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CNN Grill: For insiders only (plus me)

There is an innocent explanation for how I wound up on the floor of a bar with the governor of Montana. I was engaging in journalism.

The key to political journalism is to gather insider information, and to do that, you need to go where the political insiders hang out. We’re talking about sophisticated, discerning people who are deeply immersed in analyzing the issues of the day. They do not hang out just anywhere. They hang out where there is free liquor.

At the political conventions, this means many of them hang out at the CNN Grill, a temporary bar/restaurant set up by CNN that serves free food and drinks. You need a special pass to get in. I don’t have one of these passes, because I am not seen as a political insider. I am seen as more of a writer of booger jokes. Maybe if I wrote positive things about CNN – such as “CNN is easily the finest achievement in human history,” or “without CNN, the Earth would quickly become uninhabitable” – I would get a pass to the CNN Grill. But for now, my journalism strategy is to stand around outside looking sad and homeless and thirsty, hoping that a pass-holder will take pity on me and invite me in.

Anyway, I got inside, and I was chatting with veteran TV political analyst Jeff Greenfield, whom I mention here because I want to thank him publicly for finding me my hotel room. Hotel space is very tight for the convention; I was originally assigned to a hotel located in, basically, Nova Scotia. I mentioned this to Jeff in an email, and he replied that he had found a place that still had rooms available right in downtown Charlotte. So I booked a room there. Immediately upon arrival, I realized WHY this place still had vacancies: It is seedier than a Burpee catalog, and old.

Q. How old is it?

A. Some rooms are occupied by troops still awaiting deployment to the Civil War.

I am, frankly, concerned about bedbugs. Also, crack. Also, bedbugs on crack.

Anyway, Jeff (Thanks, Jeff!) and I were sitting at the CNN Grill bar enjoying complimentary margaritas when up walked famous political insider strategist James Carville. He chatted with us for several minutes, during which he revealed some fascinating inside political information. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it was, because I can never understand anything Carville says. I know he is brilliant, but he sounds – and I mean this respectfully – like an extremely Cajun version of the Aflac duck. My notes just say: “Carville.”

Also enjoying complimentary CNN margaritas with us was radio personality/actor/lunatic Jay Thomas, who was a regular on “Cheers” and “Murphy Brown,” and who was involved in the best anecdote in human history, which features the Lone Ranger. You should stop reading this column right now and watch this ... I’ll wait right here. You will thank me.

You’re welcome. Anyway, while Jay and I and Jeff “Hotel Adviser” Greenfield were talking, up walked the governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, who declared that he is a huge fan of Jay’s show on Sirius radio, especially (I am not making this up) all the penis jokes. It turns out Gov. Schweitzer is something of a wild man. Here is an actual exchange between Jay and him:

Jay: How did you get elected in Montana?

Schweitzer: They were drinking.

In addition to being governor, Schweitzer is a rancher who raises heads of cattle. I asked him if he has ever castrated one.

“Hell yes!” he said. He then proceeded to tell me, in extremely explicit detail, how he did it. The more he talked, the more enthusiastic he got; finally he got down on the bar floor to demonstrate his technique. He was down there for several minutes. I squatted next to him, taking notes and becoming increasingly faint. I was very grateful when he finished. (His conclusion was: “And then you throw them in a bucket.”)

After the castration lecture, Gov. Schweitzer presented both Jay and me with official Montana governor belt buckles, which are made of solid metal. This is now the manliest thing I own. Gov. Schweitzer is leaving office in January; if we don’t elect this man, at bare minimum, president of the United States, we are even stupider than I think we are.

So that is your Inside Politics Report from Charlotte. Meanwhile, I am hearing rumors that the Democratic convention may have started. I will spare no effort to find out about this, unless I get back into the CNN Grill. Which would be a LOT easier if I had a pass.

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