“Philadelphia—it’s like New Orleans. Something’s always fucked up.”
I was with a small gaggle of reporters crammed into a light-night subway last night, talking through some of the logistic hurdles we’d encountered. The concession lines at the Wells Fargo Center were, in some cases, more than an hour long. The arena floor was so crowded that you couldn’t walk from one side to the other—as I had to do to reach the North Carolina delegation from the media section—without shoving your way through. (I ended the night with the more accessible Florida delegation, where Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover were sitting a few rows in front of me.) The buses leaving the Wells Fargo were off schedule. It took convention goers an hour to summon an Uber. To make matters worse, while the convention was happening, an apparently spectacular thunderstorm outside, loud enough to be heard inside the arena, led to a flash flood warning.
Everything was a mess.
The first night of the Democratic National Convention let out a little after eleven, following Senator Bernie Sanders’s rousing call to action, one of the evening’s two highlights (the other: Michelle Obama, duh). I had eschewed joining the Tar Heel delegation at a “Taste of the South” party hosted by the Tennessee delegation and held inside a museum. As it turns out, there was nothing Southern to taste—“cheese, vegetables, and something they called a pretzel,” one delegate told me this morning—and getting all the delegates from the museum back to their hotel in Lansdale proved difficult. (State party communications director Dave Miranda is operating off two hours’ sleep. “You made a good call,” he told me.)
Instead, I and a few hundred new friends—a sweaty mass of exhausted human beings—boarded the express line to Center City. One of the journalists said she needed to catch a commuter train out to the western suburbs. And this brought us to the biggest logistical nightmare of them all: earlier this summer, more than one hundred Silverliner V train cars were recalled because of a welding problem. So SEPTA, the regional transit agency, had to dramatically reduce commuter rail schedules, just in time for tens of thousands of tourists to converge on the city. (Also from the Department of Bad Timing, Philly’s iconic LOVE Park is closed for renovations.)
This was Philly, one journalist joked. Of course things went sideways.
Well, yeah. I lived in Philadelphia for three years, from 2009–2012, when the city was resurging after decades of decline. There was new construction, new investments, new energy, a rising population after generations of depletion. It was exciting, exhilarating, at times overwhelming; there was so much more that I wanted to do than I ever actually did. But Philly, especially if you’re living off a journalist’s salary, can also be a hard city. There are taxes on everything (earlier this year, Philly became the first major city in the country to pass a soda tax) and fines for things you didn’t know existed (on the other hand, the city recently decriminalized marijuana). The bureaucracy is a maddening source of slam-head-into-wall aggravation. Parking—managed by the famously evil Philadelphia Parking Authority—is often impossible. And Philadelphia is also an old city, full of blacktop and with a limited tree canopy, miserable during summer heat waves (which, of course, we’re having now), not built for modern convenience.
So the fact that Philly’s DNC is something of a cluster doesn’t surprise me at all.
Inside and out, the Wells Fargo Center was something of a cluster, too, at least early in the evening. Outside were hundreds upon hundreds of screaming pro-Bernie protesters—“Hell no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary!” they chanted at the delegates and journalists shuffling from the subway to the arena—along with a weird amalgamation of very loud street preachers, a metric ton of law enforcement, and a guy playing the bagpipes.