Hey, Wilma — This Isn't San Diego Anymore

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Everything (almost) that goes on inside the convention hall is controlled by the Republican National Committee. Outside, though, it's a different story. TIME editor-at-large Steve Lopez scoured Philadelphia for the real picture.

1: The Republicans and the Environment

An SUV with Virginia plates pulls up to the hotel, a blond woman in a black dress gets into the passenger seat, and as she does, a jumbo-size soft drink cup and a plastic water bottle come tumbling out and rattle around in the gutter. She slams the door shut, and the car lurches ahead.

Bad move.

A female police officer, standing 10 feet away, sees the whole thing. She mutters exclamations of disbelief and marches over to the car before the getaway can proceed. "You wouldn't do that back where you live, would you?" she asks, leaning in and speaking through the passenger window. The driver — a fresh-mouthed yutz — snaps back at her. His comments are muffled, but he says something about it being an accident, and then admonishes the cop to "show a little respect."

Show a little respect?

The officer had a retort, which unfortunately was inaudible, and then walked away. No ticket, no lecture, no nothing.

Whose idea was this police restraint thing, anyway?

2: Brother Can You Spare an IPO?

Midnight in the city. Two men, at least one of whom appears to be a conventioneer, come strolling east on Locust Street, approaching 16th Street. Spread out on the sidewalk in front of them is a street person holding out a cup.

One of the two men is black and he's wearing a natty dark three-piece suit festooned with Bush buttons. The other man is white and blond, and he is putting his arm around the black man in a way that suggests they are partners or, at the least, damn good friends.

So right off the bat this is interesting. An interracial gay Republican couple? Why the hell weren't they up on the stage Monday night when the Party of Donnie and Marie, in one of the great makeovers in political history, went "Soul Train"?

And more important, how will this apparent couple react when they reach the black homeless man and he holds his cup out to them? Here's the answer:

When the street person asks if the men can spare some change so he can get something to eat, the white man breaks off from his partner, walks over, and makes a small offering. When he rejoins his partner, he is upbraided.

"He's drinking a beer right there on the street," sniffs the black man. "What do you think he's going to do with that money?"

What about that former rum-pot George W. being rescued by faith? What about reaching out to every willing heart?

The two men kept walking and talking. At the corner, the white man put his arm around the black man's waist.

The street person took a long chug. It was either that or pinch himself, and he probably made the right choice.

3: Really, We Know Lots of Black People. Look at Our Bus Driver

In a city nearly 4 to 1 Democrat and roughly 45 percent nonwhite, local folks cannot recall ever seeing so much blond hair, duck pants and St. John's evening wear in Center City Philadelphia. The city has been transformed into something of a rust-belt San Diego.

"Look at this," Philadelphian Fred Mann said while walking through the downtown area, where jolly conventioneers seemed to have taken over, walking six abreast as they enjoyed a night on the town. "This isn't the Philadelphia we know."

Mann, regional vice president of KnightRidder.com, told a little story about shuttling back to his Center City office from the convention site in South Philadelphia earlier in the day. As the shuttle bus pulled off Interstate I-95, he noticed looks of fear among the all-white riders as the bus lugged through one of those ghastly, isolated-looking districts you don't see in the travel brochures. Broken glass. Some black street person lying in the street. Lots of gray semi-industrial structures and the typical northeastern rust-belt gloom.

"I realize the bus is going in the wrong direction for me, so I ask the driver, the only black guy on the bus, if he can just stop and let me out right here," says Mann, who is whiter than rice. "'Sure,' he says, 'no problem.' There had been all these back-and-forth conversations on the bus, and now there's suddenly just total silence. Everyone's looking at me like, 'You're going to get off here?' I turned back when I got off and they were all watching through the windows," says Mann, who looked back nonchalantly, as if he were casually walking off to his own execution. "It's like they were saying, 'Wait a minute. Who are you? You're not a Republican.'"

4: Education: You Do the Math

Fred Voigt, lead Doberman for a Philadelphia political watchdog group called the Committee of Seventy, was talking over lunch about the sorry state of America's public schools, about the link to the growing gap between rich and poor, and about the failure of either major party to do anything substantive about it despite years of lip service and grand pledges.

Are schools any better after eight years of Democrats? No. Can George W. Bush deliver on his promise to lead a crusade that lifts every child? Of course not, Voigt says. For starters, his record in Texas is mixed at best, and his proposal for overhauling the nation's schools is short on specifics and money. "It's the magic wand approach," says Voigt.

But even if Bush were committed, would his constituency share his passion? Voigt thinks not. It used to be that people moved from city to suburb for the public schools. But with money in their pockets, more suburbanites are choosing private school. Voigt knows this because his wife, Pat, is a fund-raiser for a private school in Philadelphia and is in touch with colleagues in the tri-state area that includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. "There's a waiting list to get into every private school from Princeton to Wilmington," Voigt says of the greater Philadelphia area.

And if Bush should win the race and then get hit by a bus? Dick Cheney voted against Head Start, adult education, the creation of the Department of Education and the funding of student loans.