Saturday, July 23, 2016

A detour time-out from the outdoors via a brief brush with history

We're going to make a detour from the usual "Outdoors With Frischkorn" for the simple reason that there's really no other road for me to drive this vehicle.

I attended the recent Republican National Committee (RNC) Convention in Cleveland. Not as a delegate nor even as a journalist covering the event.

Nope I served as a volunteer, knowing that the last time the GOP held a presidential convention in Cleveland was 80 years ago. If the next time the party comes to Cleveland is 80 years from now I'll be 146 years old. It ain't going to happen.

So to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I jumped aboard, processed through the required Secret Service background check, my name daily being marked off no fewer four times (and being given different color-coded credential passes each day) before entering Quicken Loan Arena - the "Q" - made famous by being the place where the world champion Cleveland Cavilers play.

Forbidden to speak good, ill or indifferently about any candidate and not even allowed to wear so much as the tiniest of pins and buttons that would reflect support for any person or issue, the 3,000 or so volunteers were there as ambassadors for the GOP. But more importantly as representatives for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.

We took on our responsibilities seriously; deftly brushing aside surly media members, pushy delegates and desperately confused guests and visitors.

Friend, I would tell people, if I were to be paid for this job I'd quit.

Here's my view of the activities, a sort of diary if you will of my ever-so-small brush with history.

Tuesday, July 19

I stand in awe in the presence of excellence.

Perhaps I was booted out of being just a greeter on Monday to an assignment on Tuesday because... well... maybe I became something of a pest. Or not.

The RNG professional head of volunteers - all roughly 3,000 of us - had somehow forgotten to add my name to a pair of mandatory check-off lists that one must go through in order to do this, that or the other thing at the RNG's convention in Cleveland, which runs through tomorrow. Or I think it's tomorrow. I didn't get out of the "Q" until 11 p.m. after pulling a nine-hour shift and didn't arrive at home until - oh - about 2 a.m.

But I digress.

At the last station and well inside the Security Zone is what I call the "Castle," which is surrounded by a moat of streets that are heavily patrolled by knights dressed in dull technical black.  We don't pay much attention anymore to their existence. They've pretty much become white background noise. Though as volunteers we understand the protocols to help ensure that we're not thrown to the ground with a serious-looking black Labrador retriever or German shepherd standing over us.

Shoot, there I go again digressing. Sorry.

Anyway, with what I thought for sure was an evil grin the professional head of the volunteers winked, nodded and directed an assistant to tether me and lead the way to the "Q's" "Guest Services" desk, which happens also to be this week's RNG guest services' help desk.

t sits outside one of the stairways that overlooks the building's floor and somewhat facing the massive platform from which the Party's presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump won't be any longer the party's presumptive nominee. That will come on Thursday and if I'm lucky I'll sneak in for a second and watch a few seconds from the elevated perch.

No selfies, though, with Trump or with anyone else. That's one of the strict Cider House rules for volunteers. Besides, I really don't want a German shepherd and its all-too-serious Secret Service handler lording over my prostrate TASERED body.

Besides, I can pretty much assure you that the RNG's Guest Services desk will remain both open for business and more than a little busy. If Tuesday's preliminaries were any indication. Then again, I was told that Tuesday was something of a slow night compared to Monday night.

Oy vey.

Immediately the roving gangs of politicians, delegates, guests and media members pulled up to our quay and began peppering us with questions, wants, needs, pleadings, beggings, and close to demands; especially by media members. (Where are those German shepherds when you need them the most?)

I felt overwhelmed because I WAS overwhelmed. Indeed, I sort of - and kind of-  thought I was being punished. Maybe rightfully so.

However, a not-so-large core platoon of folks was here before I arrived. In all, four women that included three RNG volunteers that featured one tech-savvy intern plus a "Q" staffer who pretty much owns this cubicle venue throughout the building's entire year's worth of events. Including the RNC Convention.

Immediately the blur and flurry of varied needs began lapping at the desk. "A wheelchair is needed at such-and-such place," "We're all out of paper towels in the (deleted, but insert "politician's" here) suite;" "where's the nearest phone charger?" (Look to your left. ATT has them all over the place); "Where's Section 121?" (Look behind you.); "My wife broke the heel of her high heels. Do you have something she can wear for the rest of the night?" (As a matter of fact, yes, as the "Q" employee said she's always prepared with al sort of needs); Have a band-aide?" (Yep); Do you have a convention speaker schedule I can look at?" (Er, no. You'd think so but that's not the case. So I ran one off to use today if I get posted again at Guest Services. Nuts, there I go digressing again. Sorry); "Where do I go to board my bus back to my hotel? I'm a delegate?" (Ah, look just to your right.;) "My credential lanyard broke, do you have an extra?" (Ma'm we have a drawer full of them, this request was so frequently made that we had to get a runner to bring in another stash of the cloth necklaces.)

