One last night on the outskirts in Tampa

Welsh cakes, a protest that wasn't, and the rest of the scene from the RNC

This post has been updated.

TAMPA — It’s 6:30 p.m. on the final night of the Republican National Convention, and the Politico Hub is practically empty. On the ninth floor of a circular office tower in downtown Tampa, the Politico Hub is Politico’s home base in Tampa, with free food, liquor, and Coca-Cola products on offer for those with the foresight to register on Politico’s website, or the luck to arrive when the registration table’s Internet is down and they can’t tell whether you registered or not. There are about 50 people there: eating, drinking, and talking quietly. Four younger attendees hover near a table containing bowls of Odwalla energy bars. “I’m gonna put so many of these in my bag before I go,” one promises. It’s a good plan.

Politico reporters have been conducting “Politico Newsmaker Interviews” in the Hub all week and, I think, livestreaming those interviews on Politico’s website. The last time I was there, two days ago, Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin were interviewing Tagg Romney, Mitt’s oldest son. (Presumably Roger Clinton was not available.) “I would be remiss if I did not comment on how awesome those socks are,” Romney said to Allen. Allen reciprocated by complimenting Romney’s socks. I get the sense that many of the Politico Newsmaker Interviews went like this.

Tonight, Allen, Jim VandeHei, and Juana Summers will be discussing the convention events as they happen. At 6:57, they sit on a raised stage, facing four cameras, waiting to begin. “Mike’s gonna open. Harris is not gonna be on,” a producer says. “They’re seating Craig now. Just open and we’ll get Craig to appear.” Music plays, the cameras go live, and Mike Allen smiles wide. “Good evening and welcome to Politico Live! I’m here with Jim VandeHei and Juana Summers,” he says. “We’re here to take you through the climactic final night of the Republican National Convention.”

On the way back to the convention center, around 7:15, the area before the first security checkpoint is filled with protesters, hustlers, and hangers-on: people selling political buttons; an Asian man hawking Obama and Romney-themed sandwich cookies; a bitter Ron Paul supporter holding open the door of a portable toilet and attempting to usher delegates inside, “because that’s where our democracy is going!” Logan Darrow Clements, a slender man in a purple, short-sleeved collared shirt, hands out DVDs next to a sign reading “Anti-Obama Care Movie. $15 $10. “I used to be a journalist,” Clements tells me. “I used to run American Venture magazine.” Now, he has produced and stars in Sick and Sicker, a documentary that, according to the blurb on the back, “puts ObamaCare on ice with cold hard facts from Canada.” Clements has some innovative distribution ideas—he is licensing the movie to an advocacy group in Vermont, which plans to shoot its own footage and somehow splice it into Clements’ movie—but he hasn’t had much luck handing copies out tonight. “They assume I’m hostile,” Clements says of the delegates. “It takes them ten seconds to realize I’m on their side.”

I wish him good luck and head into the filing center, where, earlier, the ceiling was leaking despite it being nowhere near the roof. (“It’s probably just an HVAC leak,” one guy said, hopefully.) Now, at 7:45, the Google Lounge has closed and the work tables are almost entirely empty; the only people left in the filing center are those journalists who lack access to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, or are too busy or burnt out to go there. I heave a loud sigh as I sit down at my computer. “I know exactly what you mean,” says the bearded guy to my right. “I’ve got two more things to file, and then I’m gonna ask my editor for permission to die.”

The rest of the building’s filing centers are similarly deserted. Radio Row, once bustling, is now all but vacant. Three shows are still there broadcasting at 8:30 PM, and the only one that’s not from the West Coast is “The American Adversaries” (“Where political professional wrestling lives”), co-hosted by Lar Adams and Christopher Hart on 660 AM WORL in Orlando. The sign above their booth misspells both “wrestling” and “Christopher,” which makes me really like “The American Adversaries,” for some reason.

“It’s been a good convention. But I’m ready for it to be over,” says Adams. “Because we have to drive back to Orlando every night. We don’t get home until 2 a.m.” Adams and Hart (two other hosts, NostraDennis and Johnny Guns, are back in the studio in Orlando) obviously can’t wait to finish up so they can get to the Forum for Romney’s speech, but they’re nevertheless giving the show all they’ve got. “We want to thank all of you for listening to the American Adversaries prime time for one more evening here in Tampa!” says Hart. “We’ve been here live on Radio Row with all the big boys and girls, and it’s been a real treat.”

