Social and Political Commentary

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Democratic Party National Convention, 2004

... the tough part was getting in

Irving Smolens

The transportation was no real problem but it was a bit frustrating coming home at night. On the way in, the train stopped at Sullivan Square and policemen got on and checked carryons and pocketbooks. The train then continued on bypassing North Station. I got off at Haymarket and switched to the Green Line. I got off at Arlington as planned and walked to the Park Plaza. The place was a zoo. You cannot believe how many different offices and headquarters had been set up on the different floors. Many of the delegations and a myriad of different focus groups had large hospitality rooms.

The Veterans for Kerry Group had one on the fourth floor. There were zillions of volunteers to assist but a number of the first ones to whom I made inquiries were unsure of the location but they were all very respectful and caring and apologetic when they could not answer specifically. I got shunted around a bit but eventually did find a helpful volunteer who told me where the Veterans for Kerry suite was.

When I got there the door was locked so I figured they might have gone for lunch. They hadn't. They had gone to a caucus at the Sheraton but were definitely coming back. That information was given to me by a young woman who had been volunteering in the suite, had gone to the caucus with the veterans but had left the Sheraton earlier than the others. So we sat and chatted and I showed her one of the pictures I had of me firing the guns on Utah Beach. She was very impressed.

The veterans arrived soon after. I had a Diet Coke and talked to a number of the veterans. One was wearing a 101st Airborne cap very similar to the one Clete, Vicky's father, was wearing in Normandy. He had been a member of the 505th Para. Regiment which I believe was the Regiment in which the troops who were depicted in Band of Brothers had served. I don't think he was a member of their specific company but he had known the commanding officer. He was there with his wife and other veterans kept interrupting so before I could get more specific information the man with the credentials arrived. I got mine. I was then told to go to the Columbus Avenue entrance to catch the shuttle bus. There were a number of buses parked at the curb across from the hotel. I inquired of a volunteer and he told me that those were indeed the shuttle buses. I showed the security officer my credentials and he allowed me on board. The bus was soon filled and we took off. We had to go by a very circuitous route to get to the Fleet Center parking lot. Before leaving the bus I asked the driver how late they would be running and he said, "All night and be sure to take a number 4 bus."

It was a fairly long walk from the bus to the entrance of the Fleet Center. Metal detector security screens were set up near the entrance. I had emptied my pockets of change and house keys. I had left my ring of other keys at home. I set off the metal detector. Evidently the pins on my cap were enough to trigger the sensitive device. I had forgotten that at airport check ins I had to take off my cap. I went through an individual scan and passed once the hat had been removed and entered the building.

The bus routes were numbered one to seven. The Four Bus went to the Ritz, another hotel in the area whose name escapes me and finally the Park Plaza. I used the lobby floor restroom facilities that I had discovered when we had gone to pick up Abby and then headed for the Arlington Street T stop. I asked a man standing outside if the entrance was still open and he assured me that it was so I descended and looked for the signs that said "Outbound" and went to the correct platform. This was where the frustration began. When I had used that line in the past to get to the Boston Center for Adult Education I had never had to wait more than a minute or two for a train to take me to Arlington Station. I assumed that with three lines using those tracks that a train would be along any minute. My expectations were too high. I should have trusted in the incompetence of T management. I had to wait about 15 minutes for a train and when it did arrive it was a Government Center train that stops there and turns around so we had to get off and wait and wait and wait as one after another Government Center trains kept pulling into the station before a North Station train arrived to take us the one stop to Haymarket. The Orange Line train to Oak Grove arrived almost immediately (surprise, surprise) and I finally got to Oak Grove shortly after 1:00 AM, called Edith and she came within minutes to pick me up.

At the Fleet Center, I saw one of the Veterans for Kerry functionaries. He directed me to the second floor. Another member directed me to where a table was being set up I helped with that. The long table  had a white paper covering on it. As the veterans from delegations all over the country stopped by we had them sign their names on the table cover giving their units and dates during which they had served. After the convention the cover will be given to Kerry to be retained in his archives. One of those who stopped by was a WW II veteran from North Carolina who knows John Edwards personally and said very simply and positively, "We're gonna win this thing."

