NEW YORK – The last day of the Republican National Convention (search) provided the ethereal with a few celebrity sightings as well as some good old-fashioned mingling with everyday folk and native New Yorkers.
Although New Yorkers will often comment that Little Italy (search) isn't what it used to be — it's too touristy and too small with Chinatown constantly encroaching — FOXNews.com reporter Peter Brownfeld said he found a genuine Italian experience there.
In a conversation with an Italian restaurant proprietor, Peter was regaled with the story of an Italian immigrant escaping an unfair murder rap in Sicily. As he recounted the story on a corner of Mulberry Street, tears came to his eyes when he described how "Carlo" had to leave his family in Sicily and make a go of it in America.
That's not always easy.
One New Yorker told reporter Kelley Vlahos how street vendors like to take advantage of tourists. He said one such vendor tried to sell him a bottle of coke for $1.75.
"I said, 'Dude, I live here, it's a dollar,'" said the native who did not want to be named. "'He said, '$1.75.'" The local said he repeated his last plea for sanity before just walking away.
A Mile for a Camel
Walking away has been a major issue for reporters seeking to take a smoke break. With a very strict ban on smoking indoors, journalists working in the Farley Post Office (search) across from Madison Square Garden must walk what seems like miles of restricted, secured hallway to reach the outdoors.
One New York reporter complained that unlike outside the Fleet Center (search) in Boston, where the Democratic National Convention was held last month, Republicans provided no "common area" for reporters to smoke and socialize. In fact, some non-smoking FOX News media personnel working behind the scenes during the convention mentioned that they had been stuck in the windowless bowels of the Farley building from early morning to late night after the festivities ended.
Those working on Radio Row, however, said not only were the carpeted digs in the lobby level of the Garden much friendlier than the Fleet Center, the bathrooms were better too. They speculated that Republican organizers were looking out for the conservative-friendly talk show industry.
"I think that the RNC recognized that and they did pull out all the stops to provide a good facility, whereas we seemed to be an afterthought of the DNC," said Carl East, assistant program director with News Talk 1100 WBT in Charlotte, N.C.
At the Spa
Another high point was the enterprising offer made by Barneys of New York, which set up a whole salon in the Farley building for reporters to enjoy facials, make-up, massages, haircuts, a pool table and beer in what looked like the VIP room of a fraternity. Barneys did the best they could to make the area as aesthetically pleasing as possible, but the inside of the Post Office doesn't leave them much to work with.
Nonetheless, this reporter treated herself to a 10-minute massage performed by a woman named Melanie who works at one of the two John Allan's salon locations in the city. Asked a few minutes into the massage how she was faring, the recipient of this particular treatment needed to be awakened. Fatigue and deep-tissue work go hand-in-hand when it comes to inspiring a nap.
Afterward, a make-up application seemed like a fun way to round out the afternoon. With just a brief wait and a chance to speak with other female reporters from Voice of America and The Associated Press, the make-up artist applying a "flirty look" (by request) said he had worked on about 12-13 faces a day each day he had been at the convention. The number was surprisingly low for a 10-hour work day, but the artist said with the media schedules such as they were, he experienced lulls and rushes throughout the day.
The make-up artist, who professed to have quite liberal political leanings, despite hailing from North Carolina, said half his family loves FOX News and half his family hates it. But, he said, despite his own tastes, he was frankly quite surprised at the number of editors from "national publications" who shared with him their very left leanings. He said based on his informal conversations with these certain bigwigs, he could believe that a a liberal bias may just exist in the media.
Liberal bias was not something reporter Liza Porteus would experience while shopping for souvenir buttons and the like at the New Yorker hotel. While purchasing some Bush-Cheney '04 paraphernalia (this stuff will be collectible one day won't it?), Liza said she heard some "yee-haws" and cattle calls through the lobby before turning around to see the Texas delegation again in matching regalia of blue jeans, cowboy boots and hats and red, white and blue American-flag like shirts.
Bias was evident, however, when Peter went to the red carpet arrival of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger outside Planet Hollywood on Thursday. When Peter told the staffers manning the event that he was with FOX News, he managed to skip the queue of about two dozen reporters and get better placement for Schwarzenegger's arrival. Not surprisingly, the other reporters grumbled a bit, and one man — jokingly, Peter hopes — yelled out, "Kill him."
Peter's star-sighting was part of the Republican convention's main events, but Liza had some more unexpected meetings with celebrities.
As she was preparing to head back through the myriad security checkpoints before entering Madison Square Garden, she crossed paths with one of the stars of "CSI: Miami," Rory Cochrane — known as the brooding, quiet but very attractive Tim Speedle on the show. Unlike his character, Cochrane appeared a little lost. Not to let the opportunity go by to meet one of the crime scene investigators on one of her favorite shows, Liza stopped him to introduce herself, shake his hand, and gush about how she is one of the show’s biggest fans.
Floundering for something to say, Liza asked: "What are you doing here?", a sentence that sounded a little more crass than the intent behind it, which was in actuality, "Are you here for the convention to support Bush?"
Alas, Cochrane responded that he was trying to find the best way to get to Penn Station, which Liza gladly provided. He’s a lot smaller in person than he is on TV, though just as good looking, she said. But repeating an error that she made in Boston, while Liza was carrying her camera in her bag, she didn’t have the guts to ask the nearby police officer to take a picture of her with him. This comes not long after Liza finished kicking herself for not getting a picture with Ben Affleck, who came into the wrong skybox at the Democratic National Convention in Boston and found a bewildered and starstruck Liza instead.
Later, as she was heading up the nine flights of escalators to get to the skybox where she was working, Liza saw former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo talking to a group. Even further up the escalators, Liza hit a big hullabaloo of media and cameramen. It turns out, rapper Sean P. Diddy Combs was just ahead of her with his entourage. Liza also ran into the renowned entertainer and clothing designer at the Democratic National Convention in Boston on one of her many trips to the ladies room. This time, however, he was on his way to be interviewed by FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly.
O’Reilly himself was seen with a cameraman from "60 Minutes" and anchor Mike Wallace apparently in tow. A woman who said she was from Colorado Rep. Caroline Musgrave’s office stopped the host of "The O’Reilly Factor" and said, "We love you very much." O’Reilly, probably used to hearing that or the exact opposite from most people, told the woman to give Musgrave a "hello" from him.
Once back inside the Garden, Liza had some time to spare before the convention began and decided to take her notepad and disposable camera for a walk down what’s known as media row. Once she did, she wondered why she waited until the last night to scope out the celebrities, or at least Republican notables.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kans., was spotted a few skyboxes down getting ready for an interview. Former Nixon Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was standing outside the CNN affiliate skybox quickly eating a hot dog. He likes it with ketchup and mustard, by the way. A convention-goer was waiting to take a picture of the historic Kissinger until after he was done feeding, evidently out of respect for the man, but by waiting, he missed his opportunity.