Skip Schwarzman

Here in Philadelphia we’re proud to show off every aspect of our fair town. Which is why convention delegates got to experience the Philly Seven Deadly Words:

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.

Today started out with plenty of rain. More than 7½ inches fell during a three-hour stretch in nearby Bucks County. Rain was inevitable, of course, because this morning’s event was outdoors: a crack-of-dawn commune with nature with guests being bused to a creekside site by 6 a.m.

So at 2:45 a.m. I was waking up, getting ready to send out two trucks to two sites for an event. One crew was meeting a bus at 5:00 at a hotel. Delegate guests were to be served a small boxed continental breakfast (and coffee coffee coffee!) while boarding to travel to the second site, where our other crew set up a breakfast buffet ready to greet the participants in Speaker Hastert’s Fishing Tournament.

Sounds simple, yes? Sorry, the correct answer’s “Not really.”

I’m going to explain some of the ways in which off-premise catering is complicated, and if your response is “So what?” remember that the whole of the convention is put together much like our catering: It’s temporary, it’s gotta go smoothly ‘cause it’s a one-time-and-one-time-only gig, and no one but no one really cares how much work it took, they just want to see balloons drop from the ceiling on cue.

First off, there was the question of how to accommodate guests at 5 a.m. Other than shepherding the guests back to bed ourselves and giving them cozy stuffed animals (an elephant!), what could we provide that’d be welcome and not nauseating … who needs major food at that hour? We decided that a little, teeny bit of fruit salad and a croissant would do, plus fresh-squeezed OJ, bottled water (from the U.S. of A.), tea, plus regular and decaf coffee (Decaf? At 5 a.m.? Talk about politically correct menus!).

But it had to be easy (5 a.m.!) for guests to either enjoy or ignore (5 a.m.!!). So we put the foodstuffs in individual boxes, complete with plastic flatware, butter, jam, and napkin, and placed a box on each seat of the bus. Beverages were served in cups with lids on a table next to the bus door. Ten minutes before the bus started off to its second pick-up point, our crew (expertly) threw the beverages back into our truck and sped off (at legal speeds) to the next pick-up point, where they repeated the beverage service before the bus set off for the fishing site.

Meanwhile, Feast Your Eyes Crew No. 2 had arrived at the location of the fishing tournament and set up the buffet in the middle of a field, using the truck as a staging point for foods that had been pre-plattered and then wrapped, thereby making the food ready for the buffet as needed.

Like I said, sounds simple.

Except that it had rained, and stopped raining only just before we arrived at our shop at 3:30. And there was no real rain plan; if it had continued raining, the intrepid fishing men and women (were there any?) would have had to tough it out. As it happens, the sky was gray and the air was thick with the threat of more rain. Perfect! An illusion of hardship was attained through the sheer dumb luck of its having stopped raining. Participants were rewarded by having successfully gotten out of bed on time and braving the humidity; the getting out of bed part was tougher than dealing with humid air more suited for gills than lungs, but no one wears getting out of bed on time as a badge of honor.

Then there was the question of the location itself. The chosen spot was in Valley Forge Park (George Washington fly-fished here!), and the most direct route took you over a covered bridge. A covered bridge that had a 10-foot height restriction and was bookended by two severe curves in the road. So our Crew No. 2 had been re-routed, and the bus was cell-phoned, intercepted, and re-directed.

Now, in the end the organizers had a successful event. Every speed bump in the morning’s activities had been smoothed over. Feast Your Eyes delivered its part as promised. The event planners, on the fly, had worked out the other details, too. But not every event goes off so well.

On Wednesday Sen. Rick Santorum of our lovely home state is hosting 5,000 delegate guests at a party in the Italian Market section of Philly. If you’ve seen Rocky (admit it) you’ve seen the Market: Rocky Balboa runs up the street, getting in his roadwork between the fruit, vegetable, and fish vendors. Great idea! Local politico, local theme, local color. Except someone forgot to contact the locals.

The party is scheduled to go until 2 a.m., but there are some 24 families who live on the part of Ninth Street being used for this shindig, and no one in Santorum’s office got in touch with them. And when told of the presence of the residents, Santorum aides wondered whether the families speak English.

Am I missing something here?

Insult-to-injury department: Shops and vendors in the area weren’t asked to participate, either.

I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that Sen. Santorum won’t carry the Italian Market next election.

Setting aside the “speakie dee English?” comment, there’s nothing more here than lack of foresight. Extreme lack of foresight I’ll admit, horrendous lack of foresight even, but no intention to cause hurt or harm. I’m sure Sen. Santorum feels bad about the whole thing. But the point is that the convention takes on a life of its own, existing outside the reality of the everyday life of the hosting community.

Step outside and at any given moment there is enough background helicopter white noise to make you look around for Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now or believe you’re in some John Singleton film, Delegates in the Hood. Not all, but some of the delegates, attendees, political staff, and event planners have taken on a new version of noblesse oblige (Republique oblige?), believing themselves entitled to more than their fair share of hospitality: The Philadelphia Phillies have been smacked pretty hard for free tickets, including one request for 700 tix for Republican youth and others for congressmen. And in the most outrageous story I’ve heard yet (it can’t be true, can it?), the upscale children’s store near the hotel where ex-President Bush is staying was asked to DONATE some toys for the Bush grandchildren!

This may be like when you tell one person at a party a story, just to see how the story mutates by the end of the night. But it does illustrate one way in which the convention will alter Philadelphia’s understanding of the political process, just as Philadelphians hope the convention will alter the country’s understanding of Philadelphia. 

Check back on Thursday for Skip Schwarzman’s final Diary entry.