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The Lonelyish Planet Guide to the Republican National Convention

Your personalized cheat sheet to the best in dining, merch, and sightseeing in Cleveland this week

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Getty Images

Cleveland is demanding our attention. From the Republican National Convention to the Cavaliers’ NBA championship, the Indians’ recent dominance to a surprising tech scene, we’re thinking about the city more than ever. This week,​ The Ringer ​is exploring why Cleveland matters.

As you enter the Republican National Convention, a guard will open a big, iron gate about 3 feet wide. He will let you squeeze through, and then he’ll shut the gate behind you. It’s the kind of travel experience you would have only if you’ve taken refuge in a U.S. embassy during a coup. You will then proceed down a long gantlet with iron fencing on either side. From there, you reach a security checkpoint. In addition to the usual no-nos, the Republican National Convention does not permit umbrellas with metal tips. Still, the service is fast and efficient. It’s probably easier to see the GOP nominee for president than it is to get into a Browns game.

If you’re reading this, you have decided to attend the 2016 RNC. Wonderful choice. As you enter Quicken Loans Arena, please display your credentials around your neck. Inside, you can enjoy the interactive Microsoft display of old Electoral College maps (Reagan’s ’84 landslide is popular) and hear the convention through the portals.

Further inside, you’ll find that the RNC plays a surprising amount of rock. The house band is led by G.E. Smith of Saturday Night Live fame. Smith plays oldie after oldie (e.g., Bowie’s “Station to Station”), with one song often melting into the next. Yahoo News’s Andrew Romano said it’s like an SNL commercial outro that never ends. On Monday night, the loudspeaker played Queen’s “We Are the Champions” while former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was onstage. This seemed like a weird accident until Melania Trump both entered and exited to the song.

The convention, it has been reported, was thrown together hastily and isn’t totally ready for guests. The best evidence is that there are only two concession stands open inside Quicken Loans Arena. Delegates grumble that they toil for years on behalf of local parties, and after making their peace with Donald Trump, they’re rewarded with a chance to wait 30 minutes for a hot dog ($5).

“War is not about bathrooms,” declared retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn on Monday night. But at the RNC, going to the bathroom can be war. On Monday, a delegate from Utah — whose state delegation was part of the failed roll-call vote rebellion — said she emerged from a stall and found herself accosted by Trump supporters who said they wanted her to die.

The Republican Convention is not a trip to Disneyland. For even Uncle Walt couldn’t have created a more timeless land of magical creatures. On Tuesday morning, CBS newsman Bob Schieffer strode through the arena on the occasion of his 24th political convention. “I’m like a Geico commercial,” he said. “This is what I do.”

Displaced media can find comfort at the RNC, too. On Media Row, located in a parking garage across the street, you can find David Gregory, late of Meet the Press, waiting in the CNN green room. Alan Colmes — Sean Hannity’s old bête noire — is hosting a talk radio show that airs God knows where every weeknight from six to nine.

The speeches take place in Quicken Loans Arena. But the GOP has also rented Progressive Field, the home of the Indians, next door. One minute, a traveler can find himself listening to the Benghazi annex security team. After a two-minute walk, he can find a seat on the third-base line and stare at Lou Boudreau’s retired number.

At Progressive Field, the RNC puts on a small crafts fair under the bleachers. Those not wanting to wait a half hour for food will find large bags of cheese popcorn ($1.99) at Malley’s Chocolates. (Ask for napkins.) A framed picture with Harry Truman’s autograph and a Thomas Dewey pennant costs $4,500. If you move in for a closer look, the saleswoman will say, “You have good taste.”

Be advised that buying a Trump T-shirt ($25) counts as a contribution to a Trump-RNC fundraising committee. A helpful salesperson will take your name and address so that she can report you to the FEC. If you don’t wish to make America great again in precisely that way, exit the convention site and proceed to the hawkers selling off-license merch on Euclid Avenue. Note: cash only.

In Cleveland, you may approach the Republicans. They are very friendly. Oftentimes, they will hand you their business cards before you even ask. A journalist can thus look at a Haley Barbour sound-alike from Moss Point, Mississippi, and conclude that his “scener” has practically written itself.

The typical question Republicans ask a traveler is not “What do you do?” It is “Where do you live?” If you tell them you work for a website that covers sports and pop culture, they often smile politely and ask what you’re doing in Cleveland. Saying you’re with the Washington Post may produce a different reaction.

Dress lightly for the Republican Convention. “It’s going to be similar to Tampa in that it’s going to be bloody hot and humid,” said Rob Sisson, the president of ConservAmerica. Whether you decide to attribute this to anthropogenic climate change depends on what kind of interaction you want to have with a delegate.

Much of the convention can be experienced by those without credentials to the arena. You can enter Cibréo Italian Kitchen (lunch and coffee: free on Tuesday afternoon) and watch a panel in which Jeff Sessions, the staunch immigration-restrictionist senator from Alabama, confesses to having read National Review in high school.

The media center is located an inconvenient half mile from Quicken Loans Arena. There, you might see Pat Caddell, the Jimmy Carter pollster turned nominal conservative, snappishly asking where the ballroom is. Travelers are advised to avoid the media center at all costs.

If you tire of hearing speakers thunder about making “America America again,” try the GOP-run Freedom Plaza just outside the Q. There, you can buy a glass of Dark Horse cabernet for $7. For curious reasons, during the evenings convention officials decided to show the speeches on the outdoor big screens without sound. When Lieutenant General Flynn was speaking, you could find a lot of people in Freedom Plaza.

After your night at the convention ends, you can exit the arena, retrace your steps through the iron gantlet, and find yourself on East Fourth Street. If a Republican overhears you talking about your hotel in the Cleveland suburbs, he may offer to share his Uber. (Budget-conscious delegates will not hesitate to use the Split Fare feature.) As your car pulls onto I-77, the Republican may grumble that the RNC is like a bloated CPAC, with fewer red-meat speeches, more expensive hot dogs, and a lot of inoffensive rock. Nod politely. Veteran travelers will know that every GOP vacation is what you make of it.