"How do I get on the convention floor?" was a so-oft-asked question by the media that had the RNG allowed unlimited access to the media, there would be no room left for the delegates. So the RNG came up with a quickie make-do arrangement to set aside one area from a point that news photographers can stand for 10 minutes, shoot art and then step back for another crew.

We (more like "they," meaning of course, the Guest Services' Four-Wonder Women quartet) were asked - a lot - about where to eat, how to call a cab (you gotta' go outside the Security Zone which means undergoing the pat-down and magnetometer search again. Which is too much of a hassle. So the tens of thousands of RNG Convention people make do with a rather decent dining venue pitched on the commons between the "Q" and Progressive Field.

Or they could visit one of the "Q's" few opened concession stands. Regrettably the "Q" powers-that-be closed all of the little food kiosks that are normally deposited around the building: A bad mistake. These forces expected that attendees would just stroll out the door onto what's being called the "food court" but officially called "Freedom Plaza or "something-or-another."

But these are people who want to wolf down a hot dog and go about the business at hand of smoozing with the politicians and other delegates, voting on what's going to happen anyway, and strutting about in some of the most outlandish costumes imaginable.

One woman even built a flowing cape that would do Joseph proud and even included Trump's name sewn on with a lighting system that dazzled the crowd and brought out the media television film crews the way moths are driven to visiting your front-porch light.

Another delegate crossed-dressed in a get-up that was half Wisconsin cheesehead and one-half camouflaged Statue of Liberty. Another sure winner for a TV station's 6 o'clock news.

Oh, my best question of the night was food-related also and consisted of a pair of women asking "Where can I get a good Caesar salad here in the 'Q?'" (Honest-to-john I was asked that and my reply came after a several-second pause was "You can't. You'll have to find a restaurant outside of the security perimeter.")

Where was I? Oh, yeah, the Guest Services desk and the four unsung heroes. For several hours until Dr. Ben Carson was wrapping up his remarks we fielded these sorts of queries and many, many more.

Clearly and without reservation, I must say that I was in absolute awe of what my Guest Services mates did. I also felt uncomfortable because more times than not when someone had a need or was beginning to mouth a question they would approach me first.

That's not fair at all. All four of the women ranked me as sure as Trump is the Party's presidential nominee.

Without reservation I have o say that nothing I did could ever overshadow the fact that these four women know a heck of a lot more than I ever could about this assignment. They obviously are far more able to articulate a helpful response whereas I will too often stand in quiet repose and wonder if I should give a requester one lanyard or two just so he or she wouldn't return and bug me.

Maybe - just maybe - my first tour of duty at the RNG Guest Services desk WAS a form of punishment and banishment. But I gotta' say again I'm really hoping to get reassigned to the RNG Guest Service's desk today.

I have no problem with being a servant in the presence of such excellence.

Wednesday, July 20

Yahoo News has been running what it calls its "Unconventional Blogs" regarding the RNG's big bash in Cleveland, which ends tonight with the acceptance speech by Mr. Trump.

The blog includes two written by Republicans and a pair by - well, critics of the GOP. Among them is the blog penned by Luis Miranda, the Democratic Party's communications chief.

(For the sake of full disclosure Yahoo News will be doing the same at the Democratic Convention. And, yes, Mr. Miranda is properly credentialed to be at the RNG event. The two parties have signed a peace treaty allowing the other side to attend the other's convention.)

Any-who, Mr. Miranda's latest blog posted today on its web site obviously is a decidedly one-sided critique of the GOP in general, Mr. Trump in particular. what gets my dander up are his words about the fine folks attending the event and what amounts to the herculean effort by a legion of 3,000 or so volunteers to slap, glue and hold the whole shooting match together.

So here's my Yahoo News! readers’ reply to Mr. Miranda's blog:

" ' Seeing speakers like Ben Carson on Tuesday night, for example, addressing an arena in which even lower levels are fairly empty, as they were, was something I’m not used to seeing at a convention. That really struck me.' "

"Yeah, it struck me, too, only the opposite way.

"As a volunteer for the RNG convention and one who assists in guest services it appears that Mr. Miranda and I aren't at the same place; the Big Top "Q" where the World Champion Cleveland Cavs play.

"It's also here where you'll see a wide spectrum of GOP supporters, including folks wearing campaign buttons that read " 'Another Democrat for Trump.'

"Of course there are going to be some empty seats during portions of the event; like any other political convention there are hospitality rooms, small and impromptu meetings of delegates, and folks just wanting to get up, stretch their legs and see the House that LeBron James and Company have built.

"Anyone who's had a need, inquiry, desire or help has been met with the five of us volunteers.

