“Give me a call when you have a chance. I have a quick question for you.”
The text is from a close friend working in Iowa on a presidential campaign. I call him the next morning.
“Hey, I have one ticket for next Wednesday’s (Democratic presidential candidate) debate in Miami. Do you want it?” I express gratitude and respond that I’ll think about it. “Okay, you have until 5 this afternoon.” A short while later, I get a text update. The decision deadline is now 3 p.m.
I WANT to go… but I also weigh the hassles. For example, schedule changes, including at least one bi-monthly board meeting I’d have to miss. Lots of logistics – never my strong suit. And, of course, rather significant costs.
All such musings are partially offset by a vague fear of missing out by NOT attending. And by a simple life approach - “Do it whenever you can.” With an hour to spare, I text back - “I’m gonna do it! Sounds like fun. Count me in. What do I need to do?!?” I go online and buy an airline ticket. I ask for hotel suggestions.
I clear my calendar for Wednesday and Thursday, June 26 and 27.
I tackle some computer work and make plans to have afternoon coffee with a presidential candidate’s “senior advisor," a friend through four election cycles.
I am encouraged to arrive early. I encounter candidate Elizabeth Warren on the elevator. A staff member traveling with Senator Warren serves as our photographer.
The debate venue is approximately 20 blocks away and I allow a full half-hour for travel time.
I was told to arrive by 6 p.m., even though auditorium doors will not open until 7. I see Vaughn Hilliard, a friend and a political reporter for NBC News and walk over to visit.
The evening’s second wait begins. I am once again in queue, this time standing outside doors into the main auditorium.
Eventually the auditorium doors open and we make our way inside. Our ticket entitles us to a handsome cushioned seat but no specific seat number, everyone searching for what seems to be the best viewing angle.
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The third wait begins. I introduce myself to a man about my age seated to my right. He is from Puerto Rico, who moved to south Florida after the hurricane and supports Elizabeth Warren.
I turn to the man seated to my left. His name is Felipe and he is a recent graduate of Seton Hall University, just outside New York City. He tells me he was born in Ecuador but has lived in Florida, about an hour from the debate site, since he was five. He is bilingual and enjoys dual citizenship. He is also supporting Elizabeth Warren.
Lead-off moderators Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie and Jose Diaz-Balart are introduced and tape an opening segment near where we are seated. (They will be joined by Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd midway through the debate.)
Finally, the main attraction - ten candidates walk out on stage and the crowd erupts in warm applause. The show begins! Each time there is a break and again each time television cameras return from a break, a stout fellow (a producer?) begins waving both hands vigorously, beckoning our reaction. Like trained seals, we comply by clapping with gusto.
There are several rather long breaks, providing ample opportunity to visit with those seated nearby. Two and three places to my left are a grandfather from Washington state and his Florida grandson. The grandfather likes Governor Inslee, from his home state.
Midway through the debate, Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd are introduced for the next round of questions.
The debate proceeds. Candidates offer brief closing statements – some running a bit past their time limit… did they not know?!? – and eventually the debate concludes.
Upon leaving the auditorium, I submit to an on-the-street interview – literally, an on-the-street interview – for a local television station. I am asked which of the candidates I support. I respond that I tend to like them all. But sir, who most impressed you tonight? I mention Warren, Booker and Castro.
The post-event crowd is buzzing around outside the auditorium and I begin walking back to the hotel, thinking I am more likely to catch a cab three or five or seven blocks away, which I do. I get back to the hotel before most returnees and head back to my room.
I get to my room and tune into televised post-debate analysis. After a half-hour, I head down to the busy hotel bar for conversation. Not surprisingly, everybody’s an analyst!
My return flight is through Atlanta and leaves at 6 a.m. I ask the front desk if there will be cabs waiting in front of the hotel at 4:30 a.m. They assure me that there will be. I set my alarm for 3:45 and turn the light off at 1:15.
All in all, a GREAT adventure and a memorable and fascinating experience.