Fear and Loathing at the RNC Convention, Part One
We were about ten minutes away, on the edge of St. Paul’s downtown, when we first saw them: two protesters standing on a bridge, hoisting large American flags. A stiff wind was blowing their flags straight back. Their stance was wide and somewhat bowed, as if they were cavalry soldiers riding invisible steeds. They were flanked by large yellow banners proclaiming “No More War!” I turned to my friend, James, and said, “I don’t think they’re anarchists.” He concurred.
I was on a mission to find these rascally miscreants and interview them. I wanted to see how their wonderful and twisted minds work. And, as fortune would have it, I had the perfect place—the Republican National Convention (RNC). My friend James had once dabbled in this uniquely apolitical philosophy. He would act as my interpreter—deciphering the anarchists’ Chomsky-esque recitations. Of course, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Maybe I just wanted to party with them—drink their cheap wine and sleep with their women! Our slate was wide open.
I was armed and ready: a half-functioning digital camera, voice recorder, cell phone, ear buds, sunglasses, notepad, and a mind full of snark. It was fortunate that the day was cold and cloudy. I had a jacket to hold all my devices. I thought my attire was fitting: black jacket, black turtleneck, black leather belt, and black shoes. I figured, That should be subversive enough for them. The only thing not black was my ratty blue jeans.
James is one of my “quirky” friends. His wiry frame stands just a tad over six feet. He has a full head of well-groomed brown hair and big blue eyes. For our expedition he was wearing a long black leather coat, a black tee shirt, blue jeans, and shit-kicking black boots. A perfect accomplice.
Part of me wanted to bag one of these bastards and make them cry—weep from my illumination of their errant ways. But then I remembered—I’m a fan of Noam Chomsky. My God, am I one of these fiends? Is there something inside me that screams, “Fuck off to all governments”? I realize this is silly. Me? An anarchist? Probably not. I haven’t fought hard enough to “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”
St. Paul is like a foreign country to me. I seldom make it to this other half of the Twin Cities. I often joke that I can’t go to St. Paul because my passport is not up to date. I usually receive a blank expression after this comment. My sense of humor is sometimes too dry. But actually, I find its downtown more charming than Minneapolis’s. Many of its older buildings remain intact. Minneapolis, on the other hand, likes to bulldoze every 20 to 30 years.
We found a parking ramp right away. The time was 9:05 a.m. We didn’t know how far we were from the Xcel Energy Center. I remember seeing a sign instructing us to prepay for parking on “level three.” When we got in the elevator I noticed there wasn’t a button for the third floor. I turned to James and said, “There’s no goddamn three!”
He shook his head and pointed. “It’s the one marked ‘skyway,’ dude.”
“Oh,” I said. “Why didn’t they mention ‘skyway’ on the damn sign?”
James smirked. “Helm, how long have you lived in the Cities?”
“It’s pretty fucking early,” I said as we exited the parking garage.
I looked around, examining my environs. It was deathly quiet. This was the biggest thing to hit St. Paul since the return of professional hockey, and there wasn’t a soul around. I turned to James and said, “Where the hell is everybody?”
“I dunno,” he said. “It is pretty early. And they’re conventioneers. I’m sure they were partying pretty late last night.”
James’s comment reminded me of something. There was a push to have the Cities’ bar hours changed to 4 a.m. for the convention. All I could think about during the debate was, Where are the “family values” in partying until four in the morning? I guess they leave them at home, where the wife is supposed to be—tending to their one-and-a-half children.
My mind became filled with questions: How close will I get to the police or the Xcel? How do I discern an anarchist from your average protester? Do they always dress in black? Will there be riots? Will Noam be leading their charge? The last question was rhetorical.
We started walking down Seventh Street toward the convention center. It’s on the outskirts of the downtown core. The buildings became smaller, less impressive. We passed a church. At the top of a long stoop stood two Army officers dressed in forest-green dress uniforms. Their hats almost covered their eyes, and they both had gold sashes wrapped around their waists. These men were standing in the “at ease” position, with their legs slightly apart and their hands clasped behind them. I wondered, Why the hell is the military guarding a church? Then it hit me. They must be serving some sort of ceremonial function. I grabbed James’s arm and approached the men.
We got halfway up the stairs when one of the officers put an arm out and shouted, “Do you have your invites?” I think they suspected we wouldn’t. It immediately became obvious why. An older couple exited the church. The gentleman was wearing a thousand-dollar black suit, complete with a red silk handkerchief sprouting from a breast pocket. His spouse was in a long black silk gown. She had white gloves that went up to her elbows. The couple eyed us suspiciously as they walked down the steps.
I turned to them and shouted, “Are you Republicans?”
They did not answer, and their pace quickened. I could almost hear, “Hurry along, dear. I don’t think
I looked up at the military officers. “What’s going on here? It’s awfully early for a party.”
I was met with two stern faces. Cold, expressionless discipline. Neither of them would answer my question.
“Let’s just go,” James said.
I shrugged and said, “Okay.”
Before departing, I saluted the officers, offering, “You two have a swell day.” They remained unmoving—not even the slightest of head nods.
I was surprised how close we were able to get to the Xcel Energy Center. I assumed that the city would have cordoned off several blocks around it. But the barricades stopped us only within a hundred feet. I scanned the area. It was still very quiet. I saw a man sitting by himself on a curb directly across from the building. He was a skinny man with curly blond hair and cobalt eyes. This bystander was wearing a brown leather jacket and clean blue jeans. He was reading a newspaper and eating an apple. He seemed like someone arriving early to buy tickets to a concert. We approached him.
“Have you seen any anarchists?” I asked.
He looked up and squinted. “I’m sorry?”
“Anarchists,” I repeated. “We’re looking for anarchists.”
The man chuckled. “Oh. Sorry. Haven’t seen any.”
I became curious. “What are you doing down here, anyway?”
Through a mouthful of apple the man said, “I’m just on break. I work down the street.”
I saw some police checking credentials by a barricade. “Have the police eyed you suspiciously this morning?”
The man looked at the cops and smiled. “It’s funny you mention that. Two plain-clothes types talked to me just a few minutes ago.”
I grabbed my digital voice recorder. I wanted to record his answers to a few questions. My device is long, narrow, and silver—very sci-fi.
The man saw it and said, “Who are you with?”
James’s eyes had been wandering up to this point. Not anymore. He shot his head around. My friend knows my mind very well and knew where I might take the conversation.
I shrugged and said, “I’m sorry?”
The man stood and pointed at the recorder. “You’re feds, aren’t you? Why else would you be looking for anarchists?”
James stepped forward, his eyes focused, his brows furrowed. “Why would you think that, sir? Do you know something we should be worried about?”
The man’s eyes never left my recorder. “I can see it in your eyes,” he said.
I chuckled and said, “My eyes aren’t on the recorder.” I turned to James. “Are your eyes on this recorder?”
“No, sir,” James said sharply. “They’re definitely not on the recorder.”
The man started walking away, but he kept his eyes on us. “You’re feds,” he shouted. “I just know it.”
“We got pictures now,” James shouted. “You best be careful!”
I put the recorder to my mouth. “Blue team! Blue team!” I shouted. “He’s heading down Seventh Street.”
We saw the man walk faster. I turned and looked at my friend. There was a short silent pause before we bent over and grabbed our stomachs, gasping for air between guffaws
. (To Be Cintinued)