By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
John Edwards talksabout two Americas. During DNC week, the dividing line goes more like this: those on The List and those not on The List. With the rainbow of credentials, gilded invitations, velvet ropes, VIP booths and competing celebrity-driven events going on this week, the most important commodity is access, and access defines station.
Badge envy is the most basic. At 9 a.m., when the daily credentialing ritual begins, the third floor of the Westin Copley Place becomes like a bazaar in Karachi, a darkened scene of bartering frenzy fueled by jealousy and resentment. Everyone tries to upgrade credentials, or trade them, or prevent someone else from doing the same. I met a staff writer from the Christian Science Monitor at the media party Saturday night, and when I ran into her again Sunday with a hall pass around my neck, the first thing she said, after the flash of personal recognition, was: “Where the hell did you get that?”
“I have my ways,” I said, knowing that, somewhere out there, the guy running the mojo meter just pushed my rating up a notch.
Stephen Elliott, a novelist who is writing a nonfiction book about the campaign, said the same when we met at the Fleet Center. “That’s better than mine!” he complained. “Just when you think you’ve made it, they bite you in the ass.”
“There’s seven rooms in this world,” I said to Stephen. “You’re in the first room. You should be in the second room, but it looks like you’re still in the first.”
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I guess I’m in the second.”
“Dude, you’re not in the second room!”
“Well, who has the right credential?”
Credential power is governed by the document’s color. Forget purple — “It’s toilet paper,” as Stephen said. Light green isn’t much better, gaining access only to nosebleed seats at Level Seven and above. Dark green is moving in the right direction, unless it says Honored Guest, because that means you’re honored only enough to get to sit in the same place as the light greens. The dark-green credential marked PRESS is the one that enables entry into the media bleachers on either side of the stage, and from there, down to the convention hall floor. But that’s temporary — unless you have the all-powerful, permanent red FLOOR credential.
Then there’s the branching tree of add-on-access echelons, articulated by the hospitality tags for free food and the whole panoply of glowing VIP amulets available only to machers,famous people, or fund-raisers for the DNC. And those with the full juice can be identified from afar by their multitude of superfluous badges, dangling like breastplates from handsome, top-stitched Marc Jacobs lanyards.
Outside the convention hall, the access arena is even more Hobbesian. Notions about the very locations of the best parties are traded like rumors in a prison. And once you get there, it’s wise to have initiated two, or preferably three, different avenues of communication with the organizers or their friends or their PR firm, because chances are one of those RSVPs, mentions, requests or favors never made it onto the clipboard in the hands of the doorkeepers.
Such had been the case at the Rock the Vote party, but I happened to be in the company of a well-connected television executive who, you know, made a few calls. But the executive, who prefers to remain anonymous and so shall be called Herman, pointed out that, as successful as he’s been, even he still doesn’t always get on The List. I asked him if he’s in the seventh room. “The thing is,” he said, “When you think you’ve opened that last door, they’ve always built one more door to go through.”
On Tuesday night, the most important list to have your name on was at the door of the GQ party at the Federalist restaurant. The buildup for this event gathered incredible momentum during the day. Everyone would be there including, we heard, San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom. Why that was so exciting I’m not sure, other than it was clear that it would be a triumph to get in. And so everyone spent Tuesday putting significant energy into getting their name on that list. Herman was on it by default. Stephen made his way on at the last minute. My friend Kay was on the “original list,” and by a circuitous chain of relationships and events, she spent much of the day trying to get Stephen Colbert from The Daily Showin. That he was having trouble only made it even stranger that I had been set for the GQ party for days.
Success or failure with The List often turns out to be arbitrary. Sometimes a glitch opens and you get warped up to the next room, or sent back to the beginning. I breezed in, but Stephen had to work the door for half an hour to convince them he should be inside. ZZ Packer, who had done no prep work at all, just started saying “The New Yorker,” and they waved her along. By the time Kay arrived there were so many people, the fire marshals were not letting anyone in. And I’m still not sure if Stephen Colbert ever made it.