BAGHDAD, Iraq – It's never easy thinking about coming here.
Every reporter is torn between the fact this is one of the most important ongoing news events in the world and the fact that you literally risk your life covering it.
All those last-minute, middle-of-the-night worries about kidnappings and car bombs are painted in vivid colors when I land at Baghdad International Airport (search ) and our security advisor gives me the standard briefing.
Something like "the road is deadly dangerous, they can hit us with rocket-propelled grenades or machine-gun fire or car bombs. Put your vest on. Don't get out of the car if we come under fire because you’re safer inside than out."
There's more in the briefing but that is already enough to wipe the smile off a reporter’s face, twist up my guts as I get into the car and hope like hell my security handlers are just being overly dramatic as they are apt to be.
But about one mile later I can see he is not. There are craters on the most dangerous road in the world from roadside bombs and burned-out wrecks from car bombs.
Finally I make it to the hotel. Though well guarded, it’s a microcosm of everything that goes wrong in Baghdad (search ).
The power goes off regularly, so often I walk from one level to the next because the elevators don't always work. For three weeks there wasn't any hot water because the boiler broke, and no one, including the U.S. Army officer who is in charge of this area, could get it fixed.
Lt. Col. Ed Strosky warns us that if we take pictures, use cell phones, leave the taps on, he will kick us out of the hotel.
He's a good guy, though. He used to ride his Harley from Buffalo, N.Y., to Orangeville, Ontario, so he could date a Canadian girl. Bikers are good people. He can ride a Harley to Canada; he just can't seem to get the water hot.
When Strosky finally got some kind of warm water to the hotel, a day later insurgents apparently blew up a water main supplying most of Baghdad. So we — along with millions of Iraqis — went from no hot water to no water at all.
I feel guilty about using good, bottled drinking water to wash my hair. But you have to resort to bottled water to keep clean.
Our little inconveniences are the complaints of every Iraqi. Iraq is dangerous. Water and electricity are intermittent. It seems to somehow have gotten worse than when I was here last year.
You have to stay positive, though. I smile and walk through the lobby saying good morning to the Iraqi hotel clerk. "How's life"? I ask. And, quickly, I learn never to do that here. The clerk’s response: "What life? We have no life at all."
Iraqis are running short on patience, having seen dramatic violence on the streets. Even American contractors say that in terms of city services, Baghdad is only now back to prewar levels.
If there is something encouraging, it's that many of the Iraqis who I can actually get a chance to talk to say they will vote in Sunday’s national elections. (It's hard to talk to Iraqis because we can't walk the streets safely so our interaction is limited.)
I’m reduced to taking a straw poll of the waiters in the Al Rashid (search ) hotel. Seventy percent say they will vote. But there’s a big margin of error because several waiters were making orange juice in the kitchen (with no tap water to add and with Iraqi oranges not being exactly robust, it takes 10 oranges to equal one glass).
Unenthusiastically, the waiters will vote because, as one put it, "we have to — what other choice is there."
They want Iraq to move forward. They know there is no going back and this is their chance to hope for better days. It's all about hope right now.
Hope but not much water. The lights just went out again. And the window rattled from a distant bomb blast. It's gotta get better, right?