Convention delegates take a train ride to utopia

"How did you end up going to the convention?" I asked.

"We took the train. We got off in New York City," answered the young wag, one Scott Markle, late of Harney, Carroll County, Maryland, but now, clearly, a Citizen of the World.


Actually, the route for Scott and Westminster's Corynne Courpas was perhaps a bit more circuitous than that.

Both Scott and Corynne are involved in a variety of community concerns, and had run as delegates to the Democratic National Convention supporting Sen. Tom Harkin's late lamented campaign.


Corynne beat the pants off her candidate, pulling some 1,800 votes to the senator's mere 800 in the county. Scott, on the other hand, was listed way down on the second page of the ballot. He had gotten more votes as a write-in for state's attorney. Despite their efforts, the senator won exactly zero delegates.

"But we'd made up our minds," says Corynne, "that, win or lose, we were going to the convention."

Win or lose, they would still have had to pay the $125 convention fee to the state party, so no big deal. They signed on as volunteers.

And what do convention volunteers do? Scramble for floor passes, the magical documents that allow one to enter the rarefied air of Madison Square Garden. Write for the convention newsletter. Draw political cartoons. Search out the best parties and receptions.

Experience New York. $1.50 for a can of Coke. $4.50 for a hot dog. $200 for a hotel room. Per day. American money. Volunteers, like most delegates, pay their own way.

What were the high points? The experience, says Scott, was "like facing Mecca." Present were Barbara Jordan, Jimmy Carter, Jay Rockefeller, Bill Bradley, Jesse Jackson, Oliver Stone. Oliver Stone? Yes, the maker of the movie "JFK" was a delegate for Governor Moonbeam. He even gave a speech.

"About Marilyn Monroe and the CIA," according to Corynne.

Scott enjoyed looking up at all the tall buildings. To the kid from Harney, just being there was an epiphany.


"When I was a kid," he recalls, "I'd watch the conventions on TV and dream about being there. Then I was there, and I remembered watching them on TV with my folks."

The convention, "only a train ride away," helped them focus: the national debt, homelessness, AIDS, foreign policy. They left New York wondering about the answers to the nation's woes.

When they returned, they faced the local controversies.

"Book banning," said Corynne, who has actually read "Getting Jesus in the Mood."

Or, "whether the school board has the guts to show the AIDS education video," said Scott.

The convention was the "perfect world." Everybody voted. Every cared. Everybody was on the same side. What they saw was history in the making, democracy in action.


What they learned was that an 18-year-old first-time voter, a farmer, an AIDS sufferer, a movie director, and 12,000 other strangers in an enormous room can all be on the same side, if only for a day.

The two events they remember most vividly? The youngster who sang the national anthem. And the nominees and the past nominees and the past president and the senators and the just plain folks on the podium at the ending singing "Circle of Friends."

Corynne and Scott are happy to be home. But no wonder they miss being there.