Cleveland did such a good job of preparing for the worst that it has breathed new life into Yogi Berra’s old malapropism: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
Ernst & Young Tower, West 9th and Main, 11 a.m.
The cavernous tile-floored lobby of one of downtown’s signature office buildings is empty, save for the lone security guard behind the desk at the far end, where he sits beneath large banners depicting the old Flats district. A woman enters through the glass front door. The clicking of her heels echoes up to the second floor balcony. Music trickles from the empty coffee shop. I cough, just to hear myself.
I take the elevator up to the fourth-floor law offices of Zashin & Rich, where the legal assistant at the reception desk, Danielle James, has plenty of time to chat.
“It’s been dead!” she says. “A lot of people assumed we were closed. On a normal day, I’d have interrupted you 20 times to answer the phone, take deliveries.”
The firm is operating on a skeleton staff, with most of the employees taking vacation or working from home. James tells me that of the 13 tenants in the 23-story building, only four are open. This story is playing out across the city, as the hype of preparation encouraged many to avoid downtown altogether.
“Traffic has been lovely,” she says. “Everyone expected this huge crowd and all this chaos, and we didn’t get it. I expected the worst. Listening to the news, it’s like they wanted to incite fear.”
The phone rings. James answers. It’s one of the attorneys, working from home.
Sidewalk, West 6th and Superior, lunchtime.
Jay Jones’ street-vending table is neatly arranged with proud Cleveland-themed T-shirts and caps – Browns and Cavs and logos touting the city itself. The table and an accompanying stand are conspicuously full.
“Has business been slow?” I ask him.
“Definitely,” he says. “Definitely. They hyped it up. It seems like they over-planned. I was expecting better business than this. Way better.”
East 4th and Euclid, 1 p.m.
Lonesome Gulch, meet Times Square.
The weird split personality of downtown finds its counterpoint here, where many of the national media outlets have taken up residence, with MSNBC’s outdoor broadcast booth and Twitter’s convention headquarters and the Washington Post’s satellite office drawing tourists and attention junkies and fashionable anarchists, like gulls to a fish market.
Over the din of the crowd, a woman plays an amplified saxophone. A man in a black Donald Trump T-shirt, his arms and bald head painted silver, dances, then freezes into a pose, holds it for a long beat, then breaks back into dance.
A man at a souvenir stand shouts, “RNC T-shirts! RNC T-shirts!”, and as if that wasn’t enough, he’s got a dog in a pen behind his table and the dog is barking incessantly.
“Scooby!” he scolds, then goes back to his T-shirt chant.