Tonight, Donald J. Trump takes the stage at the Republican National Convention. Four years ago I was there to see Willard Mitt Romney do the same.
Four years ago almost to the day I was in Tampa, Florida for the Republican National Convention. Casey Butler, a wonderful surf writer, reminded me of the time and today the story I wrote is very apt.
My flight touched down in the evening at Orlando’s international airport. I walked through the terminal, shoving by chunks, who stopped to gape at DisneyWorld and Dolphin Tale posters, and left into the sticky hot air. It was so sticky. So hot. It felt the way I always think Honolulu should but Honolulu always feels cold, at least initially. I got my car, an eggshell white Fiat, the same that J-Lo owns, and drove through flat uninspired green, though I did love how the Spanish moss draped from the trees. So Gone With The Wind! So the south will rise again! I drove to Clearwater, just outside Tampa, to try and secure a pass for the Republican National Convention. The hottest ticket since I don’t even know when. Since Ponce de Leon found the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine.
I met a man whom I was first introduced to in Finland three weeks back. He had done secret things in Afghanistan and Iraq and had just recently moved to what he called “cracker country.” I later saw “cracker homes” and “cracker food” and “cracker barrel” advertised on billboards. I, mistakenly, had thought “cracker” was racist. Apparently it is not. Now I can write, without fear, that almost all surfers are crackers.
This man, who had worked on political campaigns in the past and also for Hunter S. Thompson, before going dark in America’s dirty secrets, made “cracker country” look good. We drank cold beer at the world’s very first Hooters. We walked down to the beach and felt that warm water. We talked politics and about the Republican National Convention. He pointed out from the balcony and said, “See that building there across the street? That is where the dolphin without the tail from that movie is. They say it has brought over 500 million in tourism to the area but, you know, that dolphin is going to die pretty soon. I’ve got a theory. They are down there chopping the tails off replacement dolphins even as we drink…” It was a good theory. I asked if he could get me into the convention and he said, “No. I used to work for the other side.” I was on my own.
Tampa had been set up so that you could not even get into the town center without a pass from the GOP. Crazed protesters, mostly supporting Ron Paul or against “homo sex”, stomped around. Angry. How was I going to get a ticket? I parked J-Lo’s car and thought. I thought, “I will drink.” And so I went into the nearest hotel bar, a gaudy Hyatt, and pushed between two bad suits, ordered a mojito, and starred at the attractive brunette across from me. She was my ticket. We made small talk and her talk grated. She was from Wisconsin, in Wisconsin’s state senate, and I told her she needed the surf vote. That, if Republicans were going to have any chance to win this fall they had to secure the surf vote. She said, “Oooooh I don’t knowwwww. What does the surf vote need?” I told her clean water and Matt Biolos to be put on the ticket, or at least in the cabinet. She replied, “Sounds like Democrat stuff to me…” And I countered, “You, good woman, do not know Matt Biolos.”
At that moment her blonde, drunk, flirty friend stumbled over holding two pinot grigios. “Who is this?” she slurred in the same Wisconsin grate while eyeing my very nice Costume National pants. This was my moment. “We both need something. I need a ticket and you need the surf vote.” She didn’t even ask what the surf vote was, fumbled in her purse and pulled out a red “suite guest” ticket. She slid it across the bar, “You’re my new best friend, right.” “No” I said. “My wife would not approve of me hanging out with conservatives.” And I darted out before she could retract the gift.
I walked through miles of security, assuming I would be plucked out at some point but never was. I made it into the convention hall, into the suite, and drank Bud Light and watched speeches (Jeb Bush looks chubby. Clint Eastwood looks completely insane). I watched the delegates in totally bizarre costume. I talked with young Capital Hill staffers about Mitt Romney’s deficiencies. I told them he would win hearts if he just went outside, sat on the curb, and drank a Bud Light too. Even though he is a Mormon, they all agreed with sad sad sighs.
While moving down the floor for a better look, I pondered Florida so far. I liked the hot and sticky. I liked the water temperature, even though there were no waves. I liked that I was in the Republican National Convention. Ann Coulter broke my pondering by smashing into my shoulder, spinning around and giving me the eye, before being whisked away by security. My wife does not approve of Ann Coulter but I was starting to have warm feelings about Florida.