Apolitical Blues

No luck partying with the Republicans.

Just looking for a good time, I swear. I arrived in downtown St. Pete last Wednesday with a sincere desire to make nice with my Republican brothers and sisters. I wanted to help close the gap between the Left and Right. We would down beers, discuss the GOP presidential debate and hopefully discover commonalities. Hopefully, we would party.

In order to better assimilate, I slicked down my hair, put on a polished pair of black dress shoes and even donned a sport coat — despite it being the hottest, muggiest late-November day in Florida history.

I figured the CNN/You Tube brouhaha, which filled the Mahaffey with not only presidential hopefuls but the legendary Chuck Norris, would warrant at least a kick-ass after party or two. Y'know, the good old boys (and girls) gathered around the bar discussing such topics as: Which candidate actually won? Who had the best zinger? Is Anderson Cooper really gay?

I find most of the GOP presidential hopefuls (and Hillary Clinton, for that matter) to be less trustworthy than the panhandlers who regularly patrol the sidewalks of downtown St. Pete, plying suckers with stories about how they need gas money to get back to Gainesville and take care of their dear old granny. But I've always admired John McCain. I'm not that big on his political views, but I respect the man, would be able to shake his hand without having to immediately douse it in a vat of Purell, which would definitely be the case if, say, Mitt Romney put out his paw.

I figured McCain's followers would probably be the most likely to throw a decent after party. Creative Loafing Political Whore Wayne Garcia alerted me earlier Wednesday that the John McCain campaign would hold a pre-debate rally at Parkshore Grill on Beach Drive. I arrived there shortly before the debates wrapped around 10 p.m. and inquired about post-debate revelry.

"Yeah, um, McCain and CNN and all them were here earlier," said the server, a dude who looked to be in his early 20s.

"Right," I said. "Do you know if they have plans to return here after the debate?"

"I don't know," he said. "Some of their cars are here. So I guess so. Um, is McCain in the debate?"

"Yeah," I sighed.

"Oh," he said. "That makes sense."

I walked around downtown and then waited outside Parkshore — but nothing. I called CL Associate Editor Joe Bardi, who had positioned himself at the Ron Paul fest at the nearby Palladium.

"Everyone says they're going home because they have to work tomorrow," Bardi informed me. "But I did hear people say that Giuliani and his people would be at the Hilton."

With my shirt already sticking to my chest due to profuse perspiration, I hoofed the half mile or so to the hotel. The lobby bar contained a couple dozen Republicans quaffing red wine, Scotch and bottles of Bud Light; the loudest voice could be heard gabbing about how Romney should have given a better answer than "My son has two guns at the house." I ordered a beer and eavesdropped. Two men in sharp navy blue suits commented on how short Chuck Norris was in person. They finished their drinks and stood. I followed discreetly.

The men passed the banquet room where Giuliani had held his pre-debate rally, and I snagged a handful of mints covered in red, white and blue wrappers, thinking they might make nice souvenirs if he becomes Leader of the Free World (not that I'm rooting for him).

"Look, here's the homeless corner," said one of the guys I was stalking. "Look at them; all they do is sleep all day, it's amazing."

The two men turned down a hallway. I stopped tailing them and walked outside to witness the homeless camp for myself. A guy with two teeth and the vacant eyes of someone with mental illness was being interviewed by a TV crew. Across the street, protesters waved signs and screamed at each other.

"The system is broke," hollered a young Libertarian/anarchist guy.

"Ron Paul is the only one who wants to fix the system," said one of the numerous sign-toting Paul supporters who drank the Kool-Aid that night.

I shook my head and stomped off, thinking about how I wanted to scream at the next slogan-blurting, banner-waving idiot. Tell 'em they're wasting their time, that change ain't gonna come, that the new boss will be same as the old boss — regardless of sex, color, creed or party affiliation.

"Support the troops," said a young girl with sad eyes. She said it to me. One look at her face and I knew she had a family member fighting in Iraq.

"That's right," I said while giving her a heartfelt nod of approval.

I went back into the Hilton, downed another beer and got my tab. The Giuliani groupies were dismayed to learn that their presidential hopeful had no plans of returning to the hotel.

"He's gone," said an off-duty cameraman from CNN.

I left. It was 11 p.m. Bardi and Garcia reported no parties. All I kept thinking about was that sad little girl and her homemade sign and the sad war we're fighting and the sad excuses we have running for president. Back home, I polished off a bottle of wine and promised myself not to let the upcoming political mayhem drive me crazy like it nearly did in '04.