color story, n., a newspaper feature that relies more on personal observation than straight news, often run as an adjunct (sidebar) to the main story.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Technically I was off last week, entertaining a couple of visiting grandchildren from up East, but I couldn't resist sneaking over to the arena one evening for the Big Show featuring Sarah Palin, the Molly Pitcher of our time.
A gospel/bluegrass band (Living Grace) was already a-hummin' and a-strummin' as I found my way to the risers set aside for the always suspect Media. Somebody politely got me a chair next to but not in the press section. Perfect. Opinion should always be kept separate from news. Just as it is on the few newspapers left that respect the difference.
Soon my autonomous nervous system kicked in and my foot started tapping to "Streets of Gold."
Run-ups to the main event can be the best part of any performance, like the prelims on a fight card featuring up-and-comers out to knock themselves silly. Only to be followed by anti-climax: a couple of lumbering heavyweights waltzing through the first three rounds.
Maybe it's the anticipation that makes openers the best part of any show: the ballplayers warming up before a summer evening's game under the lights, a symphony orchestra tuning up. For whatever reason, there are some prefaces that are better than the book.
The feeling inside the arena brought back all the political conventions I've ever attended, and have succeeded in largely forgetting. It's not a pretty thing to see, the madness of crowds orchestrated by professionals, but, strangely enough, I realized I'd missed the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd.
But as soon as an amiable fotog sat down next to me and began unfolding his telephoto lens, it all came back to me: why I hate mob scenes, however well scripted. It was way up in the cheap seats at Madison Square Garden in 1992, where I'd gone to see Bill Clinton nominated for president, that a cameraman right behind me swung his telephoto lens around with such gusto that he succeeded in nearly knocking my block off. He seemed genuinely surprised when I took offense.
To be more specific, I'd kindly offered to propel him and his lens straight down, down, down, down to the floor of the Democratic National Convention if he weren't more careful. Sure enough, he was. There's nothing like a credible threat to encourage good behavior. Deterrence, it used to be called when the United States still practiced it.
The featured speaker at last week's event seemed in favor it, too. Or as she would put it later, "We need to spend more time supporting our allies instead of appeasing our enemies." It was one of her numerous applause lines, and, boy, could this crowd applaud. Also cheer, yell, hoot and holler.
But first came the opening ceremonies, which went on satisfyingly forever. There was the old-time music given a new political spin, followed by the Formal Welcome, the Invocation, the Pledge of Allegiance, and then a Patriotic Tribute. At some point we sang God Bless America, or was it America the Beautiful, or both? It all melded.
I love that kind of thing, especially when I realized it had been exactly 89 years and 6 days since my mother, then a feisty 19-year-old traveling alone, stepped ashore at the Port of Boston on February 10, 1921, wiped the dust of Europe off her feet, and never looked back at the Old World -- except with immense relief to have done with it. America the Beautiful indeed. What a fine celebration the evening was.
Oh, yes, Sarah Palin also spoke. After she'd been presented with a souvenir of Arkansas -- a .44 magnum. Welcome, Miss Sarah, to another part of the country where folks hold on to their religion and their guns. The former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, should have been right at home, and certainly acted like it.
The lady not only knew where she was but, more important, like Rose in the movie "Moonstruck," knows who she is. And makes no apologies for it. That's something else her oh-so-superior critics can't stand. Other politicians are so sophisticated, flexible, plastic, nuanced ... that they seem to have no backbone at all. Sarah Palin is always Sarah Palin.
If she weren't an Alaskan, she'd make a heckuvan Arkansan. The accent -- a kind of Far, Far North Side Chicagoan, or maybe Minnesotan extended to the Arctic Circle -- has come to sound almost homey by now. Comfortable, assuring. Maybe because she dares to say what so many are feeling, especially after Year One of the Obama Era, aka the Continuing Crack-Up. She didn't say anything new, and didn't have to. All she had to do was channel the feeling out there in the arena. Which she did.
A combination of Aimee Semple McPherson and Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin is certain to have a political niche in American life, but maybe only a niche. We'll see.