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Welcome to the GOP Convention --Now Leave

Workers: While official San Diego basks in the glow, merchants, drivers and overworked cops are glad to see the party's over.

August 16, 1996|ROBIN ABCARIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not that Delana Hardacre minded losing 8 pounds in a single week. She just wouldn't recommend the method: 20-hour workdays spent in the sunlight-starved bowels of the convention center, helping run Xerox's massive, temporary operation for the many, many, many copying needs of the Republican National Committee.

Nor is it that Malou Delrosario, a 20-year-old saleswoman at the Gap in Horton Plaza, has strong feelings about either presidential candidate. She was even tickled that Bob Dole waved to her as he rode past in his limo the other day.

But Hardacre and Delrosario are glad to see the Republicans go.

Really, really glad.

"I'm exhausted," said Hardacre, a customer account manager who had to spend 30 minutes planning and executing each trip to the ladies room since there were no toilets in the convention hall parking structure. "I have blisters on my feet. I have a cold and a sore throat. I try to think of a word and it won't come out. I was at a computer today for 16 hours and my contacts fogged up and I couldn't see."

Delrosario had wearied of having to leave home an hour earlier for work each day, since she--and many other downtown workers--were forced to park at Jack Murphy Stadium, several miles northeast, then shuttle back and forth.

Official San Diego--the newspaper, hoteliers, restaurateurs and local party activists--may be crowing about the image boost provided by the presence of so many thousands of journalists here (best estimate: 8,750). But plenty of others--disappointed merchants, displaced salespeople, delivery truck drivers and overworked cops--will be glad when the "all-inclusive" Big Republican Tent folds up and moves on.

UPS deliveryman Othello Lewis, taking a lunch break at a restaurant near Old Town, just shook his head when asked if he'd be happy to see the convention end.

"Me and every other person I work with at UPS," he said.

For security reasons, the downtown area around the convention center has been blocked to nearly all traffic. Access to the main convention hotels, the Hyatt Regency and the Marriott, is unavailable to drivers without special windshield stickers, passes or license-plate tags. Staffing the checkpoints are clumps of often-sunburned but always tired San Diego police officers and security guards.

"We're working 12-hour shifts," said one guard. "The only thing I'll be sorry about is the overtime that ain't gonna be there anymore."

One San Diego detective, who normally works in street clothes, was miffed about having to be in uniform--not because she minds the outfit, but because her name tag practically gives away her age. The three stars engraved under her name mean she's been a cop for 15 years. A very young looking 40 (and single, not to mention vain), it distresses her, she said, to have to admit she's been a cop that long.

"Detectives are a bunch of whiners," said a hot, cranky street officer to whom the story was repeated. "You probably met her inside, not out here, right?" Beads of sweat dotted his ruddy forehead. "All the detectives get to be inside. And we're out here. I'm surprised she even knew what the stars meant."

Two blocks away, at Horton Plaza, the retail centerpiece of downtown San Diego's economic revival, merchants expressed disappointment that customers had stayed away in droves, worried about traffic and parking.

Alex Del Rio Tale, assistant manager at the Sweet Factory, said business was off at least 40%.

The convention, he said, "has been a disaster. All the regulars are staying away.

"See that?" he added, gesturing to a display of red, white and blue candy. "We special ordered all that. And it's not selling. It's a good thing we didn't order any chocolate elephants, because we thought about it."

A saleswoman at Sam Goody, the music superstore, said she makes between 30 and 40 sales in a normal day. On Tuesday, however, the second day of the convention, she'd made only 10.

For sheer annoyance, however, few tales compare to the one told by Georgina Meza, who sells clothes at the Limited.

Just as she and two of her colleagues were closing up and preparing to leave Sunday at 10:10 p.m., someone began banging on the store's backdoor. "They were pounding and pounding," she said, "and they were yelling, 'Open up, police!'

"We couldn't see them, so we were terrified. We said, 'Go around to the front!' And they kept banging and screaming at us. Finally we called mall security. They came and opened the door. You wouldn't believe who was standing there."

It was the speaker of the House himself.

"My manager thought it was one of those cardboard cutouts that people take pictures with," Meza said, "until she saw it move."

Newt Gingrich, whose cardboard likeness is indeed in stores all over Horton Plaza, and his security team had managed to get lost on their way to Planet Hollywood.

There's a metaphor in there somewhere.

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