Saturday, August 30, 2008

On conventions, blogging and the West

Now that I've had a day of reflection and power napping, I'm prepared to tackle the convention in retrospect.

It was a spectacle. Heavy-hitting Dems as speakers! Celebrities in the delegations! More media than delegates! More cops than media and delegates combined! Music! Fireworks! Protesters!

It was impossible as a lone blogger to capture it all. I tackled it in slices. Some people stood out for their antics and/or attire. There was the tall blond delegate from Mississippi in her Ole Miss antiwar dress. The TV cameras liked her a lot. There were celebs -- Ashley Judd just behind the Wyoming delegation in the Pepsi Center, and Jamie Foxx walking the aisles. Almost all the Democrats who've been in the public eye during the post-World War II era: Jimmy Carter, Daniel Inouye, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, Hillary and Bill Clinton, Fritz Mondale, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton. And those are only the ones I saw personally.

But after the first day of the convention, I was less interested in pol-and-celeb-spotting than I was in talking to the people around me. And eavesdropping. And keeping my eyes open. All techniques honed by years of fiction writing. Most of my stories come from personal encounters. The way someone speaks. A passing comment. The look in the eye. A small gesture can turn into a short story which can speak a universal truth -- if you're lucky.

While I was blogging in the hotel lobby Thursday, two volunteer Democrats who been shepherding us all week were chatting. One good thing about publicly typing on a laptop -- people don't think you're listening. But the woman volunteer, who was in her early forties, was talking about moving from Minnesota and how hard it's been on her daughter, who's in high school. She's going to the very huge Cherry Creek H.S., which used to be the largest one in the state but now probably is dwarfed by new and bigger exurb schools. The daughter is "very social" but finding it hard to make friends. The woman volunteer also complained that there was no water in Colorado. "So many lakes in Minnesota," she said, adding that her entire family loves swimming and boating and water-skiing.

The man from Minnesota moved to Colorado Springs to be near his kids, three out of four of them had moved to The Centennial State. He wore a gray pony tail and wire rim glasses, which made him look a bit like John Denver. He seemed perfectly happy in the Springs, even though Dems are outnumbered by insufferable hordes of born-agains.

I contemplated the words of the unhappy Minnesota expatriate. It's very tough to move out of your homeplace. It's really tough on teenagers. Her husband pushed for the move and she went along but now is having second thoughts. What's going to happen to them? Back in the booming 1990s, I heard statistics that 50 percent of those who moved from California to Colorado moved back within five years. They returned to family because they missed them. Didn't like the winters. Discovered that there hadn't been an ocean in Colorado for 30 million years.

I felt the same way when I moved from Florida to Colorado 30 years ago. I missed the beach! Also, warm weather. And my parents and my eight brothers and sisters and all of their kids yet to come. I was born in Denver, so I did have relatives there and still do. But it wasn't the same. My wife, too, was homesick, but possesses the vagabond spirit of the Army brat that she is. But we loved the mountains and made friends with other expatriates from Georgia and Massachusetts and even Minnesota. Now here we are 30 years later as Americans who've spent more than half of their lives in the Rocky Mountain West. Our son was born in Denver and our daughter in Cheyenne. She's the only native-born Wyomingite in the family.

There are many stories embedded in our experiences. Five years ago -- heck, one year ago -- I never could have contemplated attending a national political convention as a blogger. It's one of the many pleasant surprises I've had in my life. More to come, I hope.

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