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Convention chaos leads to excitement

PHILADELPHIA, PENN. Being on the floor of the Republican National Convention is a little like being stuffed in a closet with a bunch of University politicos who have aged about 25 years.

It's hot, it's crowded and there is nothing but blue blazers as far as the eye can see. I've even spotted a few pastel pink dress shirts on the more stylish delegates.

Of course, the University political scene doesn't even begin to compare to the bedlam that has broken loose here in Philly. When 2,066 delegates, 2,066 alternates, over 10,000 volunteers and 15,000 members of the media gather in one place to anoint a candidate for president, a certain amount of chaos is generally unavoidable.

This is what I found when I arrived Monday to cover the convention. It's big, it's loud and it's a little scary. After venturing to the First Union Center, bedecked in red, white and blue for the event, I quickly found that the story of this convention is not really going to be the nomination of Texas Gov. George W. Bush for president.

While "W's" nomination certainly will be a highlight, everyone already knows that it's coming. Barring unforeseeable circumstances or a complete revolution by McCain supporters, Bush will breeze into town and graciously accept his nomination tonight before a raucously cheering crowd and in a shower of red, white and blue balloons, which already are positioned in the rafters.

I'll be glad to be in the hall to see that, but I've already had other experiences that have been amazing, or simply bizarre. In one way or another, these will stick out in my memory just as much as the riotous applause of the crowd as George W. takes the podium.

One of those memories will be how much time my fellow Cavalier Daily reporter and I have spent being lost and either walking or driving around in circles. We were lost on our way to our hotel, the slightly-less-than-fabulous EconoLodge, which was not anywhere our directions said it should be. We finally had to drive while getting directions, play-by-play style, from the desk clerk on my cell phone. Following that trauma and after being unable to find a door to enter the Convention for quite some time, we spent most of Monday afternoon walking around the First Union Center in a big circle in a fruitless quest for the media pavilion. We asked five yellow-shirted volunteers where it was and received five different responses, none of them correct.

Naturally, we were quite relieved to find someone with an even worse sense of direction. Second-year College student Christopher J. Smith, assistant to super-pundit Larry J. Sabato, impressed us both with his ability to get lost in the city, get lost at the Convention and get lost while within sight of his hotel.

We met Chris while experiencing another Convention phenomenon -- truly addictive and excessive use of cellular phones. During our hapless wandering Monday afternoon, we encountered Mr. Sabato, who summoned Chris on his own cell phone. Chris then appeared as if by magic and continued talking to Sabato on the phone, even though they were within shouting distance.

There are so many cell phones here that every time there's a ringing sound of any type, everyone leaps to answer their phone and looks rather embarrassed when they discover they are not the recipient of the call. I've seen people talking on three cell phones at once, looking as if they've sprouted several oddly shaped facial appendages. Mr. Sabato left his cell phone at a security checkpoint for an hour and had to return to 12 metal detector stations before successfully retrieving it.

The behavior of some delegations has been extremely amusing. Texas, understandably, is extremely rowdy, outfitted in cowboy hats, and jumps up every single time Bush's name is mentioned. People are wandering around dressed as Abe Lincoln and covered in political buttons. There are elephants everywhere, and the popularity of star-spangled top hats strikes me as completely odd. Maybe I'm the only one who doesn't understand.

I'll remember how exciting it was to see famous people up close. Maybe I'm a little over-excited, but something in me still is in awe of the power held by some of the people here. I watched Al Sharpton go through a security checkpoint and saw Sam Donaldson interview New York Gov. George Pataki only five feet away from me. I've seen senators and congressmen and Simpsons voice-over guru Harry Shearer, who did an MSNBC broadcast with Mr. Sabato. I was thrilled to even be in the same room with former presidents, even if 30,000 other people were there as well.

Of course, this can't go on forever, because tonight I'm leaving. I'll be returning to the University soon, where maybe politicos, inspired by this summer's events, will decide to hold massive gatherings to both praise and mock members of their fold.

If they do, I'll be glad to cover them.