Their guest is Don Smith, a pleasant man who runs a veterans organization in Jacksonville. Smith is originally from Janesville, WI, Paul Ryan’s hometown. “Do you know the guy?” asks Hart. Don Smith does not. They talk awhile about Smith’s organization, All American Veterans, then turn to more immediate concerns. “One last question for ya, Don,” says Hart. “How do you feel overall about the convention? Has it been a success?” Don Smith thinks it has.

Over at the Forum at 9:15, it seems like there are as many people in the concourse as there are in the arena itself. Cameramen are on the prowl, looking for as much B-roll as they can get, film men in tri-cornered hats and talkative rabbis in beards and yarmulkes. Victor Gonzalez, a Miami New Times writer, is roaming the halls talking to people about Ann Romney’s baking talents. I met Gonzalez in January, during the Florida presidential primary, when he interviewed me about Mitt Romney’s supposed resemblance to Guy Smiley, who is a Muppet. “We’ve been on a mission all week to find Ann Romney’s Welsh cakes,” says Gonzalez. “So far we’re coming up empty-handed.” He’s talked to a lot of people thus far, including an ebullient Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich. “Jon Voight was really cool,” says Gonzalez. “He said he’d never forget me. He said I was the most eccentric interviewer he’d ever met.” Gonzalez heads down to the floor, recording equipment in hand, to confuse more people with his questions about cakes.

I head up to my assigned section: good old level six, section 325, where I can’t see a thing, and where I get very bored, very fast. (I am not alone in my boredom. A professorial fellow with a goatee and corduroys reads a Portuguese novel on his iPad, completely unmoved by Taylor Hicks’s musical promise that Republicans will soon be “taking it to the streets.”) After an interminable parade of current and former Republican US Olympians, most of whom seem to be skeleton racers or bobsledders, for some reason, I give up and head back to the filing center, where workmen are already dismantling the Google Lounge. My seatmate is gone, hopefully not to his eternal reward. There’s nothing left for me here; I can’t even see the televisions. So around 10:20, right before Romney speaks, I head out to the protest zone, which is very close to the convention center as the crow flies, but which is extraordinarily far in the maze of fences and barricades that is convention-week Tampa.

When I arrive, the vacant lot that is the designated protest zone is sparsely populated, with no more than 125 protesters halfheartedly milling about, perhaps exhausted by the long trek to the designated protest zone. “This is pathetic,” says Chris Faraone, a Boston Phoenix reporter who has been covering the protests all week. “The cops outnumber the protesters.” This is true. There are innumerable police officers on the scene, all of whom are unfailingly polite and friendly. As the protest migrates down Whiting Street toward the convention’s entrance gates, Faraone—who has reported on the Occupy movement from approximately 30 different cities— applauds the Tampa cops. “I guess we’ll have to give the fuckin’ Nobel Peace Prize to the fuckin’ sheriff here,” he says, not unkindly. “I’ve never been called ‘sir’ by anyone, let alone a cop.”

With the protests defused, and the speeches all but over, Faraone and I head back to the Politico Hub for a drink. At 11:15 p.m., there are even fewer people there than before. I order some rye whiskey and sit down to watch Allen, Summers, VandeHei, and Politico editor in chief John Harris, still going strong after five hours. Right now, they are making fun of Clint Eastwood’s apparently rambling speech. “It was downright weird,” says VandeHei. “I thought it was like having an elderly uncle over to Thanksgiving dinner,” says Harris. In search of food, Faraone and I go through a door we’re not supposed to go through, but find nothing but bottled water and an abandoned makeup kit. We’re both exhausted. But you get the sense that the people on the Politico stage would keep talking all night if no one were there to stop them. “We look at how the media interprets these speeches,” says VandeHei, noting that, for at least the next 72 hours, the media will be obsessively analyzing Mitt Romney’s speech, until the DNC gets started and the show begins anew. He’s probably right. God help us all.

Update: Due to an editing error, the final paragraph was omitted when this post was initially published. The paragraph has now been added.

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Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.