Here’s how it’s done: bring in concrete barriers and erect them in ways that form choke points, dead ends, and traffic diversions so that vehicles can only go where you want them to go when you want them to go there. Place traffic control police at every strategic corner. Set up heavy eight-foot tall mesh screens end-to-end to wall off selected areas, and have manned metal detector entry points wherever you want to control people’s entry and exit.
Have different color passes for different degrees of access and make people wear them in plastic sheaths attached to lanyards hung around the neck so so they are readily available for examination. In areas of special concern make everyone do the airport security dance of taking out their cell phones and keys and sending them through xray machines on conveyor belts.
Once you get all this in place, let people do what they want.
So what you have here in Denver is a tightly controlled, structurally contained, party. The streets themselves are festive and full of life. The outdoor tables at restaurants overflow with convention goers; the shuttle buses that go up and down Denver’s main mall are filled with folks who are laughing and talking and open to strangers.
Actually, Denver is wonderfully designed for such an event. It has one long street that is a pedestrian mall with free shuttle buses, and a number of side streets splitting off from that mall that contain restaurants, big hotels, and other entertainment and tourist venues. You can survive very nicely on just these few streets if you have a credit card, a love of liquor, good food, and entertainment, and no desire to see the seamier or more human side of Denver life. It’s a cultural Potemkin village, and that’s just how Denver and the convention wants it.
Mostly folks are tolerant of these constraints. Everyone knows there is at least one nut out there with a high powered rifle or a bag of explosives, so you accept your containment with only a minimal amount of grumbling. You even dare joke a bit — this is not the clenched-jawed airport security world where a quip about a bomb gets you sent to Guantanamo.
In fact, the police, of whom there are hundreds, if not thousands, are affable and willing to make light of the situation. I asked at one point if I could chain my bicycle to a tree or if it would be assumed that it had been left there by Osama Bin Laden. The police just laughed and said, “You don’t look like Osama. Go ahead. Anywhere’s good.”
And tonight, mildly bent out of shape by the need to go through a metal detector to sit in an auditorium and watch a video of Hillary giving her speech, I asked if there was some likelihood that someone was going to take out a gun and shoot the screen.
At first the man doing the checking took justifiable umbrage. “It’s to make you feel safe,” he said.
“I feel safe at home,” I smiled, “And I don’t have any metal detectors to get in my front door.”
He looked around to make sure no one was listening, then said, “I grew up in Iowa where we left our doors unlocked and our keys in the car.”
“I live in northern Minnesota where lots of folks still do,” I answered. He shrugged and said, “That’s the way it ought to be, but this is the way it’s become.”
And, sad to say, he’s right. This is the way it’s become. In a country where security has become equated with the right of everyone to carry a gun to blow the head off of someone else who might be carrying a gun, the whole system falls apart when, suddenly, the rules are changed and a bottle of shampoo or a lipstick tube becomes a potential weapon. Last week I was supposed to feel safe because I was allowed to walk around carrying an Uzi, today I’m supposed to feel safe because no one is allowed to enter a building carrying a nail clipper.
Denver has done a good job of hiding this cultural schizophrenia by putting us all in a structural containment vessel. The hawkers are smiling, the thousands of police are smiling, even the protesters — with the notable exception of those walking around carrying posters of dismembered fetuses — are smiling. Just go where you’re supposed to go, do what you’re allowed to do, and everything will be fine.
It’s all one big party, but just remember not to leave the main room.