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Culture / Travel

The Police State and Party Scene of the Democratic National Convention

A Wayward Tourist’s Inside Peek

BY // 07.27.16

PHILADELPHIA — The first thing you notice are the cops. They’re everywhere in The City of Hillary Love. You’ll find groups of three or four police officers congregating on every street corner in City Centre, the section with most of the hotels the Democratic delegates (and superstars) are staying in.

Some of the cops are farmed in from neighboring counties — and more faraway places in the Keystone State. More than 50 federal and local law enforcement agencies are in play here. It’s hard to imagine a 3 a.m. stroll through downtown Philadelphia ever being safer than it is at this moment. I even found a cop stationed on my hotel room floor. He was set up at a little table just to the side of the elevator, looking bored out of his mind as he scrolled through his phone. My kid asked him if he was playing Pokemon Go.

If security seems a tad over the top, well, that’s the reality of the world we live in today. And the scene in Philadelphia currently, where you never know who might be staying on your hotel floor. Madeleine Albright happened to be located two floors down from ours. She joined us on the hotel elevator Monday afternoon, accompanied by a brisk young woman staffer whose efficiency mocked those Washington D.C. stereotypes of incompetency.

This is one well-oiled party machine. Really, that’s what most of the delegates seem most committed to this week. Democratic National Convention officials worked out a special deal that enables the city’s bars and restaurants to serve alcohol till 4 a.m. during convention week. This required a temporary change to Pennsylvania’s liquor code. But hey, America’s still great, and we can get some things done.

Judging by the near conga line of delegates making their way through the halls of the Hotel Sofitel Philadelphia at 4 a.m. on Monday morning, many are taking gleeful advantage. For at least this week, New York has been usurped as the East Coast City that never sleeps.

Whether it’s booze or Bernie, it’s refreshing to see so many excited about something besides a free first-class upgrade or a video game.

Bernie Sanders and his overzealous supporters certainly brought passion to Philadelphia.
Bernie Sanders and his overzealous supporters certainly brought passion to Philadelphia.

Bernie Sanders’ supporters were loud — and seemingly everywhere in the near 100-degree heat (Philadelphia is locked in a record swelter) — but they came across as harmless as the crowd that will line up at midnight for the new Harry Potter book on July 31. Sure, the Bernie fanatics tend to be fixated on their annoyance rather than a historic presidential nomination for their party, but it’s not like they’re calling for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Besides, when one can run into Gay Talese in the Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble, it’s hard to be too bitter. In terms of convention star power, Cleveland has to be asking for a redo. Scott Baio can’t quite stand up to Lenny Kravitz and Paul Simon. Or Bill Clinton. And the real heavy hitters haven’t even taken the stage yet in Philadelphia.

When they do, they can be assured that no 18-wheeler will be anywhere near. As part of the security measures, trucks have been barred from any highway that comes close to Wells Fargo Center, the stage for the Democratic National Convention — and full-time home of the NBA’s losing kings, the 76ers. One of the most impressive things I witnessed during my time in Philadelphia was how quickly two police cars bolted out to block one truck whose driver was seemingly unaware of the special restrictions.

You can get much closer to the life-size cardboard cutouts of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that occupy a prime traffic spot at the Philadelphia International Airport. A United Airlines pilot pulled the Hillary cutout close and pretended to French kiss it for a photo that a passing passenger dutifully took for him on request.

The pilot didn’t drop 30 bucks on one of the souvenir Hillary T-shirts (available in four different colors!) or $45 on the more dubious Hillary nutcracker, prominently displayed in the airport gift shop, though. Everyone just wants to be part of the party.

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