DENVER — The mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis say they’re ready for what’s coming when the Republicans move into Minnesota for their convention.
“We’ve gone over everything 10 times,” said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. “We’re ready.”
“Going to be a great time,” said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.
But are you wondering what to expect beyond the speeches and some traffic problems?
For a sample, come along on our quickie tour of the 16th Street Mall in downtown here. Denver’s 15-block mall is sort of what Nicollet Mall is supposed to be. It’s St. Paul’s Grand Avenue squared and popped into the heart of the city.
There’s no auto traffic. There’s a lovely island — filled with trees, benches and people — dividing the lanes where buses and bikers are a constant. During the week of the Democratic National Convention, the mall was a daily, mile-long human carnival of hawkers, protesters, visitors and cops—lots and lots of cops, on foot, horseback, bicycles and motorcycles.
The circus is coming
Here’s the circus that’s coming to our towns:
The prophet was warning everyone they’d be burning in hell for an array of sins.
“The fires are hot!” he warned.
Next to him was a sign listing some of those considered hell-bound: “Abortionists, Muslims, queers, race mixers, blasphemers.”
A few steps beyond the doom-saying prophet was another street preacher. He read from the Bible as he placed his hands on two ragged young people who apparently felt in need of a blessing. (Perhaps the prophet frightened them.)
In the background, street musicians — three Latinos, two guitars and a drummer — played. They drew more attention than either the prophet or the preacher. Their instruments cases were filled with dollars.
Keep going down the mall, to an outdoor restaurant where customers were sipping white wine and watching a fellow with a big placard:
“Dems Tax the Successful, Reward Failures,” his placard read.
The twist? A skinny, long-haired man who is carrying the placard — he appears to be in his 30s — is wearing swim goggles, ragged cut-off shorts and once-white high-top sneakers.
Question: “Are you among the successful?”
He peered through his goggles at the questioner but gave no response.
A few steps more, another person, another placard. This time, it’s a stocky young woman, with the message “Free Hugs” on the front of the placard and “Investigate 9-11” on the back.
It was very hot — as it was all week in Denver — and the young woman was very sweaty. There appeared to be few “free hugs” takers.
City mall transforms during convention time
Time out: Denver natives say the mall is not usually like this, not in the middle of the week anyway. On weekends, it can be very busy. But typically, on weekdays, it’s office people heading to lunch and a few homeless people on the islands.
But every day of the convention, the mall was packed. It was energized and entertaining from 10 in the morning to late into the night.
Can Minneapolis or St. Paul really be like this?
Continue the walk.
A squad of Denver cops on bikes pulls off the mall to sit in the shade of a building. There’s an overhang above them. Three young men wearing T-shirts and bandannas start yelling obscenities at the cops.
“Don’t you bastards spit on us, or we’ll give you a Denver welcome,” yells one cop, glaring up at the young men. They disappear.
Nearby a hawker yells, “Hey, you need to get this for your wife.” He’s holding up a T-shirt: “Hot Mamma for Obama.”
“Yours for $20, and it comes with an Obama-Biden button,” the hawker says.
Turns out this hawker’s a little different from most of the hundreds of people selling T-shirts, buttons, caps and posters up and down the street.
For starters, he’s got a life-size cutout of John McCain next to his booth. The cutout is holding a sign: “Electile Dysfunction.”
“Democrats love it,” says Brian Osborne, whose business is 2008CampaignWear.com. “Republicans get upset.They say, ‘You should show more respect.’ I tell them, ‘I respect the First Amendment.’ ”
In fact, politics is just business for Osborne. He likely will be in St. Paul with his inventory, except in the capital city, it will be McCain shirts and trinkets.
The mall is filled with people of all sizes and colors and ages with grievances.
“Axis of Evil, the Federal Reserve Bank,” reads one banner carried by a young woman.
“No War in Iran,” reads the sign of another.
It should be noted that there have been mini-mass protests, but the sizes of the demonstrations have been far smaller than predicted.
A woman stands on a corner handing out mints. “Impeach-mints,” she explains.
And always there are T-shirt hawkers.
“Obama T-shirt, $10,” he yells at a passer-by.
“No, thank you.”
“What?” says the hawker, “You votin’ for McCain, man?”
It’s prime time for people-watching
There are petitioners and people watching for celebrities.
“It’s Al Sharpton,” a person yells. A crowd forms around Sharpton, who is surrounded by an entourage but waves as a growing crowd moves with him down the street.
It’s an unending, ever-changing scene of American issues.
There’s anti-abortion street theater, featuring a big banner of the fetus in various stages of development with adults lying on red blankets on the sidewalk. But competing in the background is a woman yelling “Peanuts, ice cold water, only a buck!”
On and on it goes. And it’s all coming our way.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.