But for many, the night ended on a sour note as they unexpectedly faced a shoddily organized three-to-four hour bus ride back to their hotels.
With no signs to guide anyone, the confusion started as soon as the crowds left the arena after 11 p.m. Hundreds of increasingly grumpy Republicans jostled for position in the crowded loading zone for the fleet of slow-arriving charter buses.
I climbed on one of the buses with Washington state initiative guru Tim Eyman, who is not a delegate but has been attending the convention as a guest.
The buses from the arena headed to a transfer zone at Raymond James Stadium, several miles away. Near the stadium, the buses slowed to a standstill as they tried to inch into a large field where a second fleet of buses waited to drive the delegates to far-flung hotels in the sprawling Tampa area.
Passengers began to fume, as no information was forthcoming, and the buses were not moving. We were only a few hundred yards from the second fleet of buses, but drivers and police would not let us out to walk the final stretch. The words “fiasco” and “disaster” were muttered, along with expletives.
“I’ve gone to a lot of events, political and otherwise, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Maurice Lieberman, a convention attendee from California.
“This is a cluster (expletive) of epic proportions,” Eyman said, talking on his cell phone with another stranded convention-goer.
After sitting for an hour on the idling buses, passengers began to revolt, demanding to be let off to walk to their second buses. Finally, the drivers relented and people streamed off the buses.
Boarding the second bus back to a Clearwater Beach hotel, I needled Eyman that perhaps better central planning or a beefed up public transit system could have avoided the chaos.
“Absolutely not!” he shot back, laughing. “What they needed was a total free market – no buses at all and said to everybody find your own way to get to the damn stadium and then everybody would have found their own route to get to the place. It was just too much socialism!”
We arrived at the hotel at about 2:40 a.m. What could have been a 30-minute return trip had taken about three hours.
This morning, I shared a cab into the city.