"Oh, one more thing, Mr. Miranda and this is a suggestion for your Party's up-coming big day. The last two nights we've run out of those cloth necklaces from which hang the daily credentials.

"There's been such a demand from the heavy volume of traffic that for some reason you've failed to see in the stands that keeping them from being depleted has proven all but impossible.

"So please stop by at the Guest Services desk, Mr. Miranda. I will happily give you a warm and very hospitable Northeast Ohio glad-you-came-and-hope-to-see-you-again greeting.

"Oh, and just another one-more thing, Mr. Miranda, if you should find yourself in need of one of the cloth necklaces please note that today I'm bringing a large spool of 40-pound test monofilament fishing line as a back-up.

"Shoot, Mr. Miranda, to show you genuine Northeast Ohio GOP hospitality I'll even give you the cloth necklace from off my neck. - Your Republican friend, Jeffrey L. Frischkorn."

I'll let you all know whether Mr. Miranda stops by, like former Cleveland Mayor/U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich did to say "hello." He doesn't remember me, but that's okay. He was busy being a TV commentator... Seen lots of politicians stroll by and more than a few get accosted by the media, which has ranged from the snooty to the generally very friendly (photogs appeared the most stressed-out but also have been the friendliest and most appreciative. The TV guys, not so much)... Helped two ambassadors find a hush-hush/need-to-know-only reception... Worked with the Secret Service and the Cleveland Police on an unattended expensive camera and its accompanying heavy tripod… Leaving something and then walking away is decided no-no. Never know if it's been wired to go off... Speaking of the media, had we broken the rules and helped the industry's members exchange credentials so they all could be on the floor of the convention there wouldn't be any room left for the delegates... Speaking of delegates, there were tons of requests from them to allow their accompanying guests to join them in the special section set aside for this electorate reserve. No can do, as they guest would take a space reserved for a delegate. Besides, this ain't no high school football game where you can sit next to that cute girl in class. Security is unbelievably tight and order must be maintained for safety sake... The food service at the "Q" for the volunteers is (well) among the worst I've ever eaten. The chicken fingers appeared to have been made from road-kill birds and had been cooking since March maybe while the French fries appeared to have started frying in January. I won't say the dining commons were thoroughly depressing but it sure did leave me with the impression of where the slaves on a Roman galleon ate. Most of the volunteers that I spoke with who were given a free meal ticket used it only once. Thereafter they hiked next door to Progressive Field and ate better fare from that establishment's "Home Plate Club." I'll be doing that for my dinner tonight as well...

Among some of the crazy things we've had brought to us as lost-and-found (we work side-by-side with the "Q's security on this issue): Several cell phones, a wallet or two - including one from a foreign journalist who did not have to climb over Mr. Trump's wall... Questions asked include how to find one of those hush-hush/for-eyes-only receptions that we were never told existed… When do the buses board to return people to their respective hotels? (Oh, in about three hours. You just got here, Sir/M'am)… "How far of a walk is it from the 'Q' to the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, and can I get back in time for the convention speakers?" (Not in your lifetime, Pilgrim.)… "Do they sell hairspray here?" (Ah, no, but perhaps the production of "Hairspray" is on at Playhouse Square.)…

"Where's the men's restroom?" (Look behind you.)... Where's the woman's restroom?" (Look to your left; it's within spitting distance of the men's restroom). None of which seemed to have bothered two convention-attending women whom I watched forgetfully stroll into the open doorway of the MEN's facility. Never seen a pair of older women dash so quickly once they turned the inside corner and observed the facilities. Our "Q" guest services' shepherd Ruth says it happens a fair bit during other events, too.)… "I hear there's a 'Starbuck; where is it?" (No Starbucks but there is a concession stand about 100 yards yonder that sells Dunkin' Donuts coffee. At rather highway robbery prices, however, I caution the inquirers. It cost me $9 for one plastic bottle of Pepsi and one bottle of water.

BEST BILLBOARD AWARD: Goes to the one seen on I-77 as one heads west (or is it south?) going towards the airport and posted by (obviously) a realtor: "Thinking of moving out of the country if Trump or Hillary is elected? See us first to sell your home." Ingenious.

This is not just a job. It truly is an adventure.


Thursday, July 21

The troops have gone from the RNC Convention and I’m left to recover, myself.

It was a hoot; a once in a lifetime experience. Don’t have a whole lot to show for it in the way of physical property. Three polo shirts designated for volunteers including one hot lime in color and two sort-of aqua blue ones.

Volunteers were required to wear these polo shirts, serving as a means for ready identification by law enforcement, the “Q’s” staff as well as other volunteers.

