CHARLOTTE, N.C. The last thunderstorm of convention week hit just after 3 p.m. Thursday.
The weather had already cost the president and his “People’s Convention” its big people’s moment: the Thursday night speech before a live studio audience of 80,000 or more at Bank of America Stadium.
Now the pelting rain cleared Tryon Street more effectively than the police. The sidewalks turned to moving water. I was among hundreds of people suddenly contemplating a very wet walk.
All week long, Charlotte had been a city of small kindnesses. On Sunday at a convention event at Myers Park Baptist Church, I locked my keys in the car. Back from a fruitless search for something to jimmy the lock, I found that someone had left a hanger on my hood.
Now, the Good Samaritan was the young door man at the Dunhill Hotel. We bumped into each other under the awning, with him handing me one of the six hotel umbrellas he wore on his arm.
“I’m not one of your customers,” I confessed.
“Just bring it back and leave it here,” he said, pointing just outside the door.
Up to now, my two most memorable convention moments had been at big venues. Now I was about to get my third: a long slow walk in a pounding rain.
The main drag still teemed with the faces of all the different people who had come to Charlotte to be part of political history. Now they jockeyed for shelter wherever they could find it, crowded but largely calm, just as the city had been all week.
The Square had some commotions. For days, protesters had been marching and banging their drums – Democracy’s Energizer Bunnies. Now on Trade Street, a few were being handcuffed and loaded into the driest spot in uptown, a police van.
Under the Ivey’s building, a brass band now shared an overhang with the dozens of people who minutes earlier had been their audience. With their instruments silenced, the work of making noise fell to an angry street preacher, who had turned a bench into a sidewalk pulpit.
He raised his left arm and turned his face skyward, straight into the storm. “You’re all wrong with God,” he roared. “You won’t get water. You’ll get FIRE!”
Down at the “Firebird” sculpture, the rain had not let up. A young woman in a party dress darted by under a clear plastic dry-cleaning bag.
Don’t suffocate, I told her. “You do what you have to do,” she said as we passed.
For seven blocks, police and convention volunteers had smiled at me and said hello. In front of the Mint Museum, another one thanked me for visiting the city. Then it hit me: The hotel umbrella. They think I’m a tourist.
Almost every day of Convention Week, it had rained on Charlotte’s biggest ever parade. The weather had cost the city and the president their blockbuster moment. It made life fairly miserable for older or not particularly mobile delegates and visitors.
For that matter, parks and streets had been closed. Police and barricades had been everywhere and the Democratic Party had taken over large chunks of the town. In the end, none of it had really mattered. Charlotte had shown through.
Earlier, Sister Simone Campbell, one of the convention’s most popular speakers, had told me that the first storms of the week had been beautiful.
Funny, it felt that way now with the last.