Convention prep turns up a notch

Even as President Obama and Mitt Romney tangled on Monday in their battle for the White House, my thoughts were focused on upcoming trips to Tampa and Charlotte for the Republican and Democratic conventions.

It's a familiar political trip for me to plan, as this year will mark my 12th and 13th national political conventions - my first was covering the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta.

The trips usually feature a variety of security headaches and frustrating technical troubles, mixed together with long hours and a general lack of news.

But my colleagues and I still look forward to hopping on the plane to join the madness every four years.

On Monday, I started sending out the obligatory emails to state party organizations, trying to touch base and lay the groundwork to visit the hotels of the four state delegations that I will cover from Georgia, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma - the states where my radio stations are located.

One of the most enjoyable things about a convention is to go the hotel where your state delegates are staying, and troll for interviews in the lobby or just outside.

Sometimes you get lucky and run into the Governor who is going out for a jog, stumble into someone you need to talk to completely by accident, or just see old friends who are chasing delegates as well.

Maybe that's why my eyebrows went up a little on Monday when I was told by officials at the Georgia Republican Party that none of their gatherings outside of the convention hall would be open to the press.

I can understand that some convention events aren't meant for pesky reporters like me, but the daily morning breakfast gatherings of delegates at the state delegation hotel have been part and parcel of my rounds since I covered my first political convention back in 1988.

But the Georgia GOP wasn't handing over any kind of meeting schedule to me, making it clear that if I wanted to talk to any of their delegates, I had to email the state party and ask permission.

Here were the guidelines, sent out in an email on Monday afternoon after my inquiry:

• Who are you requesting for an interview? • What date and time (EDT)? • What is the topic of this interview? • What type of interview (recorded TV, live TV, newspaper, etc.)? • If not a telephone interview, what is the proposed location for your interview? • Other pertinent information, if any.

Of course, these "criteria" issued by the Georgia Republican Party made me furrow my brow, roll my eyes and shake my head, as the curmudgeonly reporter in me immediately thought of a number of snarky replies.

It's okay - I know what hotel the Georgia folks are staying at in Tampa. And I'm sure someone will be nice enough to accidentally tell me what time state delegates are having breakfast.

Meanwhile on the Democratic side, I'm still waiting to see if the party will give me a parking space near the convention site in Charlotte.

It would be helpful to have a place to park when I drive in before sunrise each day - and hey - the convention starts in two weeks time, you know.

My GOP parking spot cost the company $150, and if any Charlotte 2012 people are reading this, we are willing to fork over a similar amount at the Democratic convention.

If not, I guess I will be looking for a bus or cab to get me close to the venue. One more convention headache to deal with.

Earlier this month I experienced something new, when the hotel where I had made a reservation in Tampa called me to say that my reservation did not exist anymore.

It seems that my hotel was one brand when I made my reservation late last year, but in the interim it was sold to another hotel chain, and for some reason, my reservation wasn't transferred over to the new chain's computer system.

Luckily, I found another hotel, even as at least a dozen listeners and readers offered up housing in their own Tampa area homes and condos.

I thank you for the offers.

It reminded me that for my first convention in 1988 in Atlanta, I slept on a living room couch. Back then, I was working for a shoestring news service, and the boss happened to have a friend in Atlanta who put us up at his house.

There was no rental car, so every morning before dawn, I walked down the street to catch the bus.

To cover my bus, cab and food expenses for the week in Atlanta, the boss gave me $150 up front - he said whatever I did not spend, I could keep.

Considering that I was making $250 a week before taxes at the time, it was an offer I couldn't refuse, as I ended up coming home with about half of the boss' cash.

So, while I may grouse about the inherent troubles of covering a convention, I can't wait to get to Tampa and Charlotte.

And I can't wait to get home either.