Five minutes in a stationary car on the corner of Constitution and 12th Street is okay, I guess. Seven is pretty tedious. When we had been in the left-hand turn lane for a quarter of an hour without moving, I thanked the driver and kissed the passenger in the back seat (my wife and daughter, respectively), jumped into traffic, and walked the remaining third of a mile to Trump International Hotel, where I was supposed to be meeting two colleagues to cover the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
All things considered, this wait wasn’t bad. At least traffic wasn’t blocked for miles in all four directions the way it was at the presidential debates. The only explanation for the circus of road closures and barricades and TSA and Secret Service agents and local and state cops in Hempsted and St. Louis and Las Vegas was that the security apparatchiks are a nuisance. As with airport security, the point is to meet an inconvenience quota, not to keep anyone safe.
Just outside the ballroom of the Trump hotel there was a breakfast buffet with coffee, fruit, pastries, and delightful miniature yoghurt parfaits in tiny glass jars—at first I thought they were raspberry-scented gift candles. I took some coffee and a croissant and found my colleagues sitting with their laptops in the back of the room behind a riser for cameramen. I think roughly half of the extant video crews in the industrialized world must have been there. One would probably have gotten the job done. Later I read that most of the networks didn’t even bother running footage from the event. This was not a surprise.
We waited for an hour and a half with no Wi-Fi and nothing to do but allow uniformed waiters to place our empty mugs on silver trays—a nice taste of luxury, I guess. I did my best to enjoy the scenery but I could not really see the front of the room where Trump was supposed to be speaking or even the four or so rows of chairs where the VIPs were supposed to be seated. Instead I looked at the ceiling, watching the campy red and blue concert-style lighting strike and rebound and carom in interesting patterns off the beautiful crystal chandeliers.
Finally Trump walked out with Ivanka and Don Jr. and Eric and another guy, apparently a high-ranking official and, if what I saw standing on my tip-toes did not deceive me, a dead ringer for the villain of the same name from Adam Sandler’s immortal cinematic study of the hotel industry, Billy Madison. Eric spoke first, followed by Ivanka. The first mention of the political campaign in which her father has been engaged for the last year and a half came about halfway through her remarks. It was hard not to think that she and her old man were pulling our legs.
Trump praised his children and employees for completing work on the hotel "under budget and on time." He also gave a shout out to Newt Gingrich who, I learned, had been rude to Megyn Kelly on television the previous night. Then he invited us to watch him cut the ribbon.
The ribbon cutting was supposed to take place in something called "the Grand Lobby." Like the wildebeests that finished Scar’s dirty work, a few hundred reporters and camera operators began to stampede as soon as the doors of the ballroom opened. One of my colleagues was nearly toppled over and grabbed my bag for support.
"This is worth it for you guys, isn’t it, running as fast as you can to get there early to watch a guy you despise as a xenophobe and racist cut a piece of ribbon?" I said to the press.
One person laughed.
We waited for another 15 minutes or so in the Grand Lobby watching the grandees find their seats. Gingrich came in smiling with Callista. Jeff Sessions plopped down as well. I tried and failed to discover whether the bottles of Veuve Clicquot on ice were meant for journalistic consumption. Finally six hotel employees appeared with six identical pairs of (surely fake) gold scissors. Trump, Melania, Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric, and Tiffany each took one. The Republican presidential nominee counted to three and they all cut a section of red ribbon.
I would be lying if I said that Trump International did not look like a nice hotel. A night in the 2,100 square-foot Postmaster Suite costs $12,000, or $10,800 with AAA membership. Top-shelf drinks at the bar in the Grand Lobby average about $14. It’s not too early to start making post-election plans. You can save $30 by booking three days in advance.