Descent into the convention floor maelstrom
New York — Being anywhere at the Democratic National Convention is a thrilling experience. History is being made right before your eyes. But walking out onto the "floor" of the convention hall at Madison Square Garden feels like a cross between walking on the moon and a jaunt across country in 30 minutes -- which is exactly how long reporters' "floor passes" are good for before they have to be exchanged for new ones.
Stepping down on the floor there seems to be a sudden bounce to your step, as if the laws of gravity had suddenly somehow been declared void. And the cheers -- and boos -- of the delegates, as well as high intensity light, is more enervating than Studio 54 in its bygone disco heydays. You soon find, however, that there are just a few thousand others around and to negotiate your way to delegates in "Texas" or "California" or even "New york" is at times tantamount to charging up San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders.
In Kansas, you can figuratively sit for a few minuts on the broad veranda (actually a bright orange convention chair) and talk about Kansas wheat as well as Kansas politics; stop briefly in New Jersey and Atlantic City's burgeoning and much-criticized casino industry comes up for conversation; in Oklahoma, the talk turns to oil and Indians in short snatches between Carter and Kennedy.
Of course, all this chatter goes on "between acts" of the major speakers of the day and night. When a Senator Kennedy or another forceful speaker is on the podium the delegates and reporters settle into sardine-like stances and the shouting -- cheering and sometimes booing -- begins full blast.
Commentators sometimes call conventions three-ring circuses with well-trained animal acts. But actually there are countless rings altogether, which form for a brief few moments or minutes and then dissolve and then form again. And while you may not be a performer up on the platform, you're definitely part of the circus -- down on the floor where the action is.
And, then, suddenly you're more a part of the action than you want to be. In the "We Want Ted" roar that lasted 45 minutes after Senator Kennedy's speech, many Kennedy supporters, locked arm in arm, formed chains and snaked around the floor with other delegates and reporters leaping out of their way.
After this not so "spontaneous" outburst, one floor reporter said: "This is the real world down here." I'm not sure whether I can agree with that, but it certainly is a whirling dervish of a world.