NEW YORK -- Clean streets, free lunch, omnipresent celebrities, cops on every corner and polite service at the local sinneries.
It is the Manhattan of an imaginary era and the Manhattan of the next seven days.
The real Manhattan, of course, is often harsh. Every day, on average, a half-dozen people are murdered and enough cars to fill a medium-sized garage are stolen. But even if the Democrats can not win the presidency, they have put a kinder, gentler face on the country's most disparaged, most loved city.
An extra $30 million in public and private funds will be spent in the next week, including $6.1 million for police overtime. That's big money, even in a place where corned beef sandwiches can cost $10 and a short cab ride whatever a wallet can bear.
Assuming that the way to a conventioneer's heart is through the stomach, 150,000 servings of food have been donated by the city's top kitchens for the 40,000 delegates, writers and guests the city expects to attend. Restaurants that typically charge $50 $100 for a meal are offering $19.92 specials, but the delegates may already be too late, since savvy New Yorkers have been flooding the most prominent switchboards for reservations.
Delegates will receive free subway passes exposing the more adventurous to a smell foreign to New York: fresh paint. Thousands of gallons have been brushed over once-dingy stations as part of a determined effort to scrub the city.
Major streets glisten with new glassphalt (a glass-asphalt blend that glows at night). Miraculous spade-work has transformed concrete inter-avenue wastelands such as Herald and Greeley squares into flower-festooned midtown parks.
For reasons still unexplained, the homeless have largely gone away. Litter is last week's bad memory. A group called the 34th Street Partnership, allegedly already in existence, has suddenly appeared near the convention site, Madison Square Garden, sweeping the streets and supervising the usage of two new, rather elegant, street-side toilets.
With nominations for the president and the vice president locked up, the traditional purpose of the convention has been negated and the politics may get a little dull. That leaves New York to entertain. That couldn't have occurred at a better moment. Torn by a tough recession, it suddenly wants friends and promises to be on good behavior.
"We've asked all officers to be as courteous and expeditious handling complaints from out-of-towners as they can be," says Sgt. Pete Berry of the New York Police Department. Vacations for the city's 30,000-member force have been tightly restricted as, not coincidently, have been holidays for the city's many exotic dancers.
"Politicians," says Marsha, the manager at Flash Dancers, a club near the Garden, "have to have fun."
Dancers will wear "Welcome conventioneers" pins affixed to the very little fabric available for such purposes. Symbols aren't being ignored. Spangled red, white and blue are the colors of choice for lingerie at most of these clubs. One, the Paradise, has even decorated its storefront with bunting.
Protests, always part of New York, are expected to be particularly visible. Thirteen groups have notified enforcement agencies of their intention to demonstrate. A special bulletin board will designate the protest of the moment, as well as provide information on any injuries sustained by delegates. (Cynics have already begun wagering on which state's representatives get hammered first. Locals take note, Maryland is not a top choice).
To quell activity at the convention itself, Madison Square Garden has been fenced off. Routine parade permits have been rescinded or rejected.
Nothing, of course, could crimp the current ebullience faster than a full-scale riot. Efforts are being made to ensure calm in areas battered by non-convention-related issues. Last week in Washington Heights, a drug-infested area of upper Manhattan, more than 100 cars were destroyed and innumerable windows smashed following a fatal confrontation between police and a man with a prior arrest for dealing.
The city's top police command has set up an extensive mobile command post to react to emergencies in Washington Heights at a site used by George Washington as his command post for the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776. An officer called in from one of the quieter parts of Queens for emergency duty stood sweating in the brutal summer sun late last week. "I think it's overkill, totally paranoid overkill," he said, adding on reflection, "but it may not be."
Around the Garden, the usual assortment of entrepreneurs has popped up looking to make a proverbial killing. A "Welcome Deli-crats" banner has been posted by a famous (what else) delicatessen, the Stage. Across from the Garden, the Ramada Hotel Pennsylvania is the official headquarters for the press, the Democratic Leadership Council, and interest groups representing gays and lesbians, Muslims, Israel, educators, black congressmen, women, U.S. mayors, governors and others.
That has proved a bonanza for local hotels, which have been fighting tough conditions. "Back in 1980 at the last convention, there didn't seem to be all these movements," observed the appreciative Ramada general manager, Kenneth Walles. He chose the interest groups over the delegates on the assumption that they would have larger budgets and stick around longer.