Dave Barry

Dave Barry: The GOP’s long sidewalk trip to Tampa convention

I don’t know why anybody thought it was a good idea to hold a presidential nominating convention in Florida. This state has a terrible track record with presidential politics. Does anybody remember 2000? That was the year when the presidential election was decided by Florida residents who were deeply confused about which holes to punch in a ballot. This is not surprising: Florida residents are also deeply confused about what lane they’re driving in, or what, specifically, they’re supposed to do when the traffic light changes color.

So this is the last place where anybody should attempt to nominate somebody for president. Nevertheless as I write these words, Tampa is the site of a massive convention gathering featuring thousands of delegates, party leaders, media people, protesters, hookers, random lunatics and Donald Trump.

Until the weekend, Vice President Joe “Joe” Biden had also been planning to come; apparently he was unaware that this is the Republican convention. He changed his mind after a meeting with his top aides that may or may not have involved tranquilizer darts. So, tragically, Joe will not be here.

But there is still a lot of excitement in the air, as well as wind gusts upwards of 50 miles per hour, as Potential Hurricane Isaac makes its way up the Florida coast, posing a serious threat to the estimated 11 million local TV news reporters standing on the beach in matching rain slickers warning everybody to stay the hell off the beach. Isaac has already affected the convention: On Monday night, instead of the planned schedule, the Republicans are planning to hold a very brief session, at which they will nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Then they will declare the convention over, and everybody will go home.

No, that would be WAY too sane. Instead there will be three more days of speeches by every major Republican figure in the nation, living or dead. The goal will be to demonstrate to the nationwide convention-viewing TV audience — an estimated eight people — that Mitt is a regular non-android human just like you who feels pain the same way any normal person does when one of his helicopters needs repair.

The Republicans will also try to show that Paul Ryan is a nice young man who does not, as the Democrats have been suggesting, want to legalize hunting for senior citizens with crossbows. This is especially important here in Florida, because this is a crucial swing state whose voters could decide the election, assuming they can figure out where their polling places are, which, as I noted earlier, is not a given.

While all this is going on inside the convention, there will be plenty of action outside in the streets, where thousands of protesters are planning to exercise their constitutional right to annoy pretty much everybody who is not one of them. On top of all that, there is the relentless approach of Isaac, which could have major impact on the American economy, because Tampa is home to an estimated 40 percent of the nation’s strategic reserve of strip clubs.

I am not suggesting for one second that Tampa is some kind of cultural backwater. Tampa is a major city boasting a wide array of things, as evidenced by this list of List of Five Fascinating Facts About Tampa:

1. Tampa boasts the world’s longest continuous sidewalk.

2. The Hooters restaurant chain originated here in 1983.

3. OK, if you want to get technical, Hooters actually originated in Clearwater.

4. I only included Hooters because we have pretty much exhausted the fascinating facts about Tampa.

5. Seriously, though, it’s a really long sidewalk.

Also, according to a story I read in the New York Times Magazine, there’s a monkey that has been running around the Tampa area for more than three years now evading capture. The article says that the monkey — known as the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay — is hugely popular here; it has a blog, on which it announced in 2010 that it was running for mayor. Unfortunately, because of some legal technicality, it did not win.

(For the record: It would definitely have won in Miami. And then, two months later, it would have been indicted.)

But the big story, at the moment, is Isaac. The convention planners have done all they can to prepare; National Guard troops have brought in 65,000 pounds of shrimp cocktail — enough, at normal rates of delegate consumption, to last nearly two days. But still there is concern. The worst-case scenario is that Isaac will develop into a major hurricane, veer eastward toward Tampa and — this is the ultimate public-safety nightmare — get hold of Donald Trump’s hairstyle. If that thing gets airborne in the community, nobody is safe.

Despite the personal danger, I’ll be on the scene here, providing you with daily reports. Hotel space is very tight, so I wound up in a place that is next door to — I am not making this up — a strip club. When I was checking in, a guest was asking the front-desk clerk if something could be done about the cockroaches in his room. “They’re big,” he said. “They fight back.”

So you can imagine how very excited I am to be here, at this exciting time, in this exciting city. With its exciting sidewalk.