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The Key to Finding the Best Parties: Follow the Delegates


In chartered buses, private cars and taxicabs, delegates from across the country spilled across the city to celebrate their arrival in Los Angeles. They held their own confabs simultaneously Sunday night at 24 locations ranging from the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey to El Cholo restaurant in Los Angeles.

Their parties--traditionally held the night before the convention opens--differ from other festivities in one crucial respect: They are fun. They allow tribe members to gather with their own and, well, party--no standing in line with strangers, no checkbooks.

Thousands of delegates were given a little piece of Los Angeles to call their own for three hours. The Puerto Ricans went to the Conga Room. After all, salsa was born in Puerto Rico.

The Nevadans were downstairs at a restaurant called La Boca, hoping for a glimpse of actor Jimmy Smits, who invested in the place.

The Colorado delegation went to Cafe des Artistes for French cuisine, but they were a little piqued about the country and western music. (To some Coloradans, that was a little too Texan.)

The Michigan folks, meanwhile, went to the Petersen Automotive Museum. The Yankees from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont were feted at El Cholo on Western Avenue.

Whether it was at the L.A. County Museum of Art or the sleek Pacific Design Center or a tiny garden restaurant, the delegates said they were giddy about being in Los Angeles: "Los Angeles is an exaggerated version of what I expected it to be," said Puerto Rican state Sen. Kenneth McKlintock. "Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, the maps to the stars."

At La Boca (which is owned by the Conga Room), the Nevada delegates were dining and sipping wine. It was a smaller, quieter venue for the Nevadans, who after all have Las Vegas.

Carol Cox, a 54-year-old delegate from Sparks, had her camera on the table. She had heard that Smits would be dropping by.

"Jimmy Smits is upstairs," said Janice Brown, 57, executive director of the Nevada state Democratic party. "I got to meet him. My God, he's gorgeous."

The delegates from New England, meanwhile, were bused and rushed to El Cholo, where they got a taste of Mexico. Mariachi music blared. Margaritas flowed. And there was lots of comida.

"It's nice to see L.A. through parties like this," said David Watters, a delegate from New Hampshire who hopes to visit the homeless today and use this trip to do some community service.

The three state delegations joined forces, said Mark Michaud, executive state director of the Vermont Democratic Party, because "our state numbers are so small, we can fit in one restaurant."

Puerto Rico also made room on the Conga Room dance floor for the other protectorates--Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands--and Hawaii.

"We're always put together. We're offshore areas. We're kind of ignored areas," said Guillermo Zuniga, 28, an attorney and delegate from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Sure, they are all islands, but the comparison stops there.

"When I came in, the man at the door said, 'Are you with the protectorates?' " said Ry Barbin, a delegate from Maui. "I said, 'I'm from Hawaii.' He said, 'Right, the protectorate.' I said, 'I beg your pardon, but we are a state.' "

Madeleine Bordallo, lieutenant governor of Guam, took to the dance floor with ease. "This is our kind of music," she said, her tailored white suit a striking contrast to the colorful two-piece midriff-baring outfit that the salsa singer was wearing.

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