Exhausting day. After I pick up credentials (and buy a battery charger so I can limp through the week with my glitchy Coolpix 3200 if anyone from Nikon is reading this, I want you to know that I am not impressed), I head over to the Fleet Center. Run into a daily editorial cartoonist I know who is headed to his paper’s terrorism training all the mainstream columnists and cartoonists I know seem to have undergone some variation on this; many of them have been supplied with respirators and hoods. From what I can tell, the training essentially boils down to this: if there’s a terrorist attack, try to be somewhere else.
Wander into the Fleet Center, just to scope out the lay of the land. There’s nothing going on the convention doesn’t start until evening but Michael Moore is on the floor, surrounded by a mob of reporters. (I learn later that he is pissed some jackass anchor on CNN has just asked him how he feels that “some people want to see you dead.”) He invites me to tag along to his next event, a meeting with a group of antiwar activists recently returned vets and family members of vets. I end up spending much of the day trailing in Michael’s wake, observing the media circus and the crazy hassles of being famous on that level, where everyone recognizes you everywhere you go. When we are around media events in the Fleet Center and at a Congressional Black Caucus event the behavior of the pack of camera crews and reporters is just appalling. I keep thinking of scenes in A Hard Day’s Night, where the Beatles are running wildly from hordes of fans it’s that level of craziness, with genuine violent aggression thrown in. The camera guys will use their equipment to literally whack you out of their way, the reporters will trample right over you if they get the chance. You’ve certainly heard celebrities complaining about the media, and probably thought, oh ya whiner, get over it. But it is a strange and somewhat frightening thing when you are in the middle of it.
Even when we are away from the media events, the fact of celebrity remains incessant. We must strategize as to the best way to travel ten or fifteen feet and not get mobbed. We find a quiet place to eat lunch and are still interrupted every thirty seconds or so by someone who just-wants-to-say-how-much-they-enjoyed-the-movie. When we are on the move, people wave from across the street, honk their horns, do double takes. It simply never stops. (And Michael is gracious and patient with everyone who approaches him throughout the day. I never see him snap or lose his temper. I doubt that I would have that much grace under pressure.)
We head back to the Fleet Center and as we are getting out of the Town Car, Bill O’Reilly is across the street getting out of his limo. “Hey Moore, when ya gonna come on my show?” he shouts. Michael responds, “When you see the rest of my movie.” (O’Reilly walked out of the premiere halfway through.) He claims to have gone back and seen the whole thing, but when pressed for specifics, hems and haws. Nonetheless, Michael takes him at his word and they stand there out on the street negotiating the terms of the appearance as various Guardsmen and law enforcement types gawk and snap photos. They finally settle on a format: they will take turns asking each other questions. O’Reilly agrees not to edit the segment, and to explain in the intro that Michael has only been boycotting him because he walked out of the premiere. (It should air tonight. We’ll see if he keeps the last part of that promise.)
Inside the Fleet Center. A media frenzy erupts when Al Franken, Michael, and Jesse Jackson powwow at the Air America booth. Then we have to do more Hard-Day’s-Night stuff or maybe it’s more Spinal Tap. Ducking into a stairwell that goes nowhere, to get out of yet another crush of media and well-wishers. Down to a parking garage, back up in an elevator right where we were before, but the crowd has dissipated. Strategizing how best to cover twenty yards to the escalator. Mad dash across, constant trail of double-takes. Finally work our way up to the skybox level. We don’t have proper credentials to get up there but that doesn’t seem to matter. Head to the Fox setup. Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog follows us in, and is quickly ejected by a guy with a frozen smile on his face. Michael and Bill shout at each other for awhile. When we head out, I look down at my credential and it is not there and here is a warning tale for you newly-credentialed bloggers. They give you a credential and a string to tie it around your neck and it’s really easy to lose. You really, really need to buy one of those plastic holders at one of the souvenir tables at the Sheraton. And the thing is, I’ve been to these conventions before I was essentially a proto-blogger in 2000, posting photos and summaries of the day’s events and I know how hard those damned plastic credential holders can be to snag. I have old ones at home. Why I didn’t bring one, I have no idea. At any rate, I was a bit worried all day that I was going to lose my hall pass, and kept asking my friends who have real jobs with newspapers and syndicates and such if they had an extra holder, to no avail. And so, the inevitable moment finally comes when I look down and see nothing but a broken string, dangling forlornly. I spin around, head back to O’Reilly’s studio, where fortunately his producer has my credential. Crisis averted they don’t replace these things if you can’t keep track of them.
It’s maybe 7:30 at this point, and we end up, almost at random, in the Carter family skybox it’s the closest sanctuary from another gathering crowd that’s about to reach critical mass. The former President is not there at this point, but his sons are, as is Amy Carter, and when we are introduced she tells me improbably enough that she just bought one of my books that very day at some comic book shop in Cambridge. Turns out she’s a big comics fan, as well as an enormously gracious host. I call Atrios or Duncan, as I guess I’m allowed to call him now and borrow skybox-level credentials from Amy and someone else in the room so I can go down and retrieve him and make my way back up.
You can see down into the Fox skybox from where we are, and here’s a fun bit of trivia for you: Bill O’Reilly does not stand up during the national anthem.
Later, Jimmy Carter arrives, and isn’t it strange when you wake up having no idea that you’re going to meet a former President of the United States before you go back to bed that night?
We settle into the skybox, and that’s where I watch the rest of the speeches, exhausted just from simply being in Michael’s orbit for a day I simply can’t imagine what is like to be him, every day. And, best moment of the day as Duncan and I walk out of the skybox at the end of the evening, a young woman looks at me and does a double take and says, “hey you’re Dan Perkins!”, and asks if she can take her picture with me. After a day following Michael around and seeing probably thousands of heads snap as they do double takes, listening to a constant whispering refrain of “that’s Michael Moore, that’s Michael Moore,” endless people asking if they can just take a photo, just get an autograph at the end of all this, someone does it to me. It is the perfect finale. I have to laugh.
Okay, must head off now to pick up the day’s credentials.