“…they struck me–after we leveled out–as a fairly straight bunch with very primitive concepts and honestly puzzled about whatever it is that makes them a source of trouble wherever they go. Like Goldwater, as it were, with all that energy and no socially acceptable place to put it.” – Hunter S. Thompson
The city of Melbourne, like many small Florida cities, does not rate high on the radar of Florida destinations. It does not have any theme parks to play in, does not have a Civil War history to exploit, and quietly pretends it is not currently attached to a state that specializes in unadulterated madness. It’s the normal Florida, the respectable Florida, the kind of Florida where names like Northrop Grumman, Harris, and Rockwell Collins carry a lot of weight and people think highly of the military. It’s almost weirdly bland, home to both chest-thumping conservatives and former-hippie progressives, a milquetoast subsection of people who mostly live here because their parents did with a few transplants who ended up here fleeing northern blizzards.
Still, not a place people fly across the country from to visit. Not a place people really visit at all.
Unless of course you’re Donald Trump.
Well it wasn’t exactly half-way across the country because he’d been in Miami earlier that day, but the idea alone that jackrabbit cities of importance like Orlando or even Jacksonville had been bypassed for little old Melbourne confused me greatly. Fresh after the his crushing defeat in the first presidential debate of this cycle the orange-colored monstrosity had decided to come out and speak to my neck of the woods.
I knew I had to cover it. And I would. Under the guise of a rally to “Make America Great Again,” I would fall into a gonzo search for meaning in a weird and polluted election cycle that even the spirits of the Dead seemed unable to fathom; I would be threatened, yelled at, and forced to bear witness to the strange reasoning that held sway in the foreign territories of American conservatism.
But first there had to be magic.
I was unsure of what I was getting into, never having seen packs of Republicans in so large a setting. Sure, I’d seen the breed frolic merrily amongst its own kind at gun shows, and any resident of a Southern state has learned how to deal with that one crazy uncle that says racist things and keeps going on about chemtrails. This however would be a different beast altogether, a virtual mass-spawning where egos would be stroked and violence only half-way hinted at. I would be forced to descend into the belly of the beast unarmed with only my wits, a press pass from Disinfo, and whatever magical aids I could sneak past the secret service to protect me.
But I would not be alone. Along for the ride would be King Don, an eccentric and hilarious cab driver I’d gotten to know whose told me he not only invented the internet but overheard CIA conversations as a child.
Faced with a crowd that truly believed slavery was a good thing I would need all the help I could get.
The magic though would neither be light nor heavy. I had traveled deep into trance the day before and been shown a symbol for some spirit that was never named that would ensure the day would be interesting. However he might come to that was no concern to me as long as it ended up being a damn good story to write about. I took an entire bag of Wormwood, an eldritch herb well-known to necromancers for parting the veil and attracting the dead, and jammed it as close to the sigil as possible. Between shots of Jim Bean I sprayed myself with a fixed bottle of Hoyt’s cologne for good luck and anointed my beat-up work shoes with Road Opener oil to ease our travel and help clear up any obstructions that might get in our way.
All this was done in the space of an hour, a van emblazoned with Cab-to-Go signaling the witching hour was over and the journalist’s moon had risen. Outside I can see Don smiling, a big grin that seems to hint that he knows something I don’t. He’s excited though, practically jumping. When I ask if he’s ready he reveals a sign he’s made to show to the presidential candidate some call “The God Emperor.”
With a crown in the background it reads I’M THE KING, YOU AIN’T. On the back LOVE TRUMPS HATE.
It was at that moment I was sure the spirits had heard my prayers.
We were fighting traffic as I try to take notes, my hand furiously scribbling into a notebook. Don is driving, weaving in and out of traffic with the kind of experience one can only gain from doing it for a living. We discuss the national debt as cars honk and lights turn red.
“The only part he said that made any sense to me is these countries paying us. I told the government that years ago. What he doesn’t understand is that the federal budget has to get spent. If you don’t do it, somebody else will. So yeah, you end with $900 hammers, you see what I’m saying, because if you don’t–Jesus CHRIST why do I always get stuck behind the slowest person on the planet?”
The small white van takes a hard left and passes a sports car bearing a sticker for the Fraternal Order of Police. An elderly man, possibly in his 90’s, cautiously pilots it by doing 30 in a 45.
