Whatever ugliness might later emanate from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, there's no escaping that, for now, its interior is stunning. The much-mocked array of LED screens, bordered in hardwoods meant meant to evoke America's living room, create a captivating depth of field behind the podium. Textured images split amongst them feel like looking at panels of an American tapestry, which is precisely the intended effect.
All of this stood mostly empty Monday, the festivities gaveled into order and then into recess by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who then puttered off to his next date by claiming, "All we're saying is that Barack Obama's gutting welfare reform will put money in the hands of unemployed inner city people who will spend it on watermelon, fried chicken and forties. Why is that racist? Did I say black people? You're the one saying black people. It is Demo1crats who are racist. Rap music."
A purposeful expression and a determined gait got you anywhere on the convention floor yesterday, when you could approach any delegate area, peer into the makeshift studios for "serious" journalistic outlets ("COMING UP: David Gregory Pre-'Grades' the RNC's Outcome, only on MSNBC: Analyzing What We Will Probably Think About What Might Happen"), or simply watch the clowns sweeping up the spotlights in reverse.
Although a colleague and I briefly considered making out with the glass behind S.E. Cupp (not because of her looks but because of her independent mind), we instead decided to go sightseeing. To take snapshots, we enlisted local filmmaker Jon Wolding, who'd spent a busy day getting footage of absolutely no one.
1. There were so few delegates in the Forum for Priebus' 70 seconds of chairmanning and a canned Romney profile that random people/workers/guests milling around the convention floor were herded up to the delegate areas closest to the stage, to make the place appear like less of a crypt on television.
2. Delegates, staff and journalists without anything to do spent a lot of time taking pictures of themselves in the accidental funhouse mirror that RNC designers created.
3. Long after Priebus had left the stage Ron Paul supporters held a brief protest, hoping to gain sympathy for a floor fight and a vote on the RNC's rules on seating delegates. Last-second procedural changes have prevented Paul from coming into the convention with the delegate bloc that his campaign fought to secure in state primaries and conventions.
3.a. After running through a mic check bellow of the numbers one through ten in Spanish (multiculturalism!), Jeb Bush hung around onstage for about five minutes. Notably, at no point during that time did anybody murder the black guy in the hoodie next to him.
4. The ceiling of the Tampa Bay Times Forum is home to the RNC-1776 USS Free Enterprise, whose four-year mission is to remind you that This Is The Most Important Election Of Our Lifetimes, before going back to ignoring your ass for another four years. Unless they're overturning Lawrence v. Texas and criminalizing your ass.
5. The RNC's custodial floor staff has a, uh, demographic problem. These workers were asked to sweep the red carpet, even though it would be vacuumed at the end of the day anyway. Evidently, it had to be swept because it needed to look good for the approximately no one who would use it for the day, and because vacuums would interfere with the sound checks. All this despite the fact that any yahoo could walk through with a dripping nacho plate from the arena concession stands.
6. I'm hoping Javier was one of the custodial workers.
7. Luxury boxes provide important TV outlets with venues for shooting interviews and real-time analysis. With nothing going on, TV personalities leaned out of the boxes or pressed up to the glass and took photos of the convention floor with their iPhones. (Stars! THEY'RE JUST LIKE US.) Luckily, Lou Dobbs no longer works for CNN, otherwise me and Javier were gonna grab a coupla scalding nacho plates and dump them on his bozo nativist head like crowning Viserys Targaryen.
8. The bandleader for this RNC is G.E. Smith—former Saturday Night Life bandleader, Hall and Oates member, white-man's-overbite pioneer and the only man alive aging in mayfly years. Smith led the band through a number sung by two positive and sunny-sounding men. I can't remember the chorus, but it sounded like someone just threw a bunch of conservative adjectives and nouns into a hopper and drew them out: "Faith. Freedom. Liberty. Hard-working."
Then, while waiting to rehearse the next number, Smith idly played the opening chords to Pink Floyd's "In the Flesh," and one of the singers began a quiet falsetto, "So yah... thought yah... might like to..." which, basically, sent a cold shock of fear running down my spine.
For the seven of you who've never seen The Wall, those lines open a part of the album in which a black-clad pop icon stands in a tri-color-decorated area and addresses a populist nativist movement—telling them that they are both manipulated by spectacle and also called upon to make their nation great again by ridding themselves of foreigners, blacks and homosexuals. When he says, "If I had my way, I'd have all of you shot," it's unclear whether his contempt is only for his enemies or also includes his bovine following.
But then Smith and the two vocalists goofed around for a minute, before launching into an impromptu version of "Goodbye Blue Sky." Smith quietly picked an acoustic, while the two singers got the chance to harmonize. This was just the band goofing around. Paul Ryan and his now-famous taste for modern rock music hadn't fashioned some paean to eliminationist neo-fascistic rock opera. After 30 seconds of down time, Smith, the band and the singers took up another song, which sounded like the earlier "Faith Freedom Liberty Hard-Working" written backwards.
At that point, it was time to go. We had to hit the Romney/Ryan Store, an arena shop that normally sells Tampa Bay Lightning gear but, for four days, will get you a "WE BUILT THIS" shirt in all the t-shirt sizes that look like they're named after Super Bowls.
All photos courtesy of Jon Wolding and JonWolding.com.