The volunteers who stayed within the designated perimeter were issued the hot lime-colored polo shirts. As a general rule they were not allowed inside the “Q,” which I would refer to as the Castle surrounded by a moat consisting of the roads that surrounded the Security Zone and which prevented entrance by the non-credentialed.

The knights in shining armor were the varied law enforcement that included everyday Cleveland Police officers to Ohio Highway Patrol officers as well as their counterparts strung from across the country. A brew of federal law enforcement consisted of an alphabet soup of federal agencies like the FBI, the Secret Service, Homeland Security, and so on and so on.

White polo shirts were being worn by volunteers who helped the vendors at Progressive Field while a small bunch of volunteers wore gray polo shirts. But I have no idea what was their assignment.

Oh, and there was a small cadre of AT&T employees who serviced the convention's communications. They had these really neat powder-blue polo shirts.

n any event, my fourth and final day was spent once more inside the bowels of the “Q” at its guest relations cubicle, which also had become the RNG’s guest relations cubicle.

By Thursday’s final convention hurrah it became obvious that grumpiness was the evil twin of exhaustion. The persons requesting our assistance were the usual mixed bag that consisted of delegates, alternate delegates (who were the most demanding, except for the occasional media member and more on that in a moment).

The gist of the majority of requests from those alternate delegates was to see if their spouses or significant others could sit with them. Ditto with a rather large contingent of Veterans of Foreign Wars members.

It was amazing how frequently such last-minute seating changes were rifled our way in light of the world’s toughest security. They wanted to play musical chairs even though the seating arrangement band had stopped playing ages ago.

Even a high-ranking British diplomat wanted “better seats” for he and his wife. After talking with a “Q” staffer - who pretty much knows everything about the complex and was our liaison - as well as my superiors I had to tell the couple’s surrogate that while I didn’t want to start another war with Great Britain their request was denied.

Indeed, the answer for them all was “no.”

Still, the ones who were taking “no” the hardest was the media; or at least some of the media.

Protocols were in place about how and where to photograph along with access to Ground Zero, the floor where the delegates went about their business.

Or those delegates that weren’t partying at one or more of the seemingly never-ending receptions and hospitality rooms, anyway. And there were a whole lot of them. Both hospitality rooms as well as partying convention business slackers.

Yeah, I know that previously I said how the media was generally being kind and considerate. However, by Thursday their nerves were becoming frayed and as a result, these once-docile newsmen and newswomen had become savages. They all wanted to ensure that they could jockey themselves into the best seat in the house for that Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph or “got-cha” interview.

n truth, some media members were absolute boorish in regards to their behavior. They’d stand on the “Q’s” level flats with their camera gear and in the process totally block the view of the handicapped convention guests.

Say what you will about Republicans but I’ll tell you right here and now we took seriously the needs of those folks anchored to their wheelchairs. Their needs took precedence over everyone else, including the diplomats and the media.

Consequently, the photogs were ordered to refrain from positioning themselves in front of the handicapped. They even were given their own little viewing outpost, each member allowed “X” number of minutes to do his or her thing before rotating out so another photographer could step up to the “Q’s” plate and attempt to shoot that prize-winning photograph.

Just how bad things became with the media was telling during a conversation I had with another volunteer. That individual was posted outside the Fifth Level Club 45 restricted-access hospitality area and who opined for eyes in the back of his head. It seems that a steady stream of reporters and the like was making every effort to flood its way into the action. Thus, the media was always being channeled away from the off-limits area.

The worst for me was seeing that TBS comedian Samantha Bee and her trail of production toadies.

I watched one of her tapings, a short snippet that lampooned and lashed out at the Party’s nominee. Then at some point after the start of Trump’s acceptance speech I watched Bee and her entourage stroll through the Level One concourse, blissfully ignoring the proceedings.

You can bet that Bee will drill Trump in some up-coming comic routine and almost certainly will utilize the observational work of other – and lesser – TBS personnel.

Thing is, my upbringing sort of gave me the bent that you don’t go and insult someone in their own home. And since this was the RNG Convention this was the home of the Republican Party.

But what do I know, silly old me.

I finally did take advantage of one perk, though. Working directly opposite a short tunnel that overlooks the “Q’s” floor, I was pretty well acquainted with the volunteer credential checkers as well as the law enforcement posters positioned at the entrance to the cave.

So when it came time just before Trump concluded his remarks I squeezed my way through the tunnel and found – surprisingly – an unoccupied seat. And waited for the opportune moment to snap a shot with my Sony cell phone.

Surely my several cell phone photos of the obligatory red/white/blue inflated balloon drop will never grace the cover of “Time” magazine or that of any other publication. It matters not to me.

What I have are the captured images of a once-in-a-lifetime experience of an historic event.

Plus three really cool-looking polo shirts embossed with notations about the RNC-Cleveland connection.

Now I can go fishing again.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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