US party season
Much of the BBC is counting down to Beijing these days, and the opening of the Olympic Games. But here in Washington, we're counting down to Denver, and the beginning of the 2008 political convention season.
I covered my first US party convention 20 years ago. As I remember it, the emphasis was very much on that first word: party. It was the Republican Convention in 1988, and New Orleans was the host city.
Nominally, the business at hand was to install Vice President George HW Bush as the nominee, and to say goodbye to the man who even now remains the Republican hero, Ronald Reagan.
The GOP (Grand Old Party) managed that 'baton hand-off' reasonably well...well enough to launch Bush into the White House. But I honestly don't remember much of what happened at the podium that week. Instead, my memories are filled with music (I'm pretty sure I remember my wonderful CBS colleague Ed Bradley 'sitting in' with a band called Buckwheat Zydeco) and with food (shrimp 'po boys' from a place called Messina's...'debris' sandwiches from the legendary Mother's).
Don't get me wrong; we worked hard, but whether it was because of the Louisiana setting or simply being my first time, there has not been a convention since - and I've covered a bunch - that offered quite as much fun as that one.
In less than a month, the BBC News contingent - including our World News America team - will be setting up shop in Denver, and then a week later in Minneapolis. Perhaps it's because the BBC deployment will be much more 'lean and mean' than in my old days at a US network, but I don't expect to do much partying or gourmet eating.
What I do expect is to have one hell of a story to cover - in both cities - and to work very hard to deliver a distinctive take on both party conventions to our audiences in American and around the world.
The media are much more focused on the Democratic convention at the moment, and it will be a fascinating thing to watch Barack Obama officially take the reins of his party.
But Minneapolis also offers a couple of fascinating storylines: what kind of a 'sendoff' will the GOP give to George W Bush?
And what kind of a reception will John McCain get from those in the Republican party who haven't always welcomed his maverick ways?
As always, what the BBC will be able to provide is not the most coverage...we can't compete with the endless hours the American cable news networks will offer...but hopefully the smartest coverage, from the perspective of what I like to call 'the friendly outsider with the slightly arched eyebrow.'
World News America will be led, as always, by Matt Frei and Katty Kay, who have been delivering incomparable political coverage all year long, and they'll be joined in Denver by Ted Koppel, one of the sharpest and most experienced journalists on the American scene.
We'll be working from sunup to well past sundown. But a guy's gotta eat, right? So if anyone knows where I can get a really good shrimp po' boy in Colorado or Minnesota, will you please drop me a line?