Denver’s altitude did not affect all Democrats equally.
The Democratic National Convention was held at an altitude of 5,280 feet. The air at that height dries your skin and messes with your blood. You absorb 83 percent of the oxygen you would at sea level. Fluid leaks from your blood vessels. Doctors call bad cases altitude sickness or acute mountain disease. Bolivians call it soroche. You feel lightheaded. You don’t want to eat. And then suddenly you nearly faint from hunger on Champa or Larimer or Wazee streets, and end up devouring an open-faced turkey sandwich as everyone walks by waving Obama signs in one hand and holding bottles of water or oxygen inhalers in the other.
Denver’s altitude did not affect all Democrats equally.
The Democratic National Convention was held at an altitude of 5,280 feet. The air at that height dries your skin and messes with your blood. You absorb 83 percent of the oxygen you would at sea level. Fluid leaks from your blood vessels. Doctors call bad cases altitude sickness or acute mountain disease. Bolivians call it soroche. You feel lightheaded. You don’t want to eat. And then suddenly you nearly faint from hunger on Champa or Larimer or Wazee streets, and end up devouring an open-faced turkey sandwich as everyone walks by waving Obama signs in one hand and holding bottles of water or oxygen inhalers in the other. Because most of all you become dehydrated.
Even if you are not thirsty, the one thing everyone in Denver tells you to do is drink water. That headache you feel is not a headache, it’s dehydration. Don’t take Advil, Bayer or Tylenol. Drink water. Lots of water. Keep water on your bed stand and water in your car. Put water in your backpack. At the GQ party, waiters offered glasses of water flavored with slices of lime or lemon like flutes of Champagne. Hillary Clinton took a sip of water before she started speaking on Tuesday night. Bill Clinton took a sip of water while the crowd chanted “yes we can” on Wednesday night. Water, water, everywhere. And be warned if you drink something stronger. People in Denver like to call Denver the Napa Valley of beers. Men’s Health called it the drunkest city in America. But three beers at night, no matter how microbrewed, feel like seven silver bullets in the morning. Martinis are out of the question. Knocking back a few scotches means placing your head in a vise until well into the next afternoon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “symptoms of altitude sickness resemble those of an alcohol hangover.” Denver hangovers are hangovers on top of hangovers.
Denver is 5,247 feet higher than New York City, which is represented in the United States Senate by Hillary Clinton, and 4,694 feet higher than Chicago, which is represented by Barack Obama. Those few hundred feet seemed to acclimate the Illinois delegation to the air in Denver. They partied and boasted about their new primacy in the Democratic Party. For the New Yorkers, Denver was a week-long splitting mile high headache.
Late on Saturday night, August 23, Representative Jerrold Nadler took sips from a bottle of Fiji water at a sidewalk table outside the Latin-Asian fusion restaurant Zengo, where early arrivals from the New York delegation had just finished partying in a room painted with big flowers. Representative Jose Serrano, Charles O’Byrne (Governor David Paterson’s right-hand man) and scores of operatives hobnobbed and talked politics and had a good time. More than a few tried the club’s signature drink, a cucumber mojito that tasted like alcoholic tzatziki. When a fireworks display went off unexpectedly, some of Nadler’s staffers jokingly tried to take credit. Everyone oohed and aahed and the convention seemed full of promise, because as the fireworks burst over the gleaming white Millennium Bridge where a girl in a white dress said, “I just love progressive people,” everyone almost forgot that New York was the home of the biggest headache of all, the senator who for a year and a half tried to destroy the party’s nominee, whose un-killable primary campaign gave rise to a noisy faction of angry, defiant Democratic women threatening to vote for John McCain, and who still had not told them, in these final hours before Howard Dean called the convention to order, that it was all over and that they should support the guy who won. So they watched the fireworks and then drank their bottles of Fiji water.
On Sunday morning the majority of delegates disembarked from their planes, where the thin air was pressurized, and out into Denver, where it wasn’t. June O’Neill, the New York Party’s chairwoman, sent out a memo informing her delegation of the dangers of high altitude and suggesting abstinence from alcohol. The base of the New York delegation was the Sheraton Hotel on Court Street between 15th and 16th streets. Workers cleaned the glass doors constantly with rags and Windex, and held the doors open for all the congressmen, state senators, assemblymen, mayors, senators and politicians who through the course of the week walked in and out wearing their blue New York Delegation buttons for breakfasts and ice cream parties and real parties with booze and dancing and women, some of whom they cat-called in the halls. They went through the doors for black caucus meetings and press conferences about how to win middle-class whites, and evening trips to the Pepsi Convention Center to speak onstage or hear their party elders give address after address after address citing working-class roots, hardworking fathers, down-on-luck mothers, change, change, change, the American dream and most of all UNITY. But on Sunday morning the delegates were still waiting on lines to check in and joking about the lack of juice they had this year.
“We didn’t have to bring our own bottles last time,” said Clinton donor and delegate Robert Zimmerman.
They shrugged when asked if they had received any instructions from the Clinton mothership about who to vote for during Wednesday’s roll call, when Clinton’s name would be put into nomination. “It’s a long way till Wednesday night,” said a baseball-capped and brown-blazered Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, who has made a career of not hurrying.
At the bottom of escalators connecting the Sheraton’s lobby to the basement, young women held signs that said “When Women Vote, Democrats Win” and reporter Lynn Sweet, backpack bulging behind her, marched across the dun carpet to the daily press credentials gallery. In a corner, volunteers from the women’s group Emily’s List, one of Clinton’s most ardent supporters during the primary, crowded around a woman on a soapbox who told them, “Be polite, be helpful, be nice. Most important, don’t let anyone feel panicked.”
Outside, the convention atmosphere had overtaken 16th street, the main two-way thoroughfare where free buses shuttled conventioneers as high up as Broadway, a block from the Brown Palace, the stately old hotel that served as base of operations for the Clintons, and down to Wazee Street, where people with proper credentials got off and walked to the Pepsi Center. The thousands of media, wearing their purple passes around their necks, toted black canvas shwag bags filled with Denver guides, cans of Joint Juice (Glucosamine – Hydrate and Lubricate Your Joints), magnetic poetry from SEIU (Si “Se Puede,” “Progress”), a “Protecting America” emergency radio (“Know Your Evacuation Plan”), a ringtone gift card, a lock, mints from UPS, lip balm from FedEx, antibacterial hand sanitizing gel and a notebook from Staples. Activists happily handed fliers out to Bush protesters holding signs. Vendors sold Obama pins, stickers, Om-Bama yoga mats, Obama women’s underwear, Obama shirts of every color with the candidate’s Shepherd Fairey-designed image and Michelle’s face and Biden’s name. “Obama shirts! Obama tee’s. Spaghetti Straps. Something for the ladies. Something for the lay-tees. Oh Oh O-Bama” barked one vender. Tiny pockets of McCain supporters marched in NObama shirts.