I Accosted Anderson Cooper, Ben Carson, & Michael Flynn At The RNC. And I Lived To Tell The Tale
I can't say I was looking forward to covering the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The word I most often used to describe to friends and family what I expected those four days to be like rhymes with "hitshow." That sentiment didn't solely stem from the fact that Donald Trump's campaign didn't seem to be in an any great hurry to give the media a heads-up about who was actually speaking. I arrived in Cleveland late Saturday night and turned on the local news to be greeted by a report on the 72 items banned from the "event zone" for the convention — and how that list didn't include guns.
Thus, between my fears about open carry and the general chaos I expected from the Trump campaign's reported scrambling to put together a convention schedule, I assumed my time in Cleveland to be an exhausting and tedious mess — a mixture of mass lines and attempting to convince delegates to speak to the much-hated media. And yes, there was that element, but there's a side of convention coverage that's lost in the news broadcasts and reports that's unexpectedly charming and exciting, from Uber drivers whose cars match the Cavaliers' wine and gold colors to chasing after that elusive silver fox, Anderson Cooper, on the convention floor.
Questlove At Tequila Ranch
I am not the kind of person who ever knows where the good parties are. When a friend who worked the RNC in Tampa in 2012 told me to try to make sure to find some parties when the conventions ended for the day, I rolled my eyes and knew the prospect was unlikely. However, my colleague, Seth Millstein, and I stumbled on some good luck Sunday. It started because we were lost exiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and ended up walking on a closed-off free way. An RNC volunteer who took pity on us — or, in retrospect, thought we were suspicious figures — insisted we get in his golf cart and be driven out. That's when the the magic happened.
We were dropped off on a corner where a group of Georgia delegates turned to ask us if we were going to the Punch Bowl Social for karaoke? While that in and of itself sounded awesome, a random contractor working the RNC then asked us, "You headed to Tequila Ranch to hear Questlove?" We changed our plans and followed a motley crew, unified by their pastel polos and button-downs, to Tequila Ranch.
Tequila Ranch is not the place you'd necessarily expect to hear Questlove. There were fewer than 10 people there when we walked in and it never grew to more than 40 while we were there. There was a mechanical bull that was, sadly, not being ridden by anyone, perhaps because a virtual reality bow-and-arrow hunting game was occupying the patrons. I discovered the game during a fun moment when I walked and saw a man carrying a small black device, aiming and firing at me; I had happened to stumble into his virtual reality experience.
There was also this charming sign:
I asked an alternate delegate at Tequila Ranch if he’s voting for Trump? “I am now,” he tells me as we wait for Questlove to take the stage. This delegate is pretty young (I'd guess he's under 30), and his attitude matched other younger Republicans at Tequila Ranch: The GOP candidate is who he is and we're resigned to it — so let's party, and specifically with Questlove.
Being Mistaken For Ivanka Trump — The RNC And My Life Can Only Go Down From Here
On Sunday night, Seth and I headed to a party at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We wait around 45 minutes to get in, confirming my concerns about long lines at the convention and my willingness to do anything for free wine. Even though we missed hearing a group called the The Second Amendment play, we still arrived with enough time to wander around the very cool and beautiful space — and as expected, wine and beer were easy to come by. While I was dead-set on seeing the Grateful Dead exhibit, Seth and I were waylaid talking to anti-Trump delegates. It didn't take much sleuthing on our part for them to announce they wouldn't vote for a "neo-Fascist."
Seth and I parted ways with the anti-Trump delegates to find some food — which is when we ran into a delegate who was pro-Donald Trump, or at least (I hope) pro-Ivanka Trump. An older man who I later found out is a delegate from Virginia said, "I thought you were Ivanka" when I walked by. I burst out laughing because I'd have to be having my best hair day and the viewer would have to be legally blind to legitimately make that mistake.
Still, because I'm wildly insecure, I gobbled up the compliment and immediately texted my family. My younger brother responded, "Wow. Is that the nicest thing anyone has ever told you?" Yes. Yes, it is.
Ducky Is The Unsung Hero Of The RNC
We fast realized that you can never have enough charging options on you at the RNC. As I wrote this, I had two iPhone and two chargers, a laptop with its charger, and a hotspot with its charger. None of those was as important as our rubber duck portable charger, which the Bustle team came to affectionately refer to as "Ducky." Every night when we'd return to our AirBnb, I'd shout "Remember! We need to charge Ducky!" I'd panic if we walked around the Q, and I thought I'd left Ducky somewhere. Ducky became both the unsung hero and beloved baby of Team Bustle at the RNC.
You Start Living On Granola Bars — Or Soylent
I also started carrying copious amounts of granola bars with me at all times. Seth relied on drinking Soylent mixtures, but I wouldn't attempt that. Our colleague, Hayley Saltzman, thought granola bars weren't much better than Soylent.
The food in the Q was... not awesome, though by no means terrible for arena fare. "Freedom Plaza," a grassy area outside the Q with different food and drink vendors, actually served this grits from Marigold Catering dish that I fell in love with, along with booze. However, I discovered it wasn't allowed to sell food or drinks when the conventions were in session. This led to a low moment when, desperate for a diet coke just after I had stepped out of the Q, I asked a cashier "What? You don't want my money?" and grumbled off, complaining about how a party that supports free markets shouldn't have such ridiculous regulations at their own convention.
The Security Guards Are My New Best Friends
As I have stressed multiple times in this piece, I had my fair share of safety concerns before heading to Cleveland. I was all for strong security, though I must admit I was a little miffed when Hayley and I had our umbrellas confiscated by security. I also was less than thrilled on Wednesday when I was sent to a separate line to have my bags sniffed by security canines because my hotspot wasn't able to turn on. (It hadn't been prioritized as a Ducky power charger necessity.)
By and large, though, the guards were incredibly friendly, and they seemed to feel worse about riffling through our stuff than we did. They almost always asked how our days were going, and they let us bug them with questions about the weirdest stuff they confiscated.
Celeb-Spotting For Political Wonks
The White House Correspondents' Dinner is known as nerd prom; the RNC proved to be nerd Oscars. The convention floor and media row are like one giant red carpet where political wonks can try to snag photos of — or at least gawk at — politicians and pundits. Hayley and I quickly grabbed Dana Bash, and she even let us interview her.
It made us feel better after her CNN colleague, Anderson Cooper, politely turned down our requests. We still photo-stalked him.
We tried to snap a photo with Ben Carson on media row. He said he was too busy, but Hayley got a photo of him walking past us. You can't see his face, but trust us: We heard that sleep-inducing voice, and it could only be him.
I may have accosted Army Lt. Gen, Michael Flynn for a photo, hours before he gave his convention speech on Wednesday.
Even around the Cleveland area, there were plenty of political celeb sightings. Seth spotted former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani buying a hamburger — and while he was playing Pokémon Go, no less.
As we were about to walk into the last session of the RNC, and I must admit, I realized I'd miss everything but the overly frigid stale air of the Q. It's been real, Cleveland.
Images: Emily Shire (4); Hayley Saltzman (9)