Thefos and Bobnbob's Most Excellent Adventure
(Please note that some names have been changed to protect the innocent and/or high level sources.)
We arrived at our first ever Florida Democratic Party Convention on Friday evening, December 9, 2005. On the surface, we were two "seemingly naïve" Democratic Delegates on their maiden voyage into the Magical World of Florida Politics.
We had a "Victory Plan for Success" but alas, like Bush, we had no real plan and thought that we would be greeted as liberators. Believing our own spin, we just knew that flower bouquet presentations were also in our future.
Armed with much enthusiasm but not so much money, we arrived fashionably late in a land where everyone is told to have a "Magical Day." With family budgets compromised by kids, college expenses, mounting medical bills (and that is with health insurance) as well as local campaign contributions, our goal was simple: meet and greet and/or stalk our candidates and representatives without exceeding said limited budget.
Our mission was to target national persons of interest like Obama, Edwards, Warner, Dean, etc. while also educating ourselves about our statewide candidates. We arrived too late to hear the good doctor's welcoming remarks but we did have a close encounter with a vibrant 30-something congressional powerhouse. Being the C-Span junkie that she is, bobnbob screeched when she spotted Debbie Wasserman Shultz who graciously posed for a picture. Wasserman Shultz was pleasantly surprised to learn that the dkos community appreciated and understood her House delay Thursday evening due to 1st grade homework blues.
We decided to go to Florida State Senator Rod Smith's Kick-Off Bash with fellow FL Kossack and Orlando DFAer, Wise Woman. With Merlot and "something fruity" in hand, we were warmly welcomed by Senator Smith as we networked with other candidates, fellow Kossacks, DFAers and the balloon bandit, who, contrary to the perception that he was trying to pick me up, was, in fact, systematically stealing bunches of campaign balloons and giving them away. When he presented a bouquet of balloons to me, I thought, well there you have it...we truly ARE being greeted as liberators. "Our Plan for Victory" was right on track.
Fellow Tampa Bay DFAers, Lois and Clark, (appropriate pseudo identities due to their ability to morph into super heroes when fighting for Truth, Justice and the American Way) joined us there and together we made our way over to Congressman Jim Davis' reception but by that time, Congressman Davis was no longer in attendance.
Senator Bob Graham was indeed still there so we stood in line like cattle to get a picture with him. When we finally got close to the front of the line, his handlers abruptly closed the reception line down with some token handshakes as our parting gift. Disappointed but still upbeat, bobnbob and I left Congressman Davis' reception and loitered in the hallway while Lois and Clark went back to their room as they needed to get up early in the morning. In lieu of a vacation, Lois and Clark had treated themselves to all the fundraiser meal events so they had an early morning breakfast date with Governor Vilsack.
Bobnbob and I lingered a while longer chatting with candidates like Steve Gorham, candidate for State Senate, District 10 and Dave Bruderly, candidate for Congress, District 6. We were still chatting with Bruderly when fate intervened as the weary but still gracious Senator Graham stopped briefly to greet Bruderly. I seized the moment as we made eye contact. I quickly grasped his hand with a firm shake as I said "This is my next door neighbor, who was a Republican until August, 2004." He willingly submitted to a photo op with Bobnbob as he said to her "Some of my best friends are reformed Republicans."
As we drove back to our hotel, we knew that we were on the right path. Now was not the time to "cut and run." On Saturday, we vowed that we would not only "stay the course" but kick it up a notch as well.
Since we were not able to attend the breakfast with Governor Vilsack, we decided to use that time wisely and get that extra hour of sleep. We arrived back at Disney's Contemporary Hotel around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, December 10. When we pulled up to the gate, we were told to turn left. Little did we know, but we were being sent to a land far, far away to park. We were being outsourced to Disney Cast Member Parking Hell. Still, we stayed the course and cheerfully began our quest to find our way back to the FDP Convention. As luck would have it, we saw Rhonda, a Disney cast member with a mini golf cart-like tram vehicle that still had room for 2 more, so we gladly hopped on.
