Now, the fact that I am born and raised in San Francisco has been well documented, in tedious and long-winded fashion. But I also have been well-traveled in a strange, reverse fashion. My father would get sent off every summer by the San Francisco Chronicle to tour some far away country. He didn't really enjoy writing the "travel columns," but his readers loved them.
As a result of this, I have actually visited more countries overseas than states here in the good old U.S. of A. High school back east helped level the playing field a little, and I now can fire off any New England accent you desire on command. But the reality is my knowledge of America is really limited to the obvious major cities like New York, Boston, Chicago and Seattle.
And then there is the south. Even though my mother hails from New Orleans, I have never stepped below the Mason Dixon in my entire life. That is, until I fell in love with a southerner, and this all rose to a dramatic flourish when I joined her last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Democratic National Convention.
Where, in the name of all that is humid, do I start? Oh yeah, the weather. Melissa had been sending me warning signs all week, but no "foghead" can be truly ready for 90 degree weather and 90 degree humidity. We rolled into the airport at almost midnight, and walking outside still felt like being jumped on by a big wet dog.
Next morning, I had my introduction to southern hospitality as we walked through the lobby. Good morning, sir! Good morning. Have a great morning sir! Yes, thank you. Welcome to Charlotte! Let us know if there's anything we can do for you!
A staggered line of Sheraton employees and convention greeters and God knows who else kept this up the entire way through the lobby.
Outside, the dog was waiting for me again. Down boy, and stop slobbering on me. After running around the convention center checking out Democratic schwag that went along the lines of "Run DNC," and "Obama Ya'll!" we staggered into an air conditioned restaurant for lunch. This began my three-day dance with southern food. I had not, at this point, realized that the four food groups in the South consist of food that is deep-fried, food that is about to be deep-fried, food that doesn't know it should be deep-fried and BBQ.
At one point during the weekend, I actually had the temerity to ask about salads, and was given a look like I had just dropped out of spaceship and demanded they fork over their cattle for scientific experiments. I even tried ordering an appetizer with pita chips, thinking they would be, well, chips. Nope, the assassin masquerading as our waitress brought over pita bread that had gone for a swim in the deep fryer.
Melissa had to keep up a constant stream of translations, and I suddenly flashed on George Bernard Shaw, who said that England and the United States were two countries separated by a common language. Her explanation of pepper sauce alone almost required charts and graphs for me to grasp the concept.
A night after we set up shop at the Sheraton, we were invaded by the West Virginia delegation, who were the happiest, cheeriest, bunch of lunatics I had ever met. They decamped to the bar while we were having dinner. Mind you, this was around seven. At two in the morning they were still happily rolling along. When the delegates were counted on Wednesday night, I watched this crew very carefully, and would not have been surprised if they had announced that the great state of West Virginia proudly pledges their delegates to Kermit the Frog or Jack Daniels.
I was in another world. And yet, the closer we rolled to the opening of the Convention, the more I started to feel the influence of our town. Dianne Feinstein was there, along with Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, our mayor and more. I felt a little twinge of pride, as the momentum of the event started to build and our team was right in the middle of it.
We always talk about how we live in a cocoon here in San Francisco, a place where politics act a little differently than they do in other parts of the country. Sometimes it is a concern, and I wonder if we are so different that maybe we are marginalizing ourselves, and removing our thoughts and causes from the national discourse. Especially after hearing three days of the Republicans talking about "us" and "them," I was starting to think we were irretrievably out of touch with the rest of the country.
My faith was a little shaken, I have to admit. But at the Democratic Convention, I realized that maybe we aren't so far away from it all. Maybe it's a good thing that we keep pushing at the envelope, keep poking things a little too far, and take up causes other people are afraid to touch. We may not see the effects here immediately, and sometimes we never get where we are trying to go. But I like to think that every four years, that DNA reaches out, and changes the conversation. On civil rights, on health care, on the environment, at the national level, there was a little bit of San Francisco. Even in Charlotte, North Carolina.