CHARLOTTE, N.C. The noisiest and quietest places in uptown Charlotte were exactly three minutes walk and two floors apart Wednesday afternoon.
Hawkers and howlers in front of Charlotte Convention Center kept the decibel level at a steady shriek. Yet at the EpiCentre, two blocks away, you could hear a single bird chirp if you knew where to hide.
Either way, the crush of humanity has moved one block east: College Street apparently has replaced Tryon Street as the place to encounter friends, foes and funky strangers.
If youd walked north from College and Stonewall streets the length of a block, this is what youd have found outside the Convention Center:
A silent woman holding up a sign that read China! Stop Persecuting Falun Gong. A sign by The Shame Project: Democrats attack morality, family, children. Anti-abortion orators with pictures of mutilated fetuses. Guys giving away water bottles and vanilla yogurt bars. Obama puppets, buttons, calendars, bumper stickers made by the union, childrens biographies of Barack and Michelle, sunglasses with red and blue frames and 2012 on the earpieces.
Baby wear with political slogans on it: A segmented snake flag from the Revolutionary War warned, Dont tattle on me. A cart selling strawberry, turtle and chocolate chip cupcakes. Obama flags, pennants, bling, T-shirts, posters. Newspapers from the 2008 inauguration at $10 a pop. An adult biography of Barack. More photos of aborted fetuses and a speaker saying Democrats hate God. A smiling older guy who danced tirelessly with a fistful of CDs, while a song with the refrain Yes we can erupted from his boombox.
And in the middle of this melee, a silent man painted.
Andrew Purchin, who flew from California for the DNC, hands out cards for athousandartists.com. His dream, says that site, is that on Inauguration Day on the Washington Mall, 1,000 or more people in white jumpsuits and orange hats will be quietly making art, no matter who is president and no matter what the weather is. These artists will neither be attacking nor defending. They will be present: reflecting, innovating and creating.
Purchin, an artist and psychotherapist from Santa Cruz, believes in the healing power of creativity. If people would take just five minutes a day to make art, theyd have more empathy for others, he says.
A little sanity upstairs
If you wanted the healing power of silence, the nearest place to find it was on Level 3 of the EpiCentre. A private event was planned for later that day in The Pavilion technicians were not empowered to share the name of the incredibly important guest with me but except for the hum of cooling fans and the occasional tap of a hammer, I heard nothing.
I leaned against the retaining wall before a bank of flowers, and breathed deeply. From there, Charlotte looked like a futuristic land of glass and metal. After a few minutes, I sighed and descended to the beehive.
The situation below divided locals and visitors: DNC dignitaries had taken over Whisky River and BlackFinn Saloon. Political insiders whooped it up at CNN Grill, where I was told I needed a jacket, not to mention an unobtainable pass, to get in. Smoothie King employees seemed happy to see me, though, and a woman making sandwiches at Brueggers Bagels added extra onion without prompting.
MSNBC has taken over much of the ground floor, erecting a broadcast studio in the main plaza and letting people view the MSNBC Experience.
I had the longest conversation of my day with button-swapping delegates as we waited half an hour in the sun for the Experience line to snake forward. One came from central Florida half an hour from Ricky Rat, as he described Disney World and one from eastern Washington state, where she has found an agrarian paradise in Walla Walla.
The glories of MSNBC
Inside, we got free MSNBC buttons with our names on them, had pictures taken against a green screen with a projection of our favorite MSNBC celebrity (I didnt know any) and sat in a lounge for an online chat with liberal commentator Ed Schultz.
The woman next to me pulled a package out of her bag and asked, Did you get one of these little Obama heads?
She held up a small, hollow rubber replica of the presidents cranium, meant to be mounted on your trailer hitch (perhaps to warn off tailgaters). Theyre free! she said. You can go to the front of the Convention Center to get one.
I sprang from my chair and burst up the street. But by the time I fought my way back through the crazy crowd, all the little Obamas were gone.