The stiff smell of fried food hung suspended in the crisp night air as lights flashed from the Ferris wheel and Tilt-A-Whirl and roller coasters.
The lines for all of the attractions were nearly nonexistent, compared to the 15-90 minute wait that usually comes with the Elitch Gardens amusement park rides in downtown Denver.
I, a 17-year-old Colorado journalist, was there to cover the DNCC, including the Media Welcome Party at the park on Saturday night. I had been there before, but it was never like this.
Mingling media and political figures chattered away at the private party, their credentials dangling from their necks. The jacket-and-tie adults giggled, cotton candy in hand, as if they were eight again.
We randomly picked out members of the media to ask them questions about their profession. By some sort of miracle we stumbled upon the political editor of the The Boston Globe, the editor of USA Today, and an alleged member of Congress.
As young journalists, me and the other Children’s PressLine youth were torn between the free rides and actually learning something from the more experienced reporters.
The “Congressman” would not surrender his name, but he did give us his alcohol bracelet so that one 17-year-old boy in our group could buy a beer. The Congressman told him that he should order a bourbon instead of a Coors, because the shape your lips makes when pronouncing “Coors” would reveal the boy’s braces. (He didn't end up trying for it, but such is a minor’s life.)
Denver is alive and different
The next day we walked downtown from the 16th Street Mall to the Capitol building, looking for protestors to interview. Never have I seen Denver so incredibly alive.
The police had ordered the free Mall Ride shuttle busses to stop moving — there was no way for them to get through the mass of people.
Hippies (well, they looked like what I imagine hippies looked like, that era being 30 years before my time) lined the street as anarchists swarmed the Capitol. Brightly-colored signs supporting both parties rose above the crowds.
As we approached an intersection, crowds stood motionless like livestock afraid to cross a cattle guard. At least one hundred policemen and dozens of SWAT team members blocked the normally peaceful intersection with their black and navy uniforms and their full facemasks.
We managed to break through the crowd and cross to the other side. We stopped to talk to one of the policemen on a bicycle. When we asked him what was going on, he replied, "I don't know." Apparently we weren’t the only ones confused.
We spotted a woman wearing all pink, holding a sign that read, "Yield to Peace." We talked to her for a moment, learning that her organization planned to protest war and the use of violence at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. I noticed that she had phone numbers written on her arm, and she explained that they were there in case she should get arrested and needed to call someone to bail her out of jail.
We reached the capitol building and saw that there was a giant balloon in the form of the Liberty Bell perched on the lawn. The crisp green grass that normally decorates the park could hardly be seen as people lounged under tents, selling various memorabilia, promoting their various causes, and smoking various things. There were people of every age, race and religion.
It dawned on me that my quiet little city of Denver had been transformed into the temporary hub of the world.
Back at the park
I had begun to grasp that fact back at the amusement park while I was surrounded by thousands of media professionals. The “Congressman” had tapped my shoulder to signal to us that the line for the roller coaster had moved forward.
That was our last ride, and as we sifted through the crowds in search of the exit, I had the overwhelming sense that I was actually a part of something — part of something bigger than myself, than my school, than my state.
As we drove away from the park, fireworks illuminated the night sky. Their thunderous boom must have been felt around the world. Welcome to Denver.
This article is made possible by the generous support of the Arsalyn Foundation (www.arsalyn.org).