Denver at one mile per hour: a convention dispatch

I am at the Democratic Convention in Denver, and it hasn’t been easy. No city can prepare for a one-time event like a convention and hope to do it right. The volunteers in their orange tee-shirts try to help, but the streets are clogged with vehicles, barricades disrupt normal traffic flow, and the sidewalks are hopelessly jammed with people who have no idea where they’re going and no idea how to get there. Think “leaving a professional sporting event” and superimpose it on an entire city for four days. It is not a pretty sight and not an enjoyable experience.

After using one of the free rental bikes that the convention is providing, and having some teens in an SUV shout, “Get off the road, old man, you’re going about one mile an hour,” I returned to my pedestrian status and made my way through the hawkers selling “Barack-Abye-Baby” sleepy suits and the phalanxes of helmeted, jackbooted police who almost outnumber the pedestrians. It was 85 degrees and rising.

Due to a bit of good luck I had a pass to get into the Pepsi Center where the convention itself is being held. So I decided to put the travails of the day behind me and go through the check points and barricades to hear what I could of the speeches.

It was like nothing so much as a rock concert in a big arena. Crowds surged around the walkways pushing and jostling and buying nachos and limp pizza. People sold buttons and tee shirts and Democratic paraphernalia destined to collect dust in closets all across America .

I found my designated section halfway to the nosebleed section on an impossible sideways angle to the speaker’s platform. The platform was like a thrust stage in a mega-church, with a podium on a five foot high half-circle that protruded into the audience. The speakers came out one by one from behind a curtained area.

On either side of the speaker’s podium, set back and raised, were darkened seating areas for a few important folks. One side was filled with a house band that had the musical tightness of a Muscle Shoals session group. Between speakers they played hard driving instrumentals that were blasted through the darkened arena while spotlights strafed the audience. Just after I found my seat the band launched into a high energy, trumpet-and-sax led five minute jam of James Brown’s “Gonna Have a Funky Good Time.”

I felt like I was on a different planet. James Brown blasting. Lights strobing and strafing. An entire arena on its feet waving American flags in unison. Men in blue business suits thrusting their arms upward to implore the audience to get up and party. Yet, in spite of myself, I was beginning to have a funky good time.

Caroline Kennedy came out. Haloed in the speaker’s light in the otherwise dark arena, she seemed wraithlike and almost ethereal. She spoke softly, giving a personal testimonial about her “Uncle Teddy.” When she finished, a video tribute to Ted Kennedy appeared on monitors throughout the darkened hall. It was filled with his voice and his vision and his hope. It seemed like a eulogy for an era.

As the video finished, the arena became silent. Out of the darkness a voice on the speaker system announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Senator Ted Kennedy,” and the senator, like an aged, wounded lion, was led to the podium. Spontaneously, the entire audience rose as one and let out a cheer that had more love in it than anything I had ever heard. It was the cheer of thanks from a generation.

I found myself cascading back to 1963 when I stood, confused, at my high school locker as my civics teacher walked by and said, “The president’s been shot.” I felt myself tumbling through time, seeing the dreams of my generation shot on balconies and podiums, watching my friends come home wounded and broken from a war that should never have been fought, standing helpless as my country turned from one of vision and caring to one of self-aggrandizement and self-absorption. And then I looked down at the man, fighting a battle now that he cannot win, and realized that I was looking at the link to the hope that my generation had lost, and watching him hand that torch of hope – the hope he himself had never lost — to the generation that is now coming into its own.

I did not stay for Michelle Obama’s speech. I gave my arena pass to someone else so they could hear her shape that hope for a new generation.

I walked out into a Denver night that seemed cooler and more hospitable. The lights of the prairies to the east twinkled like distant stars. The shadows of the mountains to the west loomed up like peaceful, silent monuments.

Maybe, I thought, the teens in the SUV were right: maybe it’s time for me to get off the road. After all, I am a little wobbly and I do move about one mile per hour. Time to let those with a sense of urgency get moving.

