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View from the seats: Controlled, but dry, chaos

Updated: October 7, 2012 7:55AM

CHARLOTTE — It took them a while to make the obvious and right choice, but the Democrats announced Wednesday morning they’re moving President Obama’s speech from the outdoor football stadium to the indoor basketball arena, because of the possibility of it raining so hard people in the stands would have started weeping.

Imagine the metaphoric material the DNC nearly gave to the Republicans on a blue platter. Barack Obama onstage with the rain pouring down, a half-filled stadium of soggy, umbrella-less backers trying to muster up some enthusiasm while praying they don’t catch pneumonia. (“Even the weatherman agrees, it’s time for Barack Obama to go . . .”)

So instead of the Bank of America stadium, it’ll be the Time Warner Cable Arena, where on Tuesday Michelle Obama wooed the crowd by bench-pressing Rahm Emanuel 20 times in less than five minutes, and Pat Quinn talked about everything but how things are going back home.

A word or two about the scene at the Time Warner Cable Arena, one of the least romantically named stadiums this side of the Coliseum, the KFC Yum! Center and Whataburger Field. It’s basically controlled chaos. There’s an all-time record 6,000 delegates — more than the population of Rosemont — along with thousands of other Democratic politicians and staffers, not to mention all those media types, from the Anderson Coopers of the world to colorfully costumed video bloggers to characters such as Ross Mathews, formerly known as Ross the Intern of “The Tonight Show,” and Biff Henderson, the stage manager for David Letterman’s show, who specializes in doing these types of bits for Dave’s show. (Letterman would rather stick a pencil in his eye than go on one of these remotes himself.)

In the afternoon, while the lesser-known speakers are getting their moment in the semi-spotlight, some conventioneers are in their seats, politely applauding, while others mingle in the concourse, perusing the souvenir kiosks (Obama-Biden campaign buttons: two for $5!), buying refreshments (small Coke: $4.87!) or taking photos of political celebrities or of themselves.

They’ve got one of the most complicated trash-disposal setups I’ve ever encountered. You really have to pay attention, as each toss-your-garbage center has three cans with three options: Compost, with helpful drawings of pizza slices, a carrot, a hamburger and a paper plate and paper cups; Recycle, for aluminum cans, paper, cardboard and plastic and glass bottles; and Landfill, with a nice drawing of a big dump truck, potato chip bags, plastic utensils and Styrofoam. One hopes all that sorting actually helps the environment. One doubts, but one hopes.

There are far too many “characters” in “wacky” costumes. I saw one guy whose get-up was so flamboyant he would have stood out at a Lady Gaga concert. Many sported giant, look-at-me hats, or dozens of campaign buttons. A middle-age woman paraded about in a hat with tea bags dangling from the brim. Another guy had a shocking-pink wig. At least I think it was a wig.

The broadcast media love interviewing these characters, because their costumes make for great visuals. Who cares if they’ve got anything interesting to say. Look at this nut! He’s nutty!

As evening falls and more rain-soaked delegates stream into the arena, the stands begin to fill and people actually start to pay attention to the speakers. By the time Michelle Obama took the stage, she was looking out over a jampacked stadium of fired-up supporters just waiting for those jump-out-of-your-seat-and-cheer opportunities, and by goodness she delivered.

Those are the moments when even a cynical media type is reminded he’s bearing witness to a little bit of history, and it’s a privilege to have a front-row seat.

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