As I was telling you, the Democratic National Convention was in town last week. I think I’m still recovering.
Delegates and tourists started to pour into the city over Labor Day weekend … while many residents of Charlotte fled. I went to dinner on Saturday night at a restaurant that is usually the place to ‘see and be seen’ any night of the week, and there were empty tables. Eerie.
The convention kicked off on Tuesday, but us regular folk had to go back to work. My commute has never been so easy — outside of the city center, Charlotte really felt like a ghost town. On Tuesday night I met a friend for dinner near uptown and just coasted through streets and lights the whole way there. We had figured it would be really busy or just totally deserted, but I wasn’t expecting that level of desertion. Luckily the restaurant did fill up, confirming that there were actually other people still in town. On the way home, I was terrified to be trapped in some sort of convention traffic but I made it without incident. That’s why watching the First Lady’s speech on tv that night was especially surreal — I knew the convention had taken over town, that all the revelry onscreen was happening right down the street. I just hadn’t seen much evidence myself yet.
At work on Wednesday, I suddenly noticed that the traffic on the parkway outside was suspiciously light. My office faces one of the main arteries from the airport, and I remembered reading that the president was arriving that afternoon. So I dragged one of my coworkers to the outdoor balcony, where we waited excitedly. Other coworkers caught on and a crowd gathered, just in time to watch the full motorcade drive by. Trying to learn my lesson from London, I was videoing on my phone … until it was over and I noticed it hadn’t recorded. Sigh, I have no luck with these things. My coworker did though and shared.
Awaiting the president’s motorcade from the airport.
The bummer was that on Wednesday morning convention officials decided to cancel the outdoor plans for President Obama’s speech. That meant that those 65,000 public credentials — mine included — were now void. Our weather had not been great all week, and there was to be a strong chance of thunderstorms. I was disappointed, though not completely devastated. I understood, and part of me was relieved that I wouldn’t have to elbow some lady in the face for a prime seat or sit there for hours in the sun. But there went my opportunity to be part of the convention.
Or did it?
On Wednesday night, I was home relaxing with Oliver when a friend texted that she was uptown to watch the speeches. Wait, I texted back, how’d you get there? I must have been picturing a police state, with a secured perimeter that only allowed special attendees. Hogwash, she told me. She’d parked about 2 blocks from the center of town in a pay lot, which is no different than a normal Wednesday evening. As I sat on my couch, I couldn’t really think of a good reason not to join her. It was my chance to be in the center of the action!
I hastily changed clothes and sped out of my subdivision. I approached one intersection that was blocked, so I turned around and started moving west. Just as I was to cross that same main road from another direction, I saw the motorcade go by. President Clinton on his way to the arena to deliver his speech. Traffic cleared quickly so I was able to jump on the interstate, sail right into uptown and park. Easy peasy.
The atmosphere on the streets was incredible — tons of people milling around, with a buzzing, celebratory vibe.
*Forgive these photos; they’re all taken at night on my iPhone. Terrible.
I met my friends and we walked around right up next to the barriers a block or so from the arena. In front of the Epicentre — an outdoor mall-like center full of restaurants, bars, a movie theater and nightlife that had been commandeered by media outlets — we ran into a couple just giddy with excitement. They wanted to take their picture in front of the CNN Grill, normally a restaurant called Vida that had been transformed as a media-only gathering place. We asked where they were from, expecting them to say something like “Oregon” or “Nebraska.” No, they live on 5th Street, about 3 blocks away. Ha.
CNN Grill at the Epicentre.
Crowds cross in front of The Ritz-Carlton.
The streets were full of vendors, hocking everything from buttons to posters to t-shirts with slogans like, “Obama, Y’all.” Clever. The weather was oppressively hot and humid, even at 9 p.m., and my friends had already been scoping out where to watch the speeches.
We ended up at Ri Ra, where we could order a pint and watch the convention festivities on large screens. It’s always fun to watch such things in public, where people can yell and cheer and clap in response.
Preach it, Bill.
Right after President Clinton’s speech, though, we bolted. There was that dog to walk and that job to rise early for the next day. I sped like a demon to get home, terrified that I’d be trapped in another motorcade. No worries, though, and I probably made it in record time.
The next morning I read that after his speech President Clinton attended a private party. Upstairs at RiRa.