So, now it’s up to them.

I wish them well. Their struggles will be no less than ours, their dreams no less real and visionary. I only hope that they will remember the courage of folks like Ted Kennedy as they travel, and use his vision to guide us further down the path of this strange and crazy journey called “democracy”.

11 comments

  1. Eric Read says:

    Your message about being in school took me back to where I was when word came that President Kennedy had been shot. I was serving in the Army at Fort Hood, Texas at that time. We had just finished lunch and listened on a radio to the news. All of us were in shock. About 15 men who should have been back to work on our equipment stood in disbelief and listened on a portable radio. That was a sad moment in time for all of us. There was so much promise in the days and years ahead that lay dying in Dallas. You really touched a nerve with that story. I envy your being able to visit the convention even with the kids shouting at you on the bike. These are exciting times right now. I hope that all of us can see dreams fulfilled and promises kept this time.

  2. Joan says:

    Thank you for this, it resonates with me. I had my 60th birthday in June. Of all of the public losses over the course of my life, the loss of my country, as I knew and understood it, in the past eight years has been the most profoundly disturbing. May the generations to come rebuild a better America; they do have great men and women from the past century to inspire them.

  3. Leo van Kints - Holland says:

    I wish I was there with you Kent. Two ‘old’ man wobling the streets of Denver.

    Many Dutch and other European people are following what is going on in the US. Everybody is sick of Bush and his gang, but the USA is still very populair here.
    Sometimes Americans, visiting Holland, act like they are Canadians, because they are ashamed of there country. No need to do that. As Kent knows, we love you Americans. But we are also concerned. The world will encounter very difficult times. And we need good leaders to face them. Leaders who dare to tell the truth and act like it.
    Most of us think that Obama is such a person. When I saw and listened to his speech in Berlin some time ago, I felt overwhelmed. How can Hillary fans say that they probably will vote for McCain when we have a guy like Obama around?
    You might say, what do you care, he is the president of the US and not of Holland. Well, that is true and not true. Europe is not united yet and we always look at our big brother if there is problems around the block. He (still) IS the most powerful man in the world, so also for us it is important that this time the right person will win. And that the presidency won’t be stolen like eight years ago.
    I hope, no I trust that you Americans will make the right choice when the day is there.

  4. Wendy says:

    Thanks for writing Kent. I was just thinking about your blog the other day and how we hadn’t heard from you in awhile. Now, here you are. I wish I was there with you in Denver also it must be quite a scene. If you have time to blog again about your experience there that would be great! Take care and watch out for those SUV’s if you get on a bike again.

  5. Bob says:

    Please do not “get off the road”!

  6. Lynn H. says:

    Nothing’s wrong with the rider, something’s wrong with the road. Great to hear from you.

    Your post about passing the torch makes me think about my mother. Even after years of living with alzheimer’s, she would look at us with eagerness and ask us “what is going on in the world?”. Her second favorite thing to ask (usually after hearing about the world’s problems) was “how can we fix it?”. She passed away this summer at age 85.

    Nothing could sideline her, and as I grow older, I hope to become more like her. BTW, she loved your books.

  7. McXavier says:

    Kent. Thank you for your eloquent post. I am a resident of Denver and did not get an opportunity to go down to the convention. But thanks to you I have been able to vividly experience it through your voice.

    I also hope Obama will incorporate the vision and courage of Ted Kennedy as he travel down his road to stabalize our democracy and country.

  8. Mac says:

    I was just a little boy but I remember on a black and white tv what you talk about. I something wounder where thouse days have gone. It just does not feel the same as the many years back in time. Anyhow I like your story. It just brings back good memmories of good people.

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  10. Now here you are, Thanks for writing the blog Kent. Your experience are great!! I wish i was there in Denver with you.

  11. fegeralto says:

    Привет. Рекламку у тебя можно разместить недорого? Отпишись. Думаю всем интересно будет.

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