One year ago today at the DNC: The journey to and from Mile High

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Democratic National Convention, an event that made Denver the center of the media universe for several unforgettable days. To mark the occasion, we've been offering selected flashbacks of Westword coverage. Today's item: Former staffer Jessica Centers' account of her epic trek into and out of Invesco Field at Mile High to see Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

The day started out so well.

At 10 a.m., my boyfriend and I heard from friends who had two extra community credentials to Barack Obama's historic acceptance speech at Invesco Field. They hadn't been properly "activated" with our names by the deadline the night before, but we suspected that was all just a ruse to deter people from selling them anyway. I mean, it would take forever to scan 80,000 credentials and cross check those against IDs, right?

At 3:30, things were still looking up. We were amazed at our luck finding a legal parking spot on the street just a few blocks north of Invesco. We got to the field and started following the people walking east along the perimeter. I was taken aback to see a line that stretched all the way from the stadium to Federal Boulevard. If only that had been the whole line.

We got to what we had thought was the end and looked down into a parking lot of absolute chaos. There wasn't a single volunteer or security guard in site. Just a line that had grown into a tangled, winding sea of confused people. We found what looked like an end in the middle of the parking lot and settled in for the ride. At this point people were dumbfounded, and found the situation funny even.

We still expected that at some point, security or volunteers would correct the problem. Our optimism wouldn't last long. There was no water, and hardly any shade on the hot black asphalt. There wasn't anything funny about the pregnant women in line, the elderly people in wheelchairs, or the babies and little kids. Although, watching the East-Coast delegates irate in their heels and suits did make me smile a little.

New groups spent a good ten minutes just searching for an end to the line. Everyone wanted to know if they were in the right line and where the line was going. People went out on recon missions to try to make sense of it, tracing the line or climbing up a hill to look down on it from a clear vantage. At one point, we determined there were two lines. An exterior line and an interior line that merged with it before it wound back toward Federal.

I was well into my second hour when a portion of the interior line attacked, trying to merge at a new, earlier position where my group stood. We held them off, defending ourselves against their attempted cutting, insults and pleas. The people behind us expressed their undying gratitude. And we tried to kindly point those in the inside line to where they would eventually merge with ours. It was about thirty minutes later when we passed that original merge point and realized it too had been cut off. The inside line was going in a circle. Luckily, they found some people nicer than us a few groups back to let them in.

In the mean time, the line at Burger King was also very long, and it appeared that Democrats in town for the "greenest convention in history" didn't give two shits about recycling. Or maybe they just couldn't find a trash can that wasn't exploding. At first we watched them throw their garbage on the ground near the full trash cans. But after a while, most felt no shame about dropping a cup or wrapper wherever they stood.

It was close to 6 p.m. before I saw police, most just standing around, finally, take pity on us by bringing case after case of water, and asked the especially pale and peaked if they were okay. When I got out of that outer parking lot, I thought we were almost there. Silly me. We wound, much quicker this time, through another parking lot, then set off on a march toward Colfax. A woman selling Obama water bottles tried to cheer us up, reminding the haggard bunch where we were going. The line took us under Colfax, literally tripping down a dirt hill while police officers stood by laughing, telling us we were almost there, and offering to catch us if we fell. Then we were turned around back toward Invesco, up a steep ramp, with casualties along the way. People had to stop to catch their breath or tend to blisters. The last stretch felt like finishing a marathon. Wide lanes of people speed-walking and, much too little too late, volunteers handing out cold water.

It was 6:45. After three hours, we were almost there and I was nervous that I wouldn't get in at all. What if my credential wasn't properly activated or registered? Why else would this take three hours? Oh no. A woman merely glanced at my pass. It was just the metal detectors that took so long.

Finally, we were in. Walking through the gates after all that brought a powerful sense of satisfaction, like we'd earned our right to be there and really accomplished something.

By the time Obama finished his speech and the sky was lit with fireworks, I'd forgotten all about the hellacious trip getting in.

Until I tried to get out.

Once again, there was absolute chaos. Because the parking lots had been fenced out, 80,000 people were fenced in, squished into mobs trying to get to the one small bridge they all needed to cross. Thousands of out-of-towners had no idea how to get to the light rail. And if they found a volunteer, most of them offered no directions, or bad ones.

I was with hundreds of people who hopped barriers to follow the Platte River downtown. Unfortunately, a lot of delegates who needed to be back near the Pepsi Center did the same thing, and eventually had to turn around.

Once again, it was bored cops who decided to pick up some slack. An officer got on a bullhorn, telling anyone who needed to get back to the Pepsi Center to follow him. Finally downtown, I pushed my way through crowds of revelers who had watched the speech from bars. They were drunk and happy. I was starving and exhausted, and just a tiny bit jealous. -- Jessica Centers