Not yet near the doors of the Minneapolis Convention Center Sunday night and I am already handed Republican swag, in the form of a DVD. This DVD "as seen on CNN and FOX News" depicts on its cover the iconic image of a radical Islam toddler wielding a rifle. I politely put it in my purse as if I sincerely plan on watching.
My guest and I are already out of sorts and being ushered in the doors through a Notre-Dame-like tunnel of earnest outcries. "Welcome to Minnesota!!" they shout. "Thank you, thank you, lovely place," we reflexively reply. We’re traipsing down a gawdy red carpet alongside thousands of genuine Republican delegates just thrilled about their Welcome Party. Having scored tickets, we’re thrilled too.
Guests don the costume-y gear you might expect: patriotic scarves; gigantic elephant jewelry; nametags with lasso designs around the edges. There are cute elephant ears (worn on headbands), but I’d rather have the pastry. Billed as a "Red Carpet Affair," I didn’t know what to wear. Nor did, apparently, several of the delegates. But who is there to care? What with the free food and booze (as Kate Iverson so kindly mentioned I dig), most guests were quite contented. I heard one happy delegate urge his friend to move along from the meat carving station, "You can’t DRINK roast beef!"
A few non-food or booze highlights (although the Bud Light Limes were surprisingly tasty):
Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln. These Republicans just can’t get enough of the guy. Naturally my guest brings up the Phil Hartman "History as it Really Happened" sketch in which Lincoln is shot for being so damn annoying and raunchy while watching that fateful play. And so, I can’t give the guy dressed as Lincoln any serious attention. Nor am I all that wowed by the semi-trailer-cum-Lincoln-museum parked along one wall of the auditorium. I do like the souvenir penny/ lapel pin they give me upon exit.
Other vehicles on display include a 1986 prototype of Reagan’s Cadillac limousine. An excited volunteer points out that Reagan made a special request to have the roof raised three inches thereby accommodating his wearing a cowboy hat inside. What a diva.
"FDR’s limo" is also there, but it isn’t really a limo, just an old car. Delegates checking it out joke, "I bet the Democrats were giving him crap about driving this thing around! His carbon footprint, HA!"
Party-goers wait in a long line to walk through a replica of Air Force One. I wait awhile, then get antsy for more action and head to CNN’s mobile studio. In the doors of the bus and almost out again, the guide finally asks if we have any questions. "Yeah," I say, annoyed that he needs prompting to do his job, "So what goes on here?" The answer is actually well-delivered, once elicited (all their on-the-trail coverage is filmed and edited within the bus, and we’re allowed to see the control room).
Norm Coleman’s teeth are maybe the greatest highlight of all. One really can’t appreciate their Chicklet-like quality without seeing them up close. Rent There’s Something about Mary to remind you what Matt Dillion’s teeth look like after he gets them "done" for her. And Coleman’s tiny head only makes those capped chompers more prominent. Norm’s L.A. wife waits glassily on his arm while my co-hort makes Beetlejuice remarks about his shrunken skull, surely loud enough to be heard.
The think tank in charge of this operation spared no expense when it came to cultivating patriotism. The frequency and volume of Lee Greenwood’s "Proud to be an American" hearkens back to my Basic Training days in South Carolina. The loon calls piped into the restrooms are something altogether new.
Perhaps most patriotic of all is Harriet, the 27-year old bald eagle on display. We could have gotten our picture taken with the elderly Harriet, but it was more fun watching others, imagining them the would-be victims when Harriet finally snaps. I bemoan the fact she’s kept in a poorly-disguised dog crate when traveling. "But that’s an eagle crate," my friend corrects me, and then asks if I think Harriet gives autographs. My American pride is at its all-time apex.
Big guy flanked for photo op by two Miss Teen Minnesota contestants proclaims: "This makes my whole [dag-gum] trip!! [Coo-coo!]"
"Caramelized onions?! What WILL they think of NEXT?!"
Several of the not-found-anywhere-else exhibits mentioned here (plus actual First Ladies’ gowns, a replica of the Oval Office, and a scale model of the White House) are still on display and open to the public during the Minneapolis Convention Center’s CivicFest. See "The Rake’s Secrets to Surviving the RNC" for more info. I can not guarantee they’ll give you caramelized onions if you go.
Click HERE to read about my misadventures inside the Xcel.