Hanging out with my friends and their daughters was interesting that night; making me think about something that should have been obvious to me. We watched The Force Awakens and they were so excited to see it. I know they’ve seen it before and maybe they were putting on a show for me, but they were SO excited watching the movie. They screamed as they read the opening credits, which kind of made their parents mad. They commented a lot through the movie. It made me happy because the girls weren’t just watching but were engaged in it. With the commotion about the revamped Ghostbusters having an all-female cast, and talk in general about having more representation of all types of people in comics and films, I have to say watching those girls focused on the film because of a female in the lead was heartwarming. It’s something I don’t think we think about as fans because we work out in our heads how to make the lack of representation work. I’ve seen the San Diego Comic-Con go from very few minorities and women to a very substantial representation of all types of people, including the LBGTQ community.
It was heartwarming to see their daughters engaged and identifying with the new group of Star Wars characters. It was great to have watched the films with them.
My flight left hours before Trump would make his final speech and I did this on purpose because I didn’t want to face the crowds of thousands of people leaving at one time from the city. I did have one last time to visit the free speech area. I got there around 9pm and other than the same ranting person at the podium I saw my first day there, there wasn’t a lot of activity in the area. What I saw were a lot of camera people and reporters waiting around for something to happen. A huge contingent of police was in the area on bikes, horseback and on the ground but they were guarding nothing. Kids were having fun playing in the ground fountain. It was so boring that when a few police officers started playing ping pong with citizens, the reporters and camera people rushed to the scene like a political superstar arrived to say hello.
By 11:30 am, a group had arrived and with their chanting the area began filling up with people. By noon the crowd was very large, like I had seen most of my stay in Cleveland. I stayed until 1 pm then started my journey back to Arizona.
It was a remarkable four days. Cleveland was an interesting choice for the RNC to have the convention, and things may have worked better for them if they had showcased the city. Here’s what I mean; like San Diego with the Comic-Con or even the recent All Star Game, cities that host major events want to concentrate coverage on the mile or two surrounding the particular event. Now, I’m not saying reporters are lazy but if you’re at a hotel in a different city, the idea of exploring past the focus point and seeing what is happening with the people in the area isn’t high on the list of things to do. The big stuff is happening on the convention floors or in the hotels surrounding the convention. What I think is forgotten is that decisions made in the hall or hotel rooms are going to impact the hotel workers, the people cleaning up the convention hall, the vendors on the street and the regular folks who work day to day in cities all over the country.
There were a few stories about them but not enough. The press was too busy wandering about the main areas looking for a story, and if all the people are in the same area, they are going to get the same answers from the same people. Going to the Westside Farmers Market gave me a good idea of what was happening on the outskirts of the convention. While people near the convention center were making lots of money on trinkets, the café at the market had slow business. From what I heard from the staff as they talked amongst themselves, many of the regulars thought it would be crowded and didn’t show up and the promised crowds never arrived because they, like the reporters, wanted to be close to the action. I was told by my friends that ridership was slightly up on public transportation, but it wasn’t packed and unmanageable.
I didn’t see a lot of the convention itself. I didn’t have a pass to the floor but I did get to see and listen to some interesting people. Some were crazy, some made sense but all had a chance to talk and speak their minds.