Lesson One going into the streets of Cleveland — as hipped by my poli-warzone-brother Mitch — If you hear fire crackers, don’t assume they’re fire crackers. Get behind cover.
Mitch and I met in 1983 thru him being a music reporter in Winnipeg and me managing to some success one of the local bands he loved. What usually happens with relationships is — they stay in the realm they were formed. He and I shared that rock n roll crazyworld … but gradually learned we were both history buffs … and hardcore politicos. We’ve spent a thousand hours talking and arguing politics in person and over the phone from Toronto to New York — and that was before the internet! I was calling him with payphoned reports from D.C. during Bill Clinton’s first inauguration — a quarter-century ago. Then we roomed together within eyesight of the Lincoln Memorial through the week of Obama’s inauguration — he making his newspaper deadlines, me making my email dispatches — which you can read here — and Michael Lang even used in his Woodstock book! — and now here we are together again — 30-something years after our first crazy Prankster Road Adventure began — with the perfect recent rainbow arc from the beginning of Obama to the end of the Republican party.
This is one of the three great elections in my lifetime.
’92, ’08, and now ’16.
I first came of political age in the fall of ’83 . . . while running the NYU concerts … when one day outside the Loeb Student Center was a Gary Hart rally. I’d never cared for, or understood, American politics before, but suddenly here it was in front of me — cheering people, a star on stage, big production, camera crews — it was like the rock shows I was producing — except with a person who was going to potentially govern our land.
Suddenly I got it.
This is rock n roll — except about everything else I give a shit about. I love dancing and all that … but this is how government is decided. And I’ve been part of it ever since. Back in the ’80s and ’90s I was registering more people to vote than anybody I knew. And they were all like, “Why is this Canadian the one doing this?”
Eventually I got married, became an American, and proudly vote and participate in every election in both my countries.
DAY ONE IN CLEVELAND — Saturday — July 16th
Somewhere in New York State on the drive down from Toronto I suddenly got passed at 80 mph by the local Toronto news crew CP-24!
A good sign that Le Grande Synch was already locked in. 😉
And then damned if I don’t end up right next to my Toronto brothers again, zipping through the city! 😀
BREAKING BOOZE! The hosers are in town!
I love this place. And have had nothing but a good time here since I first hit it with John Cassady to go to The Grateful Dead show at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame . . .
Here’s John at the exhibit listening to one of his dad’s raps from an Acid Test …
So this has always been my touchstone in town and the obvious first place I went to get grounded with the newly-landed landed gentry of Republican delegates.
With the minor modification of the streets being filled with police and skies filled with surveillance helicopters.
And there was something else you couldn’t miss circling in the sky all day . . .
I started talking to a nice couple from Kentucky who’d just left the Rock Hall and were beaming in the beauty of it all. It was a soaring jam on the Beatles, Elvis, the Stones, and how great the museum was.
I just got back from a month in Greenwich Village and Woodstock, and before that nearly another month with the Merry Pranksters in Wonderland, and I’m quite used to strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand, as Robert Hunter put it. People who greet each other with a hug and not a handshake. People who get the Grand Prank of Life and are surfing the ripples of light. It’s the enlightened, as I see it, that one should soak in by the lifetime.
But suddenly this seemingly lovely Kentucky couple, obviously mistaking me for someone else, segue from Elvis on Ed Sullivan into, “Mike Pence is a great V.P. choice. (!) He adds a lot to the ticket. He’s got a lot of experience and has been fighting for all the important stuff for a long time.”
And suddenly I realize – “We’re not in Woodstock anymore.”
Kansas is in the house.
But not many other people are!
On the Saturday leading into the convention — downtown was a ghost town.
And this is right at the main Public Square in the center of town . . .
And these streets are not blocked off!
And speaking of dead roads . . . this town is the freakin’ poster child for the decimation of the infrastructure in this country! With the Repugnant congress blocking anything that’s good for the country in hopes people will blame Obama, and a Repugnant Ohio Governor toady who goes along with their bullshit, a lot of sidestreets here are like driving through a war zone … right after the war. There are pot holes you could hide a keg in.
And all the news crews are here to cover it . . .
Including my favorite —
And CNN has certainly planted their flag loud and high . . .
And in just about the best news from my first day’s recon — besides learning that my shuttlecraft bike is the way to get around town — is that the best single block in all of downtown Cleveland — Positively 4th Street — is just outside the security perimeter. (!) This one short narrow block has nothing but bars & restaurants, reminiscent of the French Quarter or Greenwich Village or North Beach.
And who should I find occupying it, of course, but my other favorite news network . . .
I can’t believe my favorite network has taken over my favorite street in Cleveland. 🙂
I wonder if ol’ MSNBC’s outside of the security perimeter, like me, because they were not credentialed for this auspicious embarrassment. 😀
I can tell this is going to be the block I’ll be spending some considerable time on. 😉
In other news — I talked to cops, state police, & secret service, and even in their buzz-shaved heads and starched-stiff uniforms they were as friendly to this longhaired biking freak as could be. Even told me I could ride on the sidewalks!