Bobnbob, who never met a stranger, chatted with the other passengers in our cart. Even though she should have known better, bobnbob made eye contact with the lady in red. She was sucked into the tractor beam of an alleged candidate for governor with a homemade cardboard sign that said "FCAT must go!" This alleged candidate bemoaned the fact that she wasn't being permitted to speak and was expected to come up with $20,000 to be even considered for said speaking privilege. She reminded me a little of those delusional American Idol contestants who truly believe that they can sing when in reality, they don't have a chance in hell or an ounce of talent. When we pulled up to the front of the convention center, I quickly pulled bobnbob away from the lady in red. Thankfully, we had narrowly escaped and were back on track.
Lois and Clark saved us seats for the morning general session where we listened to various Democratic leaders and candidates such as Senator Bill Nelson and both Candidates for Governor; Congressman Jim Davis and State Senator Rod Smith. We had to part ways with Lois and Clark at around noon because they were attending a luncheon with Senator John Edwards and we, being true to our mission, were resigned to lunch on our own.
After lunch, bobnbob and I headed back to the convention area for the afternoon session. Although we never second guessed our mission, we were indulging in just a bit of self-pity about missing out on the John Edwards luncheon. As we turned a corner in the hallway, we noticed a pack of people walking very closely together. Who should be in the middle of the pack but John Edwards himself! He spoke first saying "Hey ladies, how are you?" We both stopped dead in our tracks (picture a deer caught in the headlights). Bobnbob rebounded first with "Hey! How's Elizabeth?" Senator Edwards responded with "She is doing fine. Thank you for asking." Bobnbob immediately followed that up with "How are the kids?" I eventually rallied with "Thank you, Senator, for your hard work against poverty." But as we parted company, we were kicking ourselves for not getting that perfect picture! When we rejoined Lois and Clark at the afternoon session, we asked them if they had the opportunity to speak with Senator Edwards at the luncheon. "No," they replied, "We were sitting pretty far away from him." We then broke the news that we had just bumped into him in the hall and talked to him.
When the afternoon sessions ended, Lois and Clark had yet another paid meal event to attend. This time they had a dinner date with Senator Barack Obama. They wanted to get ready early so that hopefully they could get a table close to the front.
With drinks in hand, (funny that we don't remember actually eating much) bobnbob and I went to a reception for Skip Campbell, Candidate for Attorney General, where we heard that Virginia Governor Mark Warner would be making an appearance. After that, we decided that if we couldn't hear Senator Obama speak, the next best thing would be Planned Parenthood's "Sex, Politics & Cocktails Reception."
As we waited for Governor Warner to show up, we conducted an interrogation of a FL gubernatorial staffer. In our quest to discover his candidate's stance on all of the issues, we must admit that we used "aggressive methods" of interrogation. Even though our methods were "within the law", his darting eyes and attempts to inch away from us were a dead give away that he was desperately trying to escape. When Governor Warner finally walked right by us, we were already too far into full (well meaning) advice assault mode to pay any attention to him. (We sincerely do care about getting Democrats back in control of Florida so this momentarily superseded our national agenda).
It is my understanding that desperate prisoners will offer bits of valid information in a blatant attempt to free themselves from their captors, so when our POW asked us to follow him to John Edwards' Reception, we took the bait. Bobnbob still had him in her "Kung-Fu grip" when he suddenly said "Look, there's food! Why don't you go get something to eat?" Bobnbob wasn't fooled even for a minute. I was beginning to feel a little sorry for him so I also encouraged bobnbob to come follow me to the food table. Besides, we most likely would not have a chance to eat dinner so we needed to make the most of this opportunity to nourish our bodies and "beautiful minds." Bobnbob eventually saw the light and set him free. She found me near the food table where she filled a plate with fruit, cheese and crackers and then went right back and handed it to our ex-POW. He seemed a little suspicious yet grateful for the food.
