It was a long strange trip from Buenos Aires to the convention in Denver. A delegate from Guam and I agreed to a tie for the prize for the person that came the furthest ...it was OK with her and OK with me ...so I haven't ever checked the mileage (you can do the math, but with my cheap ticket dog-legs and layovers, I'm sure I took her.)
I hadn't been back to the US in more than 3 years. I emigrated to Argentina 5 years ago with my Buenos Aires wife and we now raise hundreds of grass-fed cattle on 2500 acres in the center of the province.
If you've never lived for a prolonged period of time outside the US, you'd be surprised at how weird your return can be. The moment I cleared customs in Atlanta, I got the newsflash that Joey Biden was the pick for veep! It was like the old country was just waiting to give me a big kickoff. The Wall Street Journal is now in color! No $2 bills (like most countries, Argentina has no bill smaller than a 2)! I got four bucks back from paying for my beer in the airport...and got 4 separate bills in change; if you haven't been there, you can't fathom the several nanoseconds it took for my brain to reboot. Coach passengers' using the business-class "can" is now forbidden ...not because you didn't pay for it, but now, as per the directive from the flight deck, "to preserve the security of the cockpit as per the TSA." We were also warned that any congregating near the coach restrooms "would be dispersed", not because you're blocking an aisle ...but because of Homeland Security Administration policy! Sheesh, welcome back.
How I even came to attend the Democratic National Convention was strange enough. I'm a blogger. Dem Chairman Howard Dean decided early this year that placing a non-traditional media type with every state delegation would be a good counterbalance to cable and the networks. It was also a great hat-tip to the webroots that made such a big difference in his own presidential bid last time around. Unlike the Republican Party, Democrats living abroad are accorded the same status as a state delegation. The search was suddenly on ...and I got chosen from all the blogs in the world to receive a floor pass to the convention and a seat with my delegation. I almost refused; some of my bloggy heros got passed over in favor of my humble i-rag which is devoted to expat issues in the largest community of US expats in the Americas outside of Canada and Mexico.
I wasn't a delegate. By that, I mean that I had no vote at the convention but I was seated and deferred to in almost the same way. I had the run of the place! Initially, I think that some were almost offended that I made so little use of my "seat" ...but with that credential, with the big word FLOOR printed on it, I couldn't sit still for very long.
Deciding how to cover the convention, what my "angle" was going to be, was a bit of a consideration for me at first. Eventually, though, I decided I wouldn't waste time trying to cover the same things that everybody, everywhere could see on TV. While no one had much luck "afflicting the comfortable" in Denver (the thing ran so smooth that even protesters were having a good time), I did, however, comfort the afflicted a little in my coverage of people that had lesser access to the big show than I.
Due to my great fear of the dreaded TSA making my laptop the millionth seized (no matter how temporarily), I chose to go bare-back: writing in longhand and working off of any computer I could cage for a moment ...or resorting to cyber-cafés, if necessary. That didn't work out very well; every single computer in Denver seemed to be buzzing almost continuously for the four days.
My fat was saved from the fire by a little Flip videocam given to me by zannel.com in exchange for 3 short videos a day during the convention. I suddenly became a video blogger! Instead of 12 short videos, I sent them 100. Unable to tap away at a keyboard, I used the little point-and-shoot to interview people on the street, on the buses, and even hizzoner, Mayor Daley of Chicago from the floor of the proceedings. I hope a picture is worth a 1000 words because I originally intended to "scribe" much more than I did.
Another non-inkstained-wretch gizmo that served me well was a $9.99 (delivery included!) pay-as-you-go cell phone which gave the world immediate access to me directly from the floor. I published the phone number prominently on my blog. Not only did I field calls from ordinary Joes and Janes while they were watching their tube ("what's Bill Clinton really look like?", "does Ted Kennedy look well in person?" "can you see Hillary?!") but I also gave several interviews with Argentine radio stations that dropped a pretty dime to get the straight skinny from the Pepsi Center and Invesco Field.
I'm more immigrant than expat and, like I said, I don't get back much. To tell the truth, I was homesick for Buenos Aires after only 2 days in the US. After I gathered my thoughts here in the Paris of the Palmtrees, I likened the whole experience of being in the US to a shiny, flashy pinball machine: where being propelled in crazy directions, being jolted and electromechanically bumped and flipped ...is a good thing, it means you're in it, it means you're goin' places. Here, it's different. Even the cheapest neighborhood joint brings you your beer via a uniformed, career waiter with a tray and towel over his arm. People linger, they savor things just a little more. I can't say that life is slower here in a city bigger than Chicago ...but it feels a little more humane.
It was all great! My only regret might be not buying a t-shirt that said, "Welcome to the US! Now go home!"
This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the presidential election from an international perspective.