My Major Wardrobe Malfunction At A Democratic Convention

Oct 28, 2017

I've done a lot of traveling in my years as a reporter, from one end of this country to the other. Lots of airports; lots of airport hassles; lots of long cab rides from airport to hotel.

And I've learned a thing or two about travel.

First, travel lightly. If I'm going to be gone a week, I can get everything I need into one good-sized suitcase. With that, and my laptop as carry-on, I am good to go.

There was one other lesson I learned the hard way in the summer of 2012, when I was covering the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte for WVXU.

Always take two belts.

No, not belts at the airport bar. Belts to hold your pants up. Always take a spare. 

Allow me to explain:

In 2012, the Ohio delegation was split up between two hotels within a few blocks of each other, far out in the northern suburbs of Charlotte.

I was depending on the delegation's shuttle buses to get me too and from my hotel to the convention site downtown, which at the time was called Time Warner Cable Arena and is now Spectrum Arena. Home of the Charlotte Hornets' NBA team.

Taxis were not a practical or particularly reliable means of transportation at this hotel, so distant from both the airport and the center of the convention action. Uber had not yet taken hold.

It was the official Democratic National Convention shuttle buses or nothing.

So, after the delegation breakfast each morning (you had to take a bus to that, since it was held at a third location), you would shuttle back to your hotel, write up the morning's news and maybe get some lunch before it was time to catch the shuttle bus to Time Warner Cable Arena for the evening session.

I had to take the earliest shuttle possible in order to get down to the arena early, set up in the auxiliary press area (which was the Hornets' practice court) and be ready for a live interview during the first hour of All Things Considered with our then-local anchor, Mark Heyne.

So, I was standing in the lobby of the hotel in queue to board the shuttle bus when I heard a SNAP!

I looked down and found that the leather belt around my trousers had snapped. It broke off, completely, where the leather meets the metal buckle. It was totally useless.

Oh, my goodness,! I exclaimed. Well, I exclaimed something. Not exactly that. Trust me, you don't want to know.

I whipped the remains of the belt off and tossed it in a trash bin just outside the front door of the hotel, just as I was climbing on the bus.

I was walking down the aisle of the bus, with my pants sliding down, desperately tugging at them to keep them up in a decent position.

If this had happened on a vacation or a normal trip out of town, I could have just found the nearest department store and bought another belt.

That is not an option at a presidential nominating convention.

You are literally a prisoner of the political party from the time you wake up until the time, usually in the wee hours of the morning, that you get to sleep.

I had no idea what I was going to do. It was Day Two of a four-day convention and I couldn't run around constantly tugging at my pants to keep them up.

Suddenly, the answer occurred to me:

Call Garloch.

Karen Garloch (pronounced Gar-LOW) was an old and dear friend from my early days at the Enquirer; we worked together on many a big story until she left in the late 1980s to cover health care for the Charlotte Observer.

She was still a dear friend, as was her husband, Larry, a former basketball star at Miami University and a long-time high school and college basketball coach.

I called Karen; thankfully she answered her cell phone and I started babbling at the speed of light about what had happened.

Now calm down, she said. It's going to be alright. There's nothing we can do about it now, but I will have Larry stop by the hotel in the morning with a new belt.

Their home in the Charlotte suburbs was not far away from our Ohio hotel. In fact, the day before, I had managed to squeeze in a quick lunch with Karen and Larry at a nearby Panera Bread before I had to report for duty on the shuttle bus to the arena.

Karen's promise gave me some solace, because I knew the two of them and I knew that if they said they'd do something, you could take it to the bank that it would happen.

Still, I had to get through Tuesday night at Time Warner Cable Arena with my pants constantly falling down.

At one point, I was running up and down the outer concourse of the arena, constantly tugging at my pants, when I ran into former Ohio governor Ted Strickland.

I pulled him aside out of the crowd; and asked if he'd do a quick interview, to which he readily agreed. I was recording him, with the recording device in one hand while I kept tugging the pants with the other.

I could tell he was looking at me very strangely. The look was something to this effect: What in the devil is wrong with him? He's got a bad case of the jitterbugs.

I wanted to tell him, but couldn't bring myself to do it. I could have said, would you rather have me standing here talking to you in a crowded hallway with my pants around my ankles?

I tried to spend as much time that night seated at one of the tables in the auxiliary press room, hiding behind my laptop. But, now and then, people I knew would stop by and I would have to get up and shake hands, make small talk. And try not to have my pants fall down.

It was later in the evening that I got a text message from Karen:

Larry will be at the hotel with a new belt at 6 a.m.

Music to my ears.

After the night session, I made the long trek back to the area where the shuttle buses, color-coded for the various delegation hotels, were waiting. I had successfully managed to conceal my wardrobe malfunction.

I got back to the hotel; got to my room and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I was up again at 5 a.m., and went to the lobby to drink coffee and kibitz with the delegates until 6 a.m. The shuttles were lined up outside, waiting to take us to the Shriners' hall where the delegation breakfasts were held.

At 6 a.m. on the nose, Larry Garloch walked into the hotel lobby. He was carrying a plastic clothes hanger. At least seven or eight belts were looped across the clothes hanger.

I brought all the ones I had, Larry said. I wanted you to have a choice.

Larry, the old basketball player, is a much taller and brawnier guy than me, so they were all a lot larger than I really needed. But they worked and they weren't broken in half. I grabbed the first one I saw.

I put it on immediately. Instant relief.

Larry, I can't thank you enough. You're a life saver.

No big deal, he said. Just pack an extra the next time.

I need to give that belt back to Larry the next time I see him. Not that he doesn't have plenty more where that one came from.