I don’t intend to be storming the Bastille or jumping any fences, because they’ve deputized an army of out-of-state cops and cleaned out their jails for miles around and are prolly just itching to fill the new vacancies. But all the ones I talked to were as friendly and helpful as a concierge in a 5-star disaster.
Mind you, the expected protestors haven’t really started to make their presence felt. In fact, these were the only ones I saw in a whole afternoon and early evening of biking the entire downtown . . .
And here’s Willard Park, with its giant FREE rubber stamp, that’s expected to be one of the gathering spots, but as you can see, protesters seem to be holding their fire for now. 🙂
And here’s The Mall park, with the Fountain of Eternal Life, in front of the Key Tower (behind me) — the tallest building in Ohio that you see with its pointed top in every skyline photo — and it’s completely dead despite the name of its fountain.
The Key Tower
Then damned if I didn’t run into the CP-24 guys again! 🙂
Went up and talked to them and confirmed it was them blasting past me on I-90 and that they were indeed the only such vehicle covering the event. We said we knew we’d meet again. 🙂
And until we do, dear reader, it’s time for this cowboy to get back on the horse — my faithful bike, Ranger — and ride into the sunshine.
Day Two — Sunday — July 17th
Even with the overlay of 3 more police officers being killed in Baton Rouge, the streets of Cleveland remain calm, controlled and festive. Locals are celebrating summer, delegates are being feted at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and the police are being applauded.
Positively 4th Street (where the above cop shot’s taken) is the obvious go-to strip — and may end up looking more like Mardi Gras by week’s end. But as the convention begins, it seems like there’s more journalists and police here than there are people to protect or report on.
I mean, they’re so desperate for anyone to talk to, they’re even talking to me!
And a beautiful thing to these eyes is that all the protests I’ve seen so far are about Love — and would make John Lennon proud.
“Love can heal what hurt divides”
Or check out this billboard of Donald and Ted on one of the main streets downtown . . . 😀
And as crazy as it may seem to some of us, there are people here proudly out of the closet for Trump.
But me, I’m just digging on the people, the political buzz, and the architecture . . .
One hand on the new Key Tower, the other on the old Terminal Tower
At one time (the 1930s), that Terminal Tower (on the right) was the fourth tallest building in the world! And I heard tell there’s an observation deck at the top that you may see pictures from before this Adventure is over.
And check out the front of their gorgeous main library — complete with this brightly colored temporary art installation of various animals that’s over town . . . and Ranger my trusty steed hitched up to the front rail. 🙂
But besides the great architecture and city, there’s also all the best political reporters in the country. I was super stoked to get to spend some time talking about writing with one of the journalist pillars in American letters, The Washington Post’s Dan Balz. And like the natural consummate reporter he is, he ended up asking me more questions than I did him. 🙂
And here’s this bar/restaurant on 4th Street The Post has turned into their headquarters for the week. Wonder if they let in subscribers?
And here’s political hound dog Chris Matthews waiting to go on the air. I was definitely in the background of some of his broadcasts yesterday. 😉
You can see him on the right below.
And here’s a cool action shot of the anchor turnover — as Chris Hayes is coming in and Chris Matthews is checking out.
I even got to go for a little walk with the TV & radio host Michael Smerconish who I’ve long loved for his honest, logical, centerist, non-ideological way of thinking. I told him about Jon Anderson being on his show years ago. “The singer from Yes!” he exclaimed, brightening right up. And I mentioned how he riffed “Smerconish” into an improvised song that day, and Mike goes, “Boy, you’ve got a good memory!” 😀
But the very best reporter I talked to all day was Mitch Potter from The Toronto Star! 😀
We finally got together about 9PM . . . and did nothing but power-riff politics until 2 in the morning. 🙂
And then another day in paradise began . . .
Which you can now read about here. 😉
Here’s where you can read about more Adventures like this — in my book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac“
Or here’s the Adventure Tale of a Bernie Sanders rally in Indiana including shaking his hand and looking into his eyes at the end.
Or here’s an account of the most jubilant night in the history of New York — check the Election Night 2008 Adventure.
Or here’s the most excellent real-time Adventures at Obama’s Inauguration.
Or here’s my story from Clinton’s first Inauguration.
Or for how Woodstock promoter Michael Lang used my reports in his book — check out how Obama’s Inauguration was like Woodstock
Or how I first got involved in politics.
Or for the kind of creations that got us across the historic finish line — check out my poem and video for Where Wayward Jekylls Hyde.
Or for an on-the-campaign-trail adventure — check out the physical altercation I was in the middle of with Al Franken at a Howard Dean rally in ’04.
Or here’s my 2012 election predictions.
… or the 2008 projections — in both, I’m over 98% correct. 😉
Brian Hassett — firstname.lastname@example.org — BrianHassett.com
Or here’s my Facebook account if you want to also follow things there —