In the meantime, I had reconnected with an old acquaintance and one of my favorite columnists from the St. Pete Times. I'll call him Hemmingway because I can. The St. Pete Times just happens to be on Bill O'Reilly's Enemy List so you know it's good. "That's all I'm saying."
But I digress...Hemmingway and I enjoyed good conversation about local and national politics, kids and my activism in DFA Tampa Bay and the DEC. Our chat was interrupted by John Edwards' arrival, so I thrust my camera into Hemmingway's hands and asked him to take a picture of me with Edwards. The crush of the crowd around Senator Edwards was too dense to penetrate. I actually felt sorry for the guy, so I backed off.
Later, Edwards moved to a corner of the reception room where I was able to stand about 5 feet from him while he briefly addressed the crowd. When he finished speaking, the crowd began to close in on him but this time, I was ready. I think that I was about the 3rd person to make eye contact with him. I recalled my Senator Graham moment and realized that you have to be ready to pounce with the 1-2 combination. Pin them with eye contact as you grab their hand in a firm shake. I told him that I was new to political activism but that I worked my precinct for him and thanked him for admitting that his vote for the war was a mistake. Senator Edwards agreed to my photo op request, so bobnbob quickly snapped our picture. On my way out the room, I stopped to show Hemmingway the picture on my digital camera. He shook his head and chuckled when he saw that I had achieved my goal.
I tried to call Lois and Clark to tell them about the 2nd Edwards encounter, but it went to voice mail so I gave up. By now they were either in line to get into the Obama event or already in enjoying good food and excellent company.
Bobnbob and I sat down near the press room. We were trying to decide whether to give up getting a glimpse of Obama, go to the Planned Parenthood reception, or call it a night. "Staying the course" was working for us, so we ultimately decided to hang around and chat with the press while hoping to get a picture of Obama as he headed into the ballroom.
Someone in the media let it slip that Senator Obama's plane had been delayed so we continued to chat with our new friends in the media. One of our new best friends in the press corps said that he would introduce us to Luis Navarro, Executive Director and Coordinated Campaign Director for the Florida Democratic Party. My new press buddy thought that Luis might take pity on us and let us hear Obama speak, so we thought what the hell. What did we have to lose?
On our way to find Navarro, Congressman Barney Frank walked by asking if anyone knew where the payphones were. I said "Here, you can use my cell phone." He said something like I don't trust those things. To which I responded with "Sir, it would be my honor," as I handed him my phone. Bobnbob shouted, "Free weekends!" Amid the laughter that spontaneously erupted around us, someone in the press corps suggested that this entire exchange would make a great ad for cell service.
As bobnbob and I refocused and began to close in on Navarro, I suddenly realized that I lost sight of both Barney and my cell phone. I shouted "Hey, where did Barney go with my phone?" Someone from the press put their 2 cents in saying, "Now, there's a story!" Fortunately, I spotted Barney Frank returning with my phone. I told him as he gave it back to me that there were strings attached. He was now required to submit to a photo op with us. As he agreed and posed for the picture with us, I almost asked him if he thought I was "The Greatest Democrat he ever met" or if I was just "A Great Democrat." I understand that there may be some bad feelings about a recent interview on "The Colbert Report," so I held my tongue and just put him down for "Great."
We finally did meet Navarro, but in mid-conversation, a woman with an ear piece and Walkie Talkie tapped me on the shoulder and asked if we were at the dinner for Obama. We told her no because we gave all our money to the bank, etc. So she asked us if we were willing to work. I jumped at the request and said, "Of course, just tell us what to do." She said that we could stand in the room to hear Obama speak if we guarded the side doors so her staff could eat. When we obediently followed her into the ballroom, security tried to stop us, but she stated quite firmly, "It's OK; they're with me." She placed me at the side door near the rear of the ballroom with instructions not to let anyone in or out. I took my job very seriously and became the best damn "Door Nazi" there ever was.
