NEW YORK -- As the speeches, flags and wallets unfold, the convention city is living up to its image as a glitzy theater town. But the hot new show this week stretches far beyond Broadway, from the parks and streets seized by assorted activists to tony Upper East Side apartments where VIPs search for the ultimate political party.
There have been shopping tours, museum tours, restaurant tours, early morning schmooze-athons with the fixtures of the Democratic Party, late-night rockathons for the young and hip, celebrity-watching sessions and, of course, bashes of every shape and size.
"I've just come from the Ball Bearing Institute party and am going on to the Left-Handed Agnostics," joked columnist Mark Shields, one of the media heavy-hitters nibbling on caviar and shrimp while ogling the Picassos, Miros and Chagalls at the posh home of U.S. News & World Report Publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman.
Indeed, the city is piled higher with events than a pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie Deli -- and it's all slathered with equal parts hope and hokum, euphoria and caution.
"The mood of the whole year is like the mood at this convention," talk show host Larry King said at a Sunday breakfast reception given by Robert S. Strauss, U.S. ambassador to Moscow and one-time Democratic Party chieftain. "There's not a soul in this whole room who has any idea what will happen in November. It's unforecastable. That's what makes it so intriguing."
Partisans have been less reserved. "It's electrifying," Robert J. Harris of Vermont said of his first political convention. But so is everything about New York, he is finding out.
"Good God!" he exclaimed, when handed a $17 check for two drinks at his hotel where the "Caucus Cooler" and the "Arkansas Am-Bush" are featured libations. "This wouldn't be more than $6 in any restaurant in Vermont."
In some ways, this is a nicer, cleaner New York. Flags line city streets, there are signs to restrooms in some of the parks, even cabbies are making an effort to be cordial.
"All we ever heard about is how obnoxious New Yorkers are," says Elizabeth Martin, a volunteer from Albuquerque, N.M. "But everyone has been wonderful."
Natives have taught her about matzo balls and potato pancakes, the likes of which she had never seen before, and the cabdrivers have been especially grateful. But she admits she's been tipping heavily after many a white-knuckle ride, "because I'm just so glad to get where I'm going and get out of the damn cab alive."
In fact, despite the attempts at gentleness, convention-goers are getting a taste of classic New York flair. Sunday, a flatbed truck carrying six topless women, waving flags and tossing T-shirts touting their place of employment, drove by Madison Square Garden to greet the hordes of visitors. (The flags doubled as cover-ups as they drove by police.)
Even a number of parties are blending Broadway entertainment with politics, often yielding a matchup as incongruous as the week's No. 1 fun couple spotted here, prosecutor John F. Kennedy Jr. and actress Daryl Hannah.
At a party thrown by Ann W. Richards, the Texas governor and convention chair, for instance, a leggy chorus line from "The Will Rogers Follies" preceded speeches by the feminist governor and another of this year's women's rights champions, Carol Moseley Braun, the Democratic nominee in Illinois for the Senate. Ms. Braun suggested that the production number "Hooray for Our Favorite Son," which was repeated on the convention stage last night, be changed to "Hooray for Our Favorite Daughter."
At a hipper, younger gig held at a Reebok store on Broadway and sponsored by "Rock the Vote," a non-profit group that urges young people to register to vote, heavy metal rocker Dave Mustaine held forth on the First Amendment and running mate spouse Tipper Gore, who has crusaded against obscene lyrics.
"I, for one, am not too considered about her," said Mr. Mustaine, lead singer with Megadeth whose latest single is called "Symphony of Destruction."
"We've outsmarted her by leaving out the vulgarity. Having something intellectually stimulating and controversial to say without saying ---- is so much cooler."
At the mayor's residence, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, speaking at a fund-raiser for the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation, introduced his new bride, Washington lawyer Victoria Reggie, to a stellar crowd. "We're going to find out about this marriage by Thursday," he joked, noting that the convention was a sort of honeymoon.
Kennedy-watchers surrounded the home and lined the driveway, hoping for a glimpse of some Kennedy -- any Kennedy -- but most caught only glimpses of assorted guests. "Carol Channing looked good," noted one onlooker.