CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On the door of my home office hangs a collection of press passes I have amassed since I attended the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in 1988. When I return home at the end of this week, bruised, blistered and tottering from lack of sleep, I shall hang my new trophies with their brethren and pause to think of how lucky I am.
I can say that I was there. I was there for Bill Clinton's long-winded keynote in 1988. (OK, I was in a media lounge, but I was there.) I got tears in my eyes as Ronald Reagan delivered what I think he knew would be his last convention speech in Houston in 1992.
I approved of Bob Dole's selection of Jack Kemp as his running mate in 1996; 16 years later, Mitt Romney chose a Kemp acolyte, Paul Ryan, to complete the GOP ticket.
I saw Al Gore slow-kiss Tipper in Los Angeles at the 2000 confab. Who knew that a decade later, the two would announce their separation?
You betcha I saw Sarah Palin knock it out of the park in Minneapolis. A week before, Barack Obama stood in front of a row of Greek columns as he delivered his rousing acceptance speech to a foot-stomping crowd in Denver.
Last week, I saw Clint Eastwood talk to a chair.
In 2004, I noticed that delegates didn't appear particularly jazzed as Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts saluted and reported for duty. For what it's worth, I also saw a lack of energy on the floor after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivered his address.
In 2008, Obama excited young voters with his promise of "hope and change." What will the Democrats' message be this week, "Cross your fingers, and hope for the best"?
When Republicans convene, I get to be with my people. GOP delegates seem happy to commune with a rare like-minded journalist.
"You're the one," they think when they see me on the floor. I bask in the warm bosom of the GOP.
It evens out. When I visit the Democrats, I'm the skunk at the party. Delegates smile at other journalists -- after all, they play on the same team -- and then avert their eyes and raise their hands to their foreheads when they walk rather briskly past me.
"You're the one," they think as I stand in my own private Siberia.
No worries. As former Vice President Dan Quayle famously said, "I wear their scorn as a badge of honor."
Then I'm back in the bustle, rushing through long stretches of concrete, trying to squeeze past politicians and their handlers without banging into them with my ancient Dell.
I see the young first-timers, wisecracking and full of swagger, and I remember the conventions of 1988.
Each convention season offers a new generation of smart kids with big dreams and stars in their eyes. One cycle, they're interns. The next cycle, they're midlevel. Before you know it, they're big shots who won't return your phone calls.