The first political convention I can remember watching was the 1964 Republican at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. As a 12-year old my first thought was, “are you kidding me? They’re gonna nominate a candidate for President in a place called the Cow Palace?” It seemed more appropriate as a venue for judging heifers and goats at a state fair. After two days of viewing on our 19-inch black and white Zenith TV, it became apparent it was exactly the right place since the delegates were packed together as tightly as canned hams and the nominee, Barry Goldwater, was throwing out conservative red meat to the crowd poised to gobble up every morsel of anti-Communist paranoia. Sidenote: many years later when I was a weatherman at KGUN, Tucson, Arizona, Goldwater came walking thr0ugh the studio as I was preparing my map. He stopped and joked, “you’re not gonna make it rain this weekend, are you?” “Oh no, Senator. This is Arizona. We don’t do rain,” was my lame reply. He kept walking.
I don’t remember much about the Democratic convention that year. It was held in Atlantic City where we vacationed each spring break with another family long before the casino/parasites sucked the once quaint beach resort dry. LBJ was the Dem’s nominee having benefitted from taking office after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I do, vaguely remember Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s running mate, being pushed to the sidelines and made to appear as the strong-willed Johnson’s man servant.
1968 didn’t happen for me. Of all years. I was 16 and working for a camp that took disadvantaged inner city kids from New York City, camping and canoeing and hiking in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. White Mountains of New Hampshire and Baxter State Park in Maine. While the upheaval and violence was going on at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, I was fending off a 10-year thug at a campsite in New Hampshire who pulled my own jackknife on me. He wasn’t hard to disarm but I had to escort him on a Trailways bus back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan and deposit him with his parents who just couldn’t believe their darling Julio could do such a thing.
The closest I ever got to actually covering a convention was in 1988 when I worked for CNN. The Democrats did their thing at the old Omni Arena in Atlanta, which was about 10 steps from CNN Center. That made things very convenient. I was assigned to work, most of the week, in one of our trailers below a viaduct between the Omni and CNN Center. I honestly don’t remember exactly what I did but I do remember two things: Al Franken walking glumly through the trailer after being fired when his “humorous” commentaries fell flat, and the unbelievable large quantity of pigeon droppings that adorned our little metal workplace. When I wasn’t working in the trailer I was the Supervising Producer in the actual newsroom in CNN Center. It was a cool time. All sorts of celebrities toured our complex. The one I remember clearly was CNN’s own Larry King. I’d never seen him in person before but if “The Walking Dead” had been a thing in ’88, he’d have been either the star, or the inspiration for the series.
Over time, of course, the long death march primary system has replaced the conventions as the method whereby candidates actually win the nomination, but I still enjoy watching them. For one, I get the greatest amount of joy seeing some low-level official attempting to capture the delegates’ attention while giving a speech at 4 p.m. I confess, desperation has its allure, when it’s not mine.
So I look forward to the unusual arrangement of both conventions running back-to-back this time around. Someone is bound to do something foolish or personally destructive, but on the other hand a new political star may be born. Just ask Hillary Clinton about one such star who wowed the crowd at the 2004 convention in Boston, then outshined her own candidacy in 2008 and is completing his second term. Is it her turn, finally? Will Donald Trump rock Cleveland…or turn it into a casino/condo development? Don’t know but I have a better TV now and I can’t wait to watch…in color.