Saturday evening, after some strategery in a Hoboken restaurant decked out wall to wall with photos of Frank Sinatra, Welch and I stop briefly by a party the Imagine '04 folks are throwing at a Chelsea spot called Crobar… the very same place, amusingly enough, that the Republicans will be throwing an event with Lynyrd Skynyrd in honor of "southern leadership." You know the archetypal movie club with the long white tunnels connecting high-ceilinged rooms and dudes in chaps gyrating on platforms? That's this place. The constant oonta-oonta-oonta makes it impossible to talk, and since it's hard to dance gracefully with a laptop strapped to your back, we soon vamoose to a bar with outdoor seating in the west '70s, where Chris Kattan from Saturday Night Live is sweet-talking a starstruck couple outside into giving up their table for his posse.
The protesters are using a text-messaging service called TxtMob to stay in touch, keep abreast of police movements (at least one person on the network is listening to police radio), and notify each other of actions and arrests. It'll prove useful later, of course, but it's also a kind of high-speed mass gossip, and the protesters have a penchant for exaggerating the excitement level of their own events and experiences. It's about 3am when this message comes in:
Major situation inside Penn Station, several Secret Service down and bleeding, shatered [sic] sheet of plate glass
A subsequent message reports more injuries and an "assault" with a sheet of glass. We're not sure how (or, more to the point, why) you assault someone with a sheet of glass, but we resolve to cab down to Penn Station and check it out. It's immediately apparent that nothing quite so dramatic is going on; cops tend to get twitchy when a couple of officers are taken down, and these folks look simply bored. No such news has come over the radio according to the Secret Service guys we question. I message the TxtMob list that the report was bogus—someone concedes that it may have been an accident rather than an assault, but insists there was some sort of broken glass incident. We're never able to confirm; maybe someone dropped a beer bottle. The TxtMob lists go on in this fashion for the next day or so; on Sunday messages will announce police "flooding" Union Square or hundreds of National Guardsmen massing in Central Park, when I'm sitting right there and can see that nothing of the sort is happening. But they're about 50 percent accurate and usually contain a grain of truth, so they do ultimately prove useful. And revealing. One message on Sunday reads:
200 here @ boathouse [in Central Park where RNC delegates have been spotted], lots of pigs, no arrests yet, need more people
The attitude seems common among protesters; you haven't really been unless you've gotten the plastic cuffs and, ideally, a truncheon for good measure. Back in college I took a class with Bertell Olman, hardcore Marxist and, oddly and incidentally, one time mentor to libertarian scholar Chris Sciabarra; the kids used to try to one-up each other with arrest stories in the minutes before the start of class. They eventually succeed in getting "over 100 protestors" arrested there according to a message I get later that night, which probably means at least a dozen or so got taken in.