From the pages of

by Martin Lewis
(First published August 16, 2000)

Political conventions I've discovered, are very similar to rock concerts. The all-important "credentials" that grant one access to different areas of the arena are just the political version of backstage passes. And there are just as many gradations of passes to negotiate.

The general Staples pass is pretty much the equivalent of a VIP pass at a concert, i.e., it's as low on the totem pole as you can be. At the Dem convention the basic pass allows you to prowl the main concourse or sit in the nosebleed seats. The most coveted passes to have are the Floor pass -- and the Sky Box pass. The Floor pass allows you to be crushed by delegates (who, let's face it, should be there) and media crews. With a certain writhing and squirreling motion, in 10 or 15 minutes you can actually get close to the front and see just how electrifying a speaker Jesse Jackson is, or Bill Bradley isn't.

But the creme de la creme pass is the Sky Box pass. A lot of the suites are media boxes, where TV anchors such as Brit Hume and Wolf Blitzer present their shows from. Outside these impromptu mini-studios is a constant milling of politicos, spinners and the curious. Here a Mike McCurry and James Carville, there a Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. The denser the cluster, the more prime-time the pundit.

The most exclusive boxes are given over to private parties, which are underwritten by sponsors. A generous corporation means barbecued ribs and full bar; a less endowed donor equals salsa, chips and beer. These tightly run suites require a formal invitation to gain admission.

But there are dozens of folks who go "Sky-Boxing." It's the equivalent of party-crashing. You troll around peering into open doors, looking for a familiar face or gauging your chances with the suite guard. This is where a nod, wink and smile of familiarity might seduce the security person into thinking that you are a returning guest whose credentials don't need checking. Or you can try entering by the entourage method. You engage in conversation with someone who is being leveraged into a suite, and get swept in on the tide of assistants. Start chatting with Senator Joe Biden as he strides purposefully toward a box and you suddenly find yourself in a room with corporate sponsors plying liquor on you as if you had power to pass profit-enhancing legislation.

Congratulations! You are now Sky-Boxing!

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