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This Is a Goodie Bag? Not by L.A. Standards

A convention-goer calls for cooler stuff.

September 02, 2004|Rob Long | Rob Long, a onetime executive producer of "Cheers," is a contributing editor to National Review.

NEW YORK — A couple of nights ago, after stopping in on a few parties, I headed back to my midtown hotel. It was late, and the "city that never sleeps" was asleep.

Except for the cabdrivers, lucky for me, because cabdrivers are the repository of all folk wisdom. A truly lazy journalist can hop in a cab, ask the driver a fairly innocuous question -- say, "What's your perspective on Bush's chances?" or "So how do you feel about the Republicans being in New York?" -- and spin the answer into a "voice of the common man" burst of local color.

"So," I asked my driver, "how do you feel about the Republicans being in New York?" The consonant-to-vowel ratio in my driver's name was roughly 23 to 1, which meant that the answer he gave was almost completely unintelligible to me. I made out two words: good parties.

There are about 2,500 delegates in New York this week and about 3,500 media representatives, and it seems as if there's a reception or banquet or celebration for each one of them. DaimlerChrysler rented out the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday evening for a spectacular party to salute the delegates, and GM followed a few hours later with its own bash, featuring country and western star Travis Tritt. I went to both of them because I've been working in Hollywood long enough to know the rules: If you're a big company and you throw a party, you must present each guest with some kind of gift, a goodie bag they call it, at the exit.

From DaimlerChrysler I received a small bag of trail mix. And from GM, a mini-bottle of water.

Have these people never been to the Golden Globes? Have they never received a shiny sack of sample-size skin unguents, vials of perfume, cellophane-wrapped cookies, a Buena Vista Social Club CD, an expensive watch, a novelty baseball cap, antibacterial wipes and a gift certificate for a 10% discount at a local day spa and massage center? What's up with the trail mix? And water? Buddy, I've got water. I was expecting a logo-stamped T-shirt or a shiny upscale pen, at the very least.

Let's be honest here: Conventions are no longer about choosing a nominee, or conducting party business. They're boondoggles, junkets, enormous pep rallies. Midtown Manhattan, from Sixth Avenue west to Ninth, and from 32nd Street north to 44th, is just one big tray of hors d'oeuvres, so the least they could do is get it right. The expected thing -- no, the decent thing -- is to throw in a few freebies.

Maybe I've been in Hollywood too long. There I was, standing in the great hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, surrounded by my fellow upbeat Republicans, and all I could think about was where was my bag of free stuff.

And earlier, at a Creative Coalition reception to celebrate the publication of a fascinating new book, "If You Had Five Minutes With the President," I was informed by the nice lady sitting at the book table that the copy I was flipping through wasn't free. "We take credit cards," she said helpfully when I put the book down. The reception was being held at the Kenneth Cole store in Rockefeller Center, so was I wrong to expect maybe a pair of slippers, or a belt, just as kind of a nice little gesture?

How do these people expect me to enjoy the free drinks and the shrimp appetizers and the make-your-own-sundae bar (thank you, GM!) if they're not going to give me a sport water bottle or mini FM radio to remember it by?

Most of these parties, after all, are thrown by lobbyists. What they're trying to do is to create an atmosphere of goodwill from the delegates and officials and hangers-on who throng to the dozens of events a political convention attracts. They're not passing around mini crab cakes because they think we're hungry. They're passing them around because maybe, somewhere down the line, GM or DaimlerChrysler is going to want to open a plant, or close a plant, in a community where one of the partygoers swings a little mojo, and they're hoping that the happy, warm feeling created by Travis Tritt, an apple martini and a gooey hot fudge sundae will linger on. I've got some news for you, my lobbyist friends: You're going to have to do better than trail mix.

On Tuesday night, I went to a party called "Spirits of New York," sponsored by the Distilled Spirits Council. Unfortunately, after the letdowns of previous evenings, I was concerned that such an auspiciously named event, even though it's sponsored by such a lovely sounding outfit, might be a crushing disappointment in the freebie department.

Boy, was I wrong. The food was great, the drinks were plentiful and distilled, just as I like them, and when I tottered out into the humid night, I was clutching a genuine goodie bag, packed with cool stuff.

The Distilled Spirits Council. Whatever they're for, I'm for too.

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