By Stephanie Vardavas of Portland, Oregon. Stephanie is a political activist, attorney, mediator, and arbitrator. Yesterday, she contributed her first "Postcard from Charlotte". Editor's note: This week, we'll have on-the-floor and behind-the-scenes coverage from a number of our regulars and guest contributors. Enjoy!
Today was the day for microphone checks and other last-minute rehearsal details in the Time Warner Cable Center. I reported for my volunteer shift beginning at 1 pm and was handed a three-pound Motorola radio unit to wear on my belt, which I clipped to my left hip. There was a small clip-on microphone connected to my earpiece and the radio by a wire that ran up the sleeve of my blazer, so that I could do that talking-into-my-sleeve thing that Secret Service agents do, too. My inner nerd felt that this was all kinds of awesome.
I was assigned a pretty good post on the floor directly in front of the podium, stage right. I had a commanding view of the hall and I've now seen terrible things no one wants to look at: Bret Baier of Fox News having his makeup put on. Chris Wallace, also of Fox News, in a sweaty blue polo shirt. But shortly after I started my shift I learned that we were going to have some real excitement today.
"FLOTUS is in the building."
FLOTUS, as the Secret Service call her, AKA the First Lady Of The United States, or Michelle Obama, as we call her, was going to visit the stage to ... who cares why? Michelle Obama was in the building, and we were going to help guard her.
We were told what the plan was, and how we would execute it. I would be standing at the base of a staircase that came down through the 100 level seats next to the stage, to make sure no one came through into the protected area. Secret Service agents fanned out along the perimeter. We waited, the order came, we moved into our new positions. I was standing in such a way as to physically block anyone who wanted to come down the staircase onto the floor, mostly members of the news media. Not everyone blocked was pleased with this development. Some tried wheedling, or telling me that they had the right credential in their car, but most of them were good sports about it.
Mrs. Obama finally appeared. A little burst of spontaneous applause came up from the few delegates and volunteers in the hall. She walked out to the edge of the stage and acknowledged us, then stood at the podium, talked with a few people, and disappeared. The journalists and others being held back started pressing to be allowed to resume their traffic flow, but that earpiece in my ear was telling me to hold my position. So I did. We waited for a little while, and then Mrs. Obama came out again. This time someone interviewed her, using an enormous boom microphone, as we continued to hold our positions. After a few more minutes they stopped, she walked around the edge of the stage and waved to everyone again, and gentle applause followed her off the stage. This time the "All Clear" signal came through our earpieces relatively quickly, and we let the normal flow of foot traffic resume.
It's interesting to observe what one can learn about human nature during an exercise of this kind. As this was only a rehearsal day, most of the people in the hall weren't nearly as wound up as they will be starting tomorrow. But aside from a couple of gentle wheedles and perhaps two or three very pointed huffing sighs, the people I held back were gracious and sporting about it. I discovered later that one was probably a United States Senator! But still, no trouble at all. Not a single person uttered the terrible question, "Don't you know who I am?" It's almost enough to restore a girl's faith in human nature.
At the end of my shift I went up to the security office to hand back my radio and get my assignments for Tuesday. I sat with my husband and another couple of old friends who are back office volunteers in a room nearby, put my feet up after my four hours of standing, and waited for the torrential downpour outside to abate long enough to make our way over to the Oregon delegation party at a restaurant a couple of blocks away. The rain started up again while we were walking but we made it without getting too wet, and were rewarded with a wonderful low-key evening among the Oregon delegation, featuring amazing soul food and even more amazing service and friendliness. (Plug: when in Charlotte, visit Mert's Heart and Soul It was relaxed, noisy enough to be fun, but quiet enough to be able to talk. Unlike most of the parties you'll hear about from Charlotte this week, there were no celebrities present and the event was resolutely un-glam, but at the moment I was mainly concerned with being able to sit down and eat my first meal since that waffle I had at the hotel at 8:30 am. Good times.
Today I learned: that it can be tricky to go to the ladies' room when you have a three pound radio hooked to the belt of your pants as well as the sleeve of your blazer and an earpiece in your ear. I'll let you ponder the logistics of that overnight. I'll be back with more tomorrow from Day 1 of the main event.