A young woman stopped by to give us a ticket to some kind of a reception. I believe that she said it would be on the Third Floor. I took the escalator to the Third Floor and showed the ticket to a security volunteer. He told me that the ticket I had gave me access to the fifth and sixth floors. I took the elevator to the fifth showed the ticket I had to a young security volunteer standing at the entrance to a ramp into the stadium. She said that the ticket I had allowed me access to the stadium. By that time I knew that I had to be fortified with some food and water but there were no food dispensing booths on the Fifth I had to go down to the fourth. I walked down. I got into the shortest line I saw and got a terrible mini, cheese only, pizza and a bottle of spring water. Both outrageously priced. After consuming the pizza and the water and taking my pills which I had taken with me I headed back up to the fifth and walked to an access ramp and was barred from entering with the ticket I had. I could not find the young woman guarding the ramp to which I had been told I could have access so I was told to go to the seventh floor where there were plenty of available seats which would be accessible to me. Not so. I went back down to the fifth and started walking around and found an unguarded ramp and walked in unmolested. The area I was in was reserved for the press but 85% of the seats were unoccupied so I sat in one of them. I could see all the speakers almost in miniature because I was high above them and in profile because I was sitting over to the side. I was soon joined by a reporter who asked if it was OK to sit next to me and I told him that I was a squatter and as far as I was concerned I would enjoy the company. He worked for a chain of newspapers in Georgia and other Southern States but was from North Carolina originally. He told me that his father had always voted Republican but he was fed up with the Bush Administration and was going to vote for Kerry. He also told me that he was going to vote for Kerry and followed that by saying that he sided with his mother who had always voted for the Democratic Party candidate.

I heard a variety of speakers, congresspersons and Governor Richardson of New Mexico prior to 8:00 PM when national TV coverage began. Al Gore kicked off the national coverage with a great speech tinged with some wry humor. I am not sure of the order in which other speakers took the podium but they included the nine female Democratic Senators who were introduced as a group. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the dean of the Group of Nine addressed the convention. Glenn Close delivered the first of her two short speeches. Jimmy Carter spoke and was greeted with a standing ovation. There was a very moving ceremony by a Hispanic woman who had lost members of her family in the 9/11 tragedy. At a point in her address, as if on cue, all the delegates turned on small lights as the stadium was darkened and the glow of those lights and a very soulful and appropriate violin rendition of "Amazing Grace" turned the event into a very moving ceremony.


Convention Part Two

It took me the next two days to recover. I decided to try again on Thursday. I was supposed to phone the head of the New England Chapter of Veterans for Kerry to determine if there were any credentials available that would give me access to the Fleet Center where the convention was taking place. I didn't do that. I didn't get organized until around 2:15 PM so I just decided to rely on my ingenuity to get a credential. They did not issue one credential for the entire convention they issued only one day credentials.

When I got to the Veterans for Kerry Suite at the hotel there were no credentials still available. I decided to hang around and talk to other veterans. There were some young volunteers in the suite and they were only too eager to offer any assistance at all. I talked to two of them and pulled out a copy of one of the pictures of me leading the 21 gun salute on Utah Beach. It was the only real asset I had. The young people were duly impressed. After a short interlude one of the young volunteers surrendered his credential to me saying that he was pretty sure he could get another one. After giving him a heartfelt thank you I got on the shuttle bus and after going through the routine described in my first day account I entered the Fleet Center. The young man who gave me the credential told me to go to Suite 521 when I got inside. The ramps that lead into the stadium itself all had security persons checking to see if you had the proper credential that would give you access otherwise you would be turned away.

Suite 521 was a luxury box. The door was closed. I opened it and walked in. There were two young women sitting in the room that had a delectable array of food and beverages from shrimp and crab rolls to an assortment of gourmet cheeses. I am sure that they probably also had sweets but I did not expend any effort looking for them. I had some cheese and melon a diet coke and later a glass of red wine. I then sat down in a very comfortable chair to watch and listen to the proceedings.

Evidently one of the young women was supposed to have asked me for an access pass when I entered. Because I had immediately engaged them in conversation she hadn't done that. At about 20 minutes to 5:00 PM she told me that the suite was that of Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico and that he had invited so many people to use it that they had to do so in shifts and that I would have to leave at 5:00 PM. I asked her if once I had left I would be able to get in again at a later shift she said maybe if you still have your pass. I showed her my credential and she said that is not a pass and you should not have been in here in the first place.

I went back to my seat and awaited the dread hour of 5:00 PM to arrive. A couple came in and sat beside me. Being an extremely friendly Bostonian I asked where they were from and was told Michigan. I have friends and Edith had a first cousin who lived in Michigan. The woman said she was from Livonia. That is where Edith's cousin lived and where her two daughters had been brought up. One now lives in Oakland and the other now lives farther west of Livonia. They inherited the house when their mother died and rent it out. The house is on West Chicago Street and the young woman is running for state representative and that street is in the district she hopes to represent. She handed me her card and said that even though the daughters no longer live there they probably know people in the district and that she would appreciate it very much if they would contact people they know on behalf of her candidacy. I then showed her my asset picture and needless to say she was also impressed.   After telling her of my impending plight of not being able to be in the stadium to watch and listen she turned to her companion who was an actual delegate and asked if he could get her on the floor. When he answered in the affirmative she handed me her Alternate pass which gave me access to the stadium and I became an alternate delegate to the Michigan delegation and that was how I got to be present when John Kerry made his acceptance speech.

I can't say that I learned anything from this experience but it did reaffirm my long held belief that if one has faith things will turn out in your favor and that one should never give up.

September 3, 2004

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