I’d volunteered a few months ago to help out at the G-20, during a time when I was mostly unemployed. I’d hoped to work in the press center during the week, but I didn’t get one of those jobs. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t get any job with the G-20, then I got an E-mail to work the 6am-10am shift on 9/25 at the information table at one of the west suburban hotels. At about the same time, I got a really neat part-time contract job, doing various Web work for Chip Walter. So doing a day’s volunteering for the G-20 turned out to work well.
I got up very early this morning, and was at the hotel just before 6am. The lobby was still fairly dark, but there a few state troopers and suited men walking around. I quickly found the info table, replenished the freebies from Visit Pittsburgh (mostly maps and local visits guides). There was a binder of various information, including which groups were blocked in each hotel. While I assumed a distant hotel would have the journalists from Wyoming staying at it, this hotel had the delegation from South Africa.
As you might expect, it was pretty dead in the lobby for the first hour. Mostly just security and hotel personnel of various stripes. The first person I greeted turned out to be plain-clothes security and not a South African attache. The next person I tried to talk to spoke to me in Spanish. Luckily, I could say, “Yo hablo muy pecano Espanol” (probably sic – “I speak very little Spanish”), and he laughed and said he didn’t speak much English either.
But that meant we probably didn’t just have the South African delegation in the hotel. So I went through the binder again, and found we also had the Spanish delegation. I’d had about three years of Spanish in high school, but that was a very long time ago now.
After about an hour, the lobby got very busy very suddenly. About eight Spanish men in jogging clothes and another few in suites came through the lobby and went out the side door. I wasn’t sure who was jogging, but I knew typical joggers don’t have plainsclothes security.
Some of the South African delegation came into the lobby. I mostly directed people over to the hotel restaurant.
At about 8pm, a woman with a VisitPittsburgh button came over to the desk. Her name was Mina, and she was a Spanish teacher, who’d been providing translation work for the Mexican delegation on Wednesday. I was relieved she was going to be around the rest of the morning. She knew all about Spanish culture and politics. I described what I’d seen earlier, and she said, “Oh that’s because President Zapatero is staying here.”
A few minutes later, the joggers returned. Mina smiled and said, “Yes, that’s the president.”
Not long after Mina arrived, another info booth worker, Subash, joined us. Subash worked for the Allegheny Conference, the group that did most of the local coordination for the G-20. We chatted and Subash was sure we’d met before. We concluded that since we live a few miles apart, we’ve probably seen each other in the local groceries stores.
Very suddenly, the South African delegation was through the lobby so quickly they were practically outside before we saw them, followed by the state troopers. The Spanish delegation came through a few minutes later, and we had enough time to say “Buenos dias,” to which the president of Spain said “Gracias.” The first ladies of each country left separately a little later with much smaller entourages.
Once it got to be closer to 10, I said goodbye, ran an errand, then went to Ikea to wait for the bus to Pittsburgh. I was curious to see what downtown Pittsburgh was like today. It was a unique experience.
A storefront in downtown opened up a “grafitti zone.” After walking all through downtown, I left the “Welcome to Fortress Pittsburgh” note.
A view of Mellon Park through the 8′ tall crowd fence.
AlphaGraphics welcomes the world…even though it’s closed and boarded up. There were very few businesses in downtown that boarded-up. Maybe only 50 windows were broken, mostly in Bloomfield, Oakland and Shadyside. I don’t think there was any damage in downtown itself.
A view of the David Lawrence Convention Center from the Sixth Street Bridge. Many news outlets reported from the balcony.
Another irony alert – Travelers Aid also closed down during the G-20
It was pretty quiet in most of downtown between 11:30 and 1:30. Lots of cops and blocked streets. While I certainly understand why we needed the security, it was a pretty massive show of force (in fact, as I type at 11:05 on Friday night, there’s a minor demonstration going on in the college area (Oakland) of Pittsburgh surrounded by about 200 cops).
About the only attaches I saw “outside the secure zone” were some of the Chinese delegates, who had some shopping bags with them as they walked back to their hotel.
I’ll probably put up more photos tomorrow or Sunday.