Tuesday, July 10, 2012

This Ain't No Way To Run A Campaign Event *

Remember those tickets my wife and I picked up last Saturday to see the First Lady? Today was the day to use those tickets. The First Lady was scheduled for a campaign stop at the University of Central Florida's "The Venue", which sits right behind the UCF Arena. Printed in Large Black Letters on the front of our ticket were the words "DOORS OPEN 3:00 PM". I figured I could work until 4PM in my office which is about 10 minutes away from the Arena, then drive over and find a spot to park, then queue up and wait my turn to go through security and wait for the First Lady to speak. Most of that came about, except the last part about seeing the First Lady in person. That never happened.
I arrived on site a little after 4. By the time I walked to the front of the Arena and went inside it was about 4:20. That's when I queued up at the end of the line. For the next 1 1/2 hours, until a little after 6PM, we moved forward in fits and starts, turning various corners, and passing an empty Arena on the way to the back of the Arena building and the main entrance to The Venue.
Every so often Staff would come slowly strolling down from the distant front of the line to check on everyone. This guy, who I will refer to as Mr. Dark Suit, or DS, coming towards me in this photo, was checking on the line fairly regularly.
While I was waiting with a lot of other people I struck up a limited conversation with a UCF student standing in line next to me. He's from Jacksonville, up in Duval County. He'd picked up the shirt at a local Jacksonville bike shop. I thought he looked kind of sharp.
After a good hour my part of the line finally reached the Final Exit, and beyond the main entrance to The Venue. There's a pair of double doors at this point, and that's where those of us who weren't going to make it finally stopped. We were told that the fire marshal was conducting a head count to make sure that the occupancy count wasn't exceeded. And so we stood there for another twenty minutes. The staff at this part of the building were all checking something on their various smartphones. Call me grumpy and old fashioned but waiting  for minimal information to be provided while The Staff constantly checked their smartphones got to be a bit annoying. The only time it was ever interrupted was when they rather sheepishly called back to us to tell us how awesome we were. It was at this point that another member of the Staff came through to collected the small stub off the end of our tickets. That had our names and some contact information. They were all gathered into a plastic shopping bag, the kind you get at Walmart.
Finally, Mr. DS came out and began to speak to people standing behind us. By this time a lot of the line had had enough with the fire marshal halt, and had pretty much left. Before the fire marshal halt the line actually stretched back to where I had originally queued up. This was the first notice that none of us were going to get in. We were told that our small group, standing right at the door, might get in.
This individual came out to add to what Mr. DS originally provided. It turned out that they weren't going to be able to get in, and that all the names they'd collected in the plastic shopping bag during the fire marshal halt would be given preferential priority at the next major campaign event, whatever and whenever that would be.
While I was standing there at the door, some regular UCF staff person came and closed the doors in our face. Mr. DS came back and opened them back up and began to tell us that none of were going to get in to hear the First Lady speak. I took two photographs of this guy, this being the second, clearer shot. When he finished and started to leave out the back entrance, he started to question me, asking me why I took the photos and who I was and what I was going to do with them. He then informed me he didn't like to have his photo taken.

Let me say this about that: bare knuckle presidential politics is no place for shy little wallflowers. If you're out in a very public venue doing very public activities then you're going to have your photo taken, your words recorded, and your actions folded, spindled, and mutilated, and it gets worse from there. If you don't want your photo taken then you shouldn't be there. Normally I try to be accomodating, but after standing in a slow moving line for nearly two hours on medically certifiable bad knees (I had to park in a handicap slot, and then slowly walk to stand in line), and then to have the doors abruptly closed in my face, well, let's just say that I wasn't at my most sweet and cheerful best at that point.
On the way back to my car I made a wrong turn and headed to the spot where I think the First Lady's entourage was parked, an empty parking garage out behind the Arena. I was met by a professional but reasonable campus police officer. He did his job, and after a few questions it became clear to him I needed directions back to the general location of my car. Once I had those he pleasantly said goodbye and I turned and headed in the correct direction to my car.

As luck (good or bad, take your choice) would have it I was parked on the side of the Jay Bergman Field. For whatever reason I started to walk to the front gate, just to see what was there. When I got there the front gate was standing wide open. I went in, look about for a few moments, then climbed up into the stands that were facing where the security detail for the First Lady was parked. The photo below shows what a clear view I had of the entire detail. Not very secure if you ask me. But then I guess you could call it the digital equivalent of counting coup.
For those of you who wonder why I say not very secure, I have but two words: Gabrielle Giffords. There are enough crazies in this world that you make damn sure to check your perimeter, and make sure that your perimeter is secure. Leaving the gate to Jay Bergman standing wide open, and not even challenging me when spotted in the area, is a major screwup on UCF's part. Even when I was walking up to the open gate I passed a UCF marked car parked in plain site on E. Plaza Dr. Either the officer didn't see me, or he didn't care. I'll never know. But I hope in the future that they pay a little better attention to the immediate area like that. I should have been at least approached coming back. The fact I got in there and back without challenge is disturbing. It isn't like I was moving quickly or stealthily, not with my gimpy knees.

So, what do I take away from all this? If this campaign stop is any indication then the Orlando campaign office is in need of some serious training on how to schedule and run an event. My wife was there and she confirmed that the event in The Venue was the worse thing she'd ever participated in. With the exception of the handicapped and the big-money donors everybody else had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in that overheating venue. I had a clue when those who had made it into The Venue started to straggle out, complaining of the long standing time and the heat. Some of them were students who'd been in there since around noon, others were older.

I have been to many a conference, and I have never seen anything as poorly run. First of all the main "attraction" should have been held in the arena, with spillover in The Venue. Audio/Video should have been piped out of the arena and into the spillover areas so that everyone could see and hear the first lady. I attend a Methodist church that does this every Easter to accommodate the huge overflow crowds. Maybe the local Obama campaign crew should get with First United Methodist of WIndermere for tips on how to handle something like this in the future.

Finally, a little more sensitivity and professionalism is in order. Talk to people. If people are spending hours standing in line, communicate with them constantly, cheerfully and clearly. If I hadn't know better I would have sworn I was at a Republican event with the amount of indifference we were shown. That means stay off the bloody smartphones, at least out in the open.

I don't know what I'll do after today. But if this is the way operations are run then I'll just check the local news in the future and watch in on TV. Oh. And one other thing. I'm registered to vote in Orange County. I grew hoarse repeating that over and over again. If somebody shows up to attend a campaign event that should be a pretty strong clue that they're registered to vote.

* My sainted wife convinced me to use a less profane title for this entry. The one I had in mind included the word "cluster".

1 comment:

  1. Without a well stuffed wallet, there is no real access anymore.


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