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Now it's the Democrats' turn to fill hot air balloons.

While I won't be in Chicago this week, I am still working off the highs of San Diego where the usual four-day cocktail party ran a full week. Herewith a few notes from my old Gregg/narrow-ruled spiral notebook:

San Diego cops are neat, well-tailored, fit and generally amiable.

San Diego cabbies all speak English and know where stuff is. I had an Afghan, a Nigerian, a Puerto Rican from New York and a guy named Oscar who used to be a Marine and they were all splendid. Best of all, Phil Mayo of USA Cab, who used to be a construction worker and bills himself on his business card as "America's Favorite Driver."

Steve Forbes, who used to be shy and retiring, was everywhere. Even Planet Hollywood. You saw Steve the Swinger as often as Ollie North. I heard he even had the yacht Highlander moored out there. Steve was a luncheon speaker at something in the Convention Center called "Realizing the American Dream." Other speakers, Trent Lott and Jack Kemp. Watch Steve play a role in the campaign. Buchanan doesn't.

At a sports bar named Trophys, I had a Merlot with my enchiladas. Was this a gaffe and were supposedly hