Friday, May 23, 2008

Greetings from Denver

I'm here for the Libertarian Party National Convention at the Denver Sheraton. Got into town Thursday at 5 p.m. Central, which is 7 p.m. Eastern. That meant I had only three hours to file my story for The American Spectator:

"The Libertarian Party -- Not For Sale!" declares a flyer being distributed here by the LP Radical Caucus. The charge is that former Rep. Bob Barr's presidential campaign is part of a takeover plot by Barr's campaign manager Russ Verney and longtime conservative fundraiser Richard Viguerie.The accusation that Barr and others are attempting to "hijack" the party is one of the many intrigues surrounding the Libertarian convention that began here Thursday. With 14 declared presidential candidates and more than 1,000 delegates -- none of them officially pledged to any candidate -- there is plenty of opportunity for suspicion. ... (MORE)

"Suspicion" -- I prefer to use mild, sensible words when doing news reporting. Resist the temptation to jazz it up by depicting the LP convention as a crucible of insane paranoia. It might get there, but it's not there yet.

I'll come back and update with more details, including the 22-hour cross-country van ride.

UPDATE: About 8 p.m. Wednesday, Doug Craig of the Georgia LP (and the Crazy for Liberty blog) arrived in the parking lot of the Calhoun (Ga.) Times, where I was sports editor 1987-91. I chose this as the rendezvous point because it's an hour north of Atlanta, saving me a little drive time, and I could leave my car in the parking lot.

Riding shotgun in the 12-passenger van was Garrett Michael Hayes, the LP's gubernatorial candidate in 2002 and 2006. Also on board were Alex Chandler of Fayetteville; John Monds of Cairo; Marc Caplan of Lawrenceville; Lance Lamberton of Austell; and James Bell of Douglasville. Along the way, we stopped in Nashville to pick up Aleq Boyle of Chickamauga (who had been visiting his father in the Tennessee capital), and stopped in St. Louis, Mo., to pick up Tom Knapp, a colorful and outspoken Libertarian blogger.

The van ride was one of those small-world situations, because I went to school with James Bell at Lithia Springs High School. James is now a professional videographer and does communications for the Georgia LP.

Conditions aboard the van were not exactly conducive to relaxation. Not only was it crowded, but when you've got that many Libertarians together, there tends to be a lot of . . . discussion. (Like I said, mild, sensible words.) So over the course of 22 hours on the road, maybe I nodded off for four hours. Maybe.

I volunteered to drive from Marion, Ill., to St. Louis, the across Missouri past Kansas City, about five hours, before Doug took over driving again. On the next leg of the trip -- the seemingly endless ride across the plains of Kansas -- I drifted off to sleep and woke up about 11 a.m. (Eastern) to hear Glenn Beck on the radio interviewing Bob Barr for a full hour.

Just as we neared the Colorado border, I noticed tumbleweeds blowing across the highway. I'd never seen tumbleweeds before, so that was cool. We stopped for gas near Burlington, Colo., and the wind was whipping about 30 mph. Didn't realize it at the time, but northern Colorado was then being hit with devastating tornados.

Coming into Denver, we ran into a traffic jam, which the radio told us was caused by an overturned dump truck. I suggested we take the next exit and try to navigate surface streets to reach our hotel. This turned into a bit of an adventure, because the Denver street map in my atlas isn't very detailed and is so small the street names are hard to read. As Davy Crockett once said, I've never been lost, but I've been a mite bewildered a time or two. We made a few wrong turns, but eventually found our way.

The Sheraton abuts the 16th Street Mall, an area of downtown Denver that's been renovated and is lined with shops, restaurants and nightclubs. Very nice.

Arriving with only three hours to go before deadline, I had to work fast, and with the assistance of the LP media staff was able to get hooked up with a WiFi connection. Did a few quick interviews with delegates, threw together about 550 words, and filed it, then packed up my computer and took it back to the hotel room before heading out in search of refreshments.

Writing is very difficult when you're in a condition of complete exhaustion. I'd gotten about seven hours sleep Tuesday night and then, as I said, about four hours during the ride from Georgia.

By Thursday evening, brainfog was setting in, and the story I filed for my 10 p.m. (ET) deadline was a bit thin. Jeremy Lott, my editor at the Spectator, called me to ask if I had anything else to add. I promised to get back to him.

Fortunately, I found Stephen Gordon in the lobby of the Sheraton, where he was getting ready to convene a meeting of the Barr campaign's convention floor team. Since Gordon is a central figure in the allegedy conspiracy that has inflamed some LP imaginations, I got a few quotes from him.

I called Jeremy back and dictated a few extra sentences, and mentioned that floor votes at the convention today (Friday) were expected to be indicators of the relative strength of Barr and his opposition. One of the issues to be voted on is the party platform, so I e-mailed Jeremy a brief synopsis of the platform dispute and some details. Jeremy smoothed all this stuff into a coherent story.

The title "Fear and Loathing in Denver" naturally suggested itself and is, of course, another Hunter S. Thompson reference. Everyone always associates Thompson's Gonzo style with drug abuse. But deadline pressure and exhaustion are equally part of what Gonzo is about.

Thompson preferred Wild Turkey and mescaline to help him meet deadlines. I manage to get the job done with Starbucks. Of course, if the LP's Radical Caucus ever gets their way, we'll be able to buy bulk quantities of mescaline at Costco. I report. You decide.

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