Now that candidates aren’t nominated at political conventions any more, they mostly exist to get the public interested in the electoral process, to sell our political parties and, in a recent technological development, to encourage Chris Christie jokes on Twitter. The side effect of all this is that Tampa runneth over with opinions, speeches and yelling.
Everybody in Tampa is ready to share their opinions on just about everything right now – special shoutout to the sharply-dressed convention bro who told me I didn't seem like a very good writer when I tried to talk to him – that doesn't mean that all opinions are good ones. The Westboro Baptist folks were out last night, for instance, and I could say more, but fuck those guys. There were also counter-protesters and police there, and plenty of Ron Paul supporters wandering around looking for chances to get into enthusiastic talks with innocent bystanders about Ron Paul. But I was interested in serious political discourse, not cheap grandstanding. So I went to the Steve Aoki Rock the Vote concert.
Curiously, Rock the Vote had scheduled this event to coincide perfectly with the speakers at the convention itself, which meant that, as most of the country (at least the portion that cared) was listening to Ann Romney speak, I was watching a DJ best known for pouring alcohol in peoples' mouths throw a sheet cake onto a crowd of teenage ravers who may or may not have been encouraged to vote by the display.
“Ahhh, he threw a cake!” one potential voter told me, grabbing her head in excitement and then dancing away. Ashley Taylor, who was manning a side bar in front of a sign advertising cigarettes and glow sticks said she thought it was a good event, and that she would be more likely to vote. So that’s one young voter down – way to go, Rock the Vote!
Afterwards, I went out on the street and talked to Vanessa Taylor, who was selling Romney/Ryan buttons and paraphenalia on the street. Was she fired up for the election?
“I'm here to make money,” she told me, although she noted that she was really waiting until Thursday, when “they're going to come out [of the convention] and let loose.” Her Romney/Ryan buttons were $5 or three for $10. She had beaded bracelets for $15, and beaded necklaces for $20. Another street entrepreneur was going around passing out trading cards of Republican politicians to promote his “Fantasy Politics” startup, Fanitics, which is an idea whose time has clearly come, since we already write and follow politics like we do sports.
Before I got too depressed, I met up with my friends James and Lewis, who, as good Tampans, had offered to show me the city's nightlife and try to catch some Republicans in action, but they were pretty disappointed.
“The RNC has had the weirdest effect on Tampa,” Lewis told me at one point, and, since he knew the staff of every bar we passed, I was inclined to believe him. Tampa's nightlife was pretty dead. Where were all these secretly deviant Republicans I’ve heard so much about? Has the party followed Romney’s lead and given up all stimulants and intoxicants? A camera crew stopped Lewis and James and asked them for tips, as locals, of where to go. My buddies mentioned Ybor and South Howard Street, the two big bar strips in Tampa, but after the crew moved on they admitted that there probably wasn’t anything fun on those streets either.
“I thought something exciting would be happening tonight,” James told me. On the street in front of us, a PETA car kept driving back and forth, encouraging people to demand that meat be taxed. Worn out bands of protesters and the occasional douchey-looking guy in a suit passed by. There weren’t many people looking to party, or even buy Vanessa’s merch. We headed to South Howard to play some late night pool, and gave up on the convention for the evening.