The sun was punishing and the sweat poured as I made my way through the labyrinth of closed streets and police barricades to Hope Memorial Bridge to catch the kickoff of the America First parade.
The pro-Donald Trump group anticipated 5000 marchers, but the journey beyond the RNC's perimeter would have been a lonely one had I not encountered a few genial police officers along the way. Thus far, the streets in Cleveland had been pretty boring — and that's a good thing. As is always the case at big political events, religious zealots with bullhorns, and various other frustrated citizens aired grievances in the public square, giving the city's more congested avenues the colorful, energetic vibe of a carnival midway without the shooting galleries. Oh, sure, there was some open carry yahoo wagging his big rifle around in Starbucks, but, so far, Cleveland had avoided the kinds of conflict that filled holding cells in New York in 2004 and in St. Paul in 2008.
But we've seen the kinds of shenanigans that go down at Trump events. What would happen when 5000 amped up fans came into contact with all that loud and lively street-life?
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Under an overpass, I encountered a lone counter-protester sitting quietly with a sign inspired by Politifact demonstrating Trump's apparent aversion to true statements. I thought he was wearing a Memphis Tigers shirt, but I couldn't really tell with the perspiration stinging my eyes. Either way, I stopped to talk, and wait for a parade that, according to schedules, had already kicked off. Turns out my new friend, Darrell Cozen, was a former Midtowner, now retired and living in Ohio. This is what he had to say.
We waited and waited, but the parade never arrived. Eventually a group of four people, including a reporter and a professor of photography who'd come out to see the sights, joined us from the other direction.
"Have you seen the America First parade," one asked. We said we hadn't. They said they'd arrived on the bridge early, per requests, and nobody else ever showed up. We waited a little longer. Nobody ever did, so I made my way to the other side of town to catch a more successful anti-poverty demonstration.
As things heated up in the arena, this is what Cleveland's street scene looked like.
The giant locomotive whistles, the inspiring speeches, the dazzling display of rainbow lighting on the Harahan Bridge at night, and the first treks across the bridge by foot and by bike are all embedded in Memphis history now, as the "Main St. to Main St. Multi-Modal Connector" project came to pass, linking Memphis to West Memphis, and both to the future.
(WITH SLIDESHOW AND VIDEO OF BRIDGE LIGHTS)
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