It’s around 10 p.m. on Thursday night—the last night of Conservative Coachella. The festival headliner has taken the big stage of Quicken Loans Arena and is running through his greatest hits. But I’m not in there watching. I’m next door, sitting down the left field line at Progressive Field, where the Indians play. The stadium has been open all week for the convention crowd to walk around and take photos. There are little booths set up around the walkways selling all kinds of Republican merch: buttons, elephant-print dresses, bedazzled ball caps, framed Reagan photos, the new memoir by Stacey Dash. They’re planning to stay open until about one a.m., hoping to ring up a few last sales when the crowd comes streaming out of the Q.
I haven’t been inside since Monday, since the incident. After it happened, I immediately e-mailed my editor and said he should probably expect some kind of backlash. Sure enough, he forwarded me an e-mail Tuesday morning from Rob Zatkowski, director of the House Periodical Press Gallery and the guy in charge of journalists at the RNC.
“You done gone and pissed someone off, Sean,” my editor wrote me. Zatkowski had sent it to every news outlet. It was about the dress code. It said any journo not wearing “professional attire” would have their credentials “confiscated.” There was a story on Gawker that afternoon saying the e-mail was directed at women reporters not wearing sleeves. But then Gawker posted an update where they talked to Zatkowski and he said the offenders weren’t women, but men. What he didn’t say was that it was mainly one man. Me.
In a preview story for the convention, I wrote about how I would be wearing my Cavs swag this week, partly because I’m from Akron, same as LeBron James, and a lifelong Cleveland sports fan. This was going to be my first trip back to the city since the Cavs won the chip. I hadn’t been able to make it back for the parade, and I wanted to walk around downtown wearing my Cavs gear and bask in the hail-fellow pride that had engulfed the city like The Blob. But there was another, more strategic reason: to blend in and look like every other Clevelander. I figured a Cavs T-shirt and hat was good camouflage. I didn’t want people knowing I was a journalist and getting skittish about what they were doing or saying for fear I’d write about it. I didn’t wear my press credentials, either; you didn’t need those unless you were going into the convention hall.
I didn’t go in until a little after eight p.m. that first night. The press area was on the second level. Playboy had a seat reserved in a row with U.S. News & World Report and a couple other magazines. I was one of five people Playboy sent, and we only had one seat. So if the row was full we’d have to rotate in and out. The row wasn’t full. I could’ve taken one of the empty chairs. But I stood in the aisle. I was too excited to sit.
LeBron always talks about how he’s just a kid from Akron and how lucky he is to be doing what he loves most in the world, on the biggest stage in the world. And that’s how I felt. Here I was, getting to write about the Republican National Convention. Of course, I wasn’t the only one—there were hundreds of other journos in town. There were way more journos than delegates and protestors, and we were all walking around looking for stories—not waiting for something to happen and then going to check it out and see if it was even a story worth writing, but scavenging for stories. And, when none could be found, creating them. Interviewing the same street preachers you walk by every day in New York City and don’t even look at. Making a big deal over a guy with a gun. There were supposed to be hundreds of them. There were only a handful. Oh well, they’d have to do.
So when I walked into the Q that night, I was feeling pretty fucking shitty about my profession. But then seeing all the bright lights and the shiny stage and the podium, I got totally awestruck. I forgot my cynicism.
“Excuse me, who are you with?” said a women behind me.
I turned around, a little confused, still with a big shit-eating smile on my face. She was in her late twenties, early thirties maybe. Thin with a blonde pixie cut. Stylish but office-appropriate dress; Michael Kors or whatever.
“What publication?” she asked.
“Playboy,” I said. “Do you need me to take a seat? Am I in the way?”
“No. Yeah, but…Just so you know, the dress code is a little more formal. It’s not really okay to wear a T-shirt. Just so you know for tomorrow night.”
I kind of laughed it off and told her how I was from the area. “It’s a Cavs shirt,” I said. “I had to celebrate my team.”
She gave me a fake smile. She didn’t give a shit. “Yeah, no, if you can just not dress so casually tomorrow night.”
Thinking about it now, she had a point. I can hear my dead mother’s voice saying, “It’s the event that could decide the next president of the United States. Would it really kill you to put on a collared shirt and some brown shoes?”
But it really pissed me off.
You know who wears T-shirts? Trump voters. People who are tired of this business-as-usual elitist bullshit.
Seeing gross vulture journalism going on around me all day, I was starting to understand why Trump voters had such beef with the liberal media. And now this thing about my T-shirt. You know who wears T-shirts? Trump voters. People who are tired of this business-as-usual elitist bullshit. Tired of other people telling them they have follow old-fashioned rules and abide by an outdated system and fall the fuck in line. Oh, and you know who else wears T-shirts? Some guy named Mark Zuckerberg. You might’ve heard of him. Founder of Facebook, the company that has a huge hospitality suite right outside the hall that they had to pay god-knows-how-much for. Oh, and Kanye West. He not only wears T-shirts, he makes them for his fashion line. So does every other fashion designer. Michael Kors! All that fucking guy wears is black T-shirts! It’s 2016! Unless you are going to a funeral or a wedding, it’s completely acceptable to wear a T-shirt for any occasion! Maybe even a wedding if you pair it with the right suit!
This is the problem with the whole fucking Republican party. This is why Trump. Because Republicans are so trapped in the past and so oblivious to how the world is changing. Or they absolutely know the world is changing and would rather pretend it isn’t. A semi-auto with a 30-round mag? That’s totally cool. But T-shirts…Are you fucking for real?
I didn’t say any of that. I just said, “Are you seriously telling me that if I show up here in a T-shirt tomorrow you’re not gonna let me in?”
“I would strongly advise against it,” she said.
She went back to where she was standing, one section over. The rest of the night she shot me dirty looks and whispered with her hand over her mouth to some guy. Zatkowski, I take it.
I didn’t go back inside the rest of the week. Really, what was the point? You couldn’t see shit anyway. I watched Melania’s whole speech on the Q’s Jumbotron. And there wasn’t anything more to glean by seeing everything live. It didn’t help me come to some deeper understanding about Trump or Trump voters. A week here and I’m still as clueless as before. Even more so. The several delegates I talked to weren’t the vile racist xenophobes that Trumpers are always made out to be. They were friendly, funny, articulate, curious, well-read, self-made. They were good people. And they really believed Trump is what’s best for the country.
So I said fuck it and came here to sit inside the ballpark for a bit. Section 172, Row P, Seat 1. It’s beautiful. They’ve got the lights on. Besides me, the only other person sitting in the seats is a girl in the left field corner, right next to the foul pole. She’s in her twenties. Dirty blonde hair. Black sleeveless dress. Typing furiously on her laptop. Filing one more story. Let her. I’m done. I’m closing my laptop and just looking out at the field for a little while longer.
Follow Sean Manning on Twitter: @talkingcovers.