I didn’t say this in the Esquire story, but on my first day in Cleveland for the RNC, I kind of fucked up. With the help of Google Maps.
I woke up in this lovely Airbnb in Tremont, and it was sunny out, a breeze in the trees. So I thought, ‘I’m going to walk into town, get a proper look at the place. It’s my first time here, let’s smell the coffee.’ I hadn’t accounted for how insanely tense things were at the time, what with another string of police shootings, the murder of the cops in Dallas, the Orlando massacre. And then Google Maps sent me down these deserted streets with abandoned buildings down by the canal and under the bridge, where passing cars give me a funny look. After all, it’s just me out there… and a trillion cops on high alert.
I nodded at a couple of patrol cars in a driveway. Then a couple more in a sunken lay-by. K-9 unit. Good to know. And a whole squadron tucked into the shadows of the underpass. OK, maybe forget the nodding, just look ahead and keep walking. Oh look there’s guy on the roof too. In full camo! Are those long guns?
And my stupid phone won’t let up: “Continue on Gaza Strip for a half mile.”
I was in the most militarized square mile in America, out by the edges where the troops were gathered for battle. And I was looking more Muslim by the second. The minute Googlemaps told me to head up this hill, I knew I was done. The sirens blurped and the loudspeaker came out. “Stop! Turn around!” Three Secret Service guys in black emerged from behind a nearby dumpster and started going through my bag.
“Googlemaps!” I said, pointing at my phone. They just looked at me. Did they understand? It’s a funny word, but at least it doesn’t sound like Allahu Akbar. Which I mustn’t say out loud. Or even think – what am I thinking? I’m not even Muslim! Just sound English. Think Colin Firth. And smile. These nice gentlemen can do anything they want to me. No one’s taking a cell phone video here. As they ran my ID, I flustered, a parody of English manners. “You can probably tell, I’m new in town. Haha! Yes, a little lost, that’s all. I’m Airbnbing in Tremont so I just put it in Googlemaps and it said, go by canal where all the cops are, haha! You couldn’t tell me where the Quicken Loans Arena is could you? I mean of course you could, silly question…”
I saw my stammering, sweating reflection in their sunglasses. And all I could think was: Good thing I shaved. I look a lot more terror with a bit of scruff.
Anyway, they pointed me in a direction without even tasing me. But of course all these streets were blocked off. So the only way in I could find was through the Tower City Mall. You go up to the food court, take a left by the cinema, and just follow the walkway right over, they said. So I did.
And I have to hand it to the cinema manager. Because the Coming Soon movie posters that lined the corridor all the way to the convention looked hand picked for the occasion.