Republican National Convention
Monday, July 31, 2000

Convention-goers not easily bored

        PHILADELPHIA — It's a map-o-rama. A flier fest. A badge-athon. It's a job fair and a pep rally. And a yawn, of course.

        I heard this on CNN: “Same old, same old.” And read it in the USA Today delivered to my hotel room: “Political stagecraft drains life out of campaigns.” Ted Koppel won't waste his time here. He flounced out of the GOP convention four years ago in San Diego, calling it “more of an infomercial than a news event.” He will anchor Nightline from Washington this time.

        I guess this means he won't get a media “goodie bag,” a black fabric sack of booty. Notebooks. A pen. An exceptionally nice map of Philadelphia. A Dale Carnegie brochure that advises me to become a friendlier person and admonishes that I should fill my mind with “thoughts of peace, courage, health and hope.”

        Hoping for some Pennsylvania-esque snacks — say, Tastykakes or Hershey kisses — I found instead a package of macaroni and cheese with elephant-shaped noodles inside and a presidential IQ test on the back of the box. Who said: “Run out of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese? Wouldn't be prudent?” They are right. They are the cheesiest.

        The Pennsylvania Convention Center is site of PoliticalFest, a “world's fair of politics.” There's a faux White House and a cutaway Air Force One. More photo ops. Wish I had the film concession. Or the bunting concession. Or the balloon rights.

        People were standing in line to get their pictures in the Oval Office, a replica borrowed from Universal Studios. “It was used in the movie Contact,” Julie Hayes told me. One of hundreds of volunteers recruited for the convention, she teaches English and Latin and says the volunteers had “a brief orientation meeting, but we keep finding out things and passing the information along.”

        She wants me to see a black velvet Bill Blass dress worn by Barbara Bush in an exhibit borrowed from the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas. A closed circuit TV plays a continuous loop of the “Bushes unplugged,” in cluding an appearance on the David Letterman Show by Mrs. Bush and President Bush critiquing Dana Carvey's Saturday Night Live impersonations.

        Every state was invited to send its interpretation of the Liberty Bell. (Think pigs, only bell-shaped.) Ohio's Basketbell, a wicker basket, was made by the Longaberger Co. in Dresden. Indiana's was a bell-shaped bronze basketball net. Kentucky called its entry the Bluegrass bell. Made of fiberglass and decorated with bluegrass seed, cotton quilt pieces and Ohio River driftwood, it was better than it sounds.

        I am pretty sure I am not supposed to be having such a good time. I must have a tragically high boredom threshold. Which was tested by an actor dressed as a colonist and using puppets to re-enact Valley Forge. Plush animal pillows were scattered on the floor of the Laura Bush Reading Room. “There was nothing like this in San Diego,” said Buck Niehoff, a delegate from Hyde Park. “It was just badges and T-shirts for sale.” And silly hats and elephant pins. And commerce.

        DaimlerChrysler hosted a brunch. Penny Welsh, an Indian Hill High School grad working now in Philadelphia, helped point delegates to the PT Cruiser exhibit and peaches poached in wine. “This part is fun,” she says. “But if you live here, you get more of the realities. Worries about traffic and protesters.”

        For most delegates, there is no real life here. Not yet.

        Shirley Sadler of Lebanon is an honorary delegate. She said, "Honey, I get to go to everything but I just don't get to vote ... I'm here to get fired up, then go back to Warren County and fight as hard as I can to get our guy elected.” Rose Vesper, state rep from Clermont County, says she thinks there's “a wonderful mood. People are happy, excited.”

        They are here, they believe, to rally around the next leader of the free world.

        And they are not bored.

        Laura Pulfer is a Metro columnist. E-mail her at


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