“I could have solved the national debt in one day. Still can, okay? You see what I’m saying? What they don’t understand is that I own the United States because I claimed it. I own the universe, okay? Right?”
I can’t pay attention because I’m the watching the cars fighting just like we are to get parking to the event. Large amount of jesus-fish bumper stickers appear on almost every one of them, brand new cars bought with loads of money on their way to see a man who has habitually demonized immigrants and mentioned wiping entire populations off the map in a sea of nuclear fire. How could these people reconcile the Prince of Peace with the Prince of Profit? What weird mental gymnastics were required for such an endeavor?
The ride, taking an hour when normally it would have been 10 minutes, allows me to drink deeply on these contrasts. All around me in 87 degree heat black folks selling Trump hats and shirts shout from on the side of the road. A white couple with stolen Wal-mart shopping cart crosses the street with Great Value water to sell to the eager hordes of bourgeoisie. Hands cautiously reach out with fists of money, some perhaps have never being this close to an actual poor person before.
“This traffic is ridiculous. He’s supposed to arrive at 6:00pm and speak at 7. It’s 4:50 now….are we going to be able to get in?”
“Don’t worry dude,” Don reassured me. “We’re going in the back way. I already thought about it in the future. Why else do you think I have fake birthdays and shit?”
Things move at a snail’s pace. A fucking school bus lurches ahead of us, making me increasingly worried about how long the line will be. Horror sets in as we see the parking lot is full and the police are motioning people to turn around. When it’s our turn Don rolls down the window.
“I’m with the media! I’m here to drop him off!”
“Not over here you’re not. You can park down the street sir but nobody’s parking in here.”
Shit, I think, I’m ruined. It’ll take another hour to get up the road and god knows how long to actually get inside the massive hangar this event was supposed to take place in. King Don, ruler of the Universe, simply waves like he’s turning around, another good-natured patriot ready to comply with an officers orders.
As soon as the cop turns around he guns the minivan over a ditch and slides into an open spot of grass, all without being noticed. He reaches for a cigarette. “See man? I told you. I’m the King of the Universe.”
The line is huge, winding around the new hanger and rivaling anything I’d seen at any of the large theme parks Orlando is so known for. Even with the wait in the hot sun there is a strange carnival atmosphere, a celebration of a certain lifestyle. Roosting snow birds smile like they’re about to meet Kennedy while corporate techs trade internet humor in real-time. The Florida Redneck certainly has representation here but is vastly outnumbered by what one might the Salariat, fingers worn not by American steel but Korean made keyboards. To the eye it appears perhaps Macy’s or JC Penney’s has donated thousands of Forth of July clothes and supplied sales people to boot. Of course there are other shirts and hats on display: “Deplorable Lives Matter,” “Hillary for Prison,” and even one wishing that Hillary had been married to the famed American murderer OJ Simpson.
Street vendors walked about and down the line selling hats, t-shirts, and buttons, an uncanny number again being folks of color. In fact they would be the most I would see all day, the making up the line itself almost totally of the Caucasian persuasion. Clearly there was something to be said here, some symbolic meaning emanating as low-paid workers hawked goods to a semi-annoyed and increasingly sun-burned bourgeoisie. Trumps arrival had appeared to have summoned the entrepreneurial demon in even those cast off by it, the entire town seemingly bewitched, almost compelled to mimic their messiah. If there’s money to be made why not get it from a sucker?
“Hats inside are $25 and made in China! Get it out here for $20 and made in America!”
“Excuse me sir! I bought one but can’t see where it says ‘made in America.'”
“That’s easy. Should have a tag inside that says ‘made in America.’ If it doesn’t that means they ripped it out because it said ‘made in China.’
“But it doesn’t have a tag and I bought it from you!”
The line dragged on, stretched for what seemed like miles. The going was slow so I took in faces, made notes, and wrote down bits of dialogue my ears were able to catch.
“I’m hoping he has something new to say. Give us numbers, give us a plan. Give us something.”
“Build a wall, deport ’em all, and lock her up! Geeeeeeet ya buttons here folks!”
“This is incredible. I’ve been working for this campaign for 6 months and never seen anything like this in my entire adult life.”
“Trump water! Get your Trump water! Best water you’ll taste all day! $2!”
“I saw a video in Russia where they shoot teargas at protesters as soon as they assemble. That’s what we need: law and order.”
“That’s against the constitution.”