Bobnbob was placed at the side door near stage left, where she was sternly instructed not to accost, rush, harass, or talk to the Senator unless he spoke to her first. From her post, bobnbob could see the stage as well as Senator Obama as he waited in the wings. Meanwhile back at the rear door, I was stopping innocent delegates, staff, and security alike. If they didn't have headphones and Walkie Talkies, I made them show me their credentials. I only faltered once or twice when I became engrossed in Senator Obama's speech or grabbed my camera to snap pictures. I realized too late that when I took my eyes off my post, someone exited through my door! Damn it to hell!
Barack Obama's speech was so riveting that you could almost hear a pin drop. He finished to a thundering standing ovation. It is my understanding that at first he turned down the request to speak at our convention because of a conflict with his daughter's piano recital. The Florida Democratic Party countered with a promise to fly him down after the recital and have him back home to kiss his girls good night. He not only accepted the invitation to speak but cut a check to the Florida Democratic Party as well.
In my humble opinion, Obama is a class act. He has intelligence, grace, humility and charisma. I remember one priceless moment about midway through his speech, when he was mentioning something about the future of the Democratic Party looking good, some female in the audience shouted "Well, you're looking good!" Obama put his head down momentarily trying to maintain his focus but as the room erupted in laughter, he couldn't hold back that engaging smile.
We will never know if we were randomly asked to volunteer or if someone made a subtle suggestion that the FDP better put us to work to keep us out of trouble. Either way, it was a magical evening!
As I walked out of the ballroom, Lois and Clark called me to tell me about how wonderful Senator Obama was. I had to break it to them gently that we also heard the future leader of the Democratic Party speak. They were sincerely thrilled for us.
Bobnbob, Lois and Clark and I went back into the emptying ballroom to savor the moments of the evening. As we giggled and toasted with our favorite beverages, bobnbob was approached by a National Political Correspondent from the Chicago Tribune. He told us that he was writing several articles about Senator Obama's first year in the Senate. He asked bobnbob what she thought about Senator Obama and his speech. We all willingly offered our opinions, but it was ultimately bobnbob who was quoted in Jeff Zeleny's article in the December 12, 2005 edition of the Chicago Tribune.
Around 12:30 a.m., we realized that our magical day was over but it was then that we remembered that our car was parked in a land far, far away and we had no idea how to find it. We approached the lobby desk to ask if the mini golf cart tram thing could take us back to our car. The lobby desk clerk regretfully informed us that it was no longer running. Clark generously offered to retrieve his car from valet parking so that he could drive us to our car. Superman was coming to our rescue!
As we told the lady at the outside valet desk about our woes, she said that she knew exactly where our car was parked because she was the one who drove us in that morning. Rhonda had been working since 6 a.m. and was still going strong. We gave our Rhonda a tip as she dropped us off at our car. Lois and Clark also found her on Sunday morning. They thanked her again and offered her a tip. They also went to hotel management to put in a good word for our Rhonda.
Since Lois and Clark had yet one more paid event on Sunday morning, we arranged to call each other after their brunch with Governor Mark Warner. As we pulled into the parking lot around 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning, I called Lois to ask her how the brunch was. She told me that Warner was wonderful and she was sorry that we missed it. We told them that we would call them after we parked our car.
Bobnbob and I went straight to the vending area to see what buttons and bumper stickers were left for purchase where fate intervened once again. While perusing the vending tables, we bumped into Governor Warner and his posse. Bobnbob and I seized the day once again and pulled the 1-2 combination. After our successful photo op, I couldn't resist and called Lois and Clark. I asked them if they had a chance to speak to Governor Warner and of course, they had not. I giggled as I told them that we just spoke to and had our picture taken with him. Lois and Clark then proclaimed that next year we would be sharing a room with them and that we were not to leave their side.