Wednesday, March 26, 2008

John McCain in SF: A man of the people? Hardly.

Today started out to be a completely boring day. I didn't even want to get out of bed. But then my friend Melinda called and asked me if I would be on her radio show. Sure. If anyone ever wants to offer me a chance to diss the Bush-Cheney-McCain axis of opportunism, I'm there! But I wasn't the only one on the show. Cindy Sheehan was on too, talking about her campaign to unseat Nancy Pelosi in the November election. That's certainly not boring.

Then I found out that the Ciao Bella gelato shop in North Berkeley had a new flavor in stock -- Key Lime Graham Cracker. That's exciting. "Make my day!"

Then I read that John McCain was gonna be over in San Francisco at 5 pm. I should go and see him. Maybe that would get me out of my lethargy. Or not. But after going all the way to South Carolina to see Senator Clinton and Senator Obama speak, I figured that the least I could do was go across the bay to see Senator McCain. Maybe there would be a huge demonstration and I could get swept up in the crowd and end up in jail. That would be exciting. Sort of. Maybe.

"I'll be back in time to watch America's Next Top Model," I told my daughter-in-law on my way out the door -- unless I get arrested. "But if I do, please don't bail me out." A few days in jail might be just what I need. A paid vacation, a new outfit and all that free food? Sounds good to me. Plus making shivs and trying to avoid dropping the soap and getting initiated into the Black Guerrilla Family might add some spice to my life....

In any case, I took BART over to San Francisco and street-hiked up to the Ritz-Carlton hotel where there was a rather small demonstration going on -- a few Code Pink members, some World-Can't-Wait folks and three or four guys dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods -- but I didn't see any Republicans. There were absolutely NO large crowds of John McCain fans eagerly waiting around for autographs. Zero, zip, none. This lack of turnout of McCain supporters was very different from the masses of supporters I saw when Teddy Kennedy spoke in Oakland last month or when Senators Obama and Clinton spoke at the South Carolina debates. Was John McCain a man of the people? Hardly!

So I asked one of the cameramen that were standing around, "Where are all the ecstatic Republican McCain fans?"

"You got the wrong town."

Anyway, the Ritz-Carlton was up on the top of Nob Hill and it had some kind of marble Greek temple facade that was totally impressive and there was a sweeping curved driveway and portico leading up to the big front doors. "Is this where McCain and his entourage is gonna come up?" I asked the cameraman.

"Nah. They'll smuggle him in through the garage. I'm just here to get footage of the demonstrators." There weren't very many demonstrators. I guess nowadays, everyone protests online. Then I went around to the back entrance garage door and waited. And waited. A reporter's life is actually kind of dull. You just sit around and wait. I twiddled my thumbs. I got out my book. Senator McCain was late.

Finally about 45 minutes later, a few of the demonstrators trickled down from the main demonstration in front of the hotel, debating the logistics of moving the demonstration down here. "This must be the place where he'll come in," said one demonstrator. "Look at all the suits over there." I looked. Yep. There were about six guys in suits and ear-wires, also standing around. This must be the place.

But at this point the sun was starting to set and I was starting to get cold. Where in the freak was John McCain? He had kept GWB waiting on the steps of the White House and now he was keeping ME waiting too. Maybe I should do a little tap-dance routine like George? And what about all those Republicans waiting inside the Ritz? They had paid $2,300 each to hear him speak and were they all in there staring at their rubber chicken and starting to get more and more pissed off because he was so late? But what if there weren't any Republicans inside after all? I hadn't seen any fat-cat-looking types go in or come out in the last hour or so. What if McCain had put all those tickets on sale at $2,300 a plate and then nobody had bought them? How embarrassing for him. I mean, seriously. Can one even FIND that many Republicans in San Francisco these days?

"Do you know when he's coming?" I asked one of the guys in orange jumpsuits who had just taken off his hood and turned out to be a young woman. "He's almost an hour and a half late," I told her. "I can't just sit around here forever. I gotta get home before Big Brother 9 starts so I can find out if they vote off Chelsia or Sharon!" But the woman just looked bored. Ho-hum. Another day, another demonstration. I should send HER out for gelato!

While we were all getting ready for McCain's arrival, everybody was talking and joking with everyone else. Me, the news reporters, the cameramen, the demonstrators, some hotel employees on their break, the Secret Service guys and the cops. We were all just like actors standing around back stage, waiting for our cues. Demonstrators and cops chatted together amicably. The reporters and the hotel staff shot the breeze. I chatted with the young woman in the orange jumpsuit. "Have you ever been arrested for doing this?"

"Six times."

"What happens to you after you get arrested? What do the police do? What is jail like?"

"Usually they just give you a ticket and then you appear in court."

"How much is the fine?"

"It depends. $60 usually." That's about the same amount as a parking ticket. "But my last one was $160." But just then there was a whole bunch of motion out on the street and about 12 cops trotted out from the garage and blocked off the sidewalk and suddenly it was showtime. McCain was here! And then everyone went into their act. Demonstrators put their hoods back on and started taunting the cops. The cops got all tough. Newsmen started talking into their microphones. The cameras started to roll. And I pulled out my camera too. Oh crap.

My battery had died.

"Did you see that man with the white hair in that car! That was him!" one demonstrator screamed. Double crap. While I was digging madly through my purse looking for spare batteries, I had missed even seeing the guy. The possible next leader of the largest former superpower this side of the former Soviet Union had just driven by me, only four feet away, and I'd missed the whole thing.

PS: On the evening news, the anchor claimed that McCain had successfully avoided being confronted by the demonstrators. That's not true. I think. I almost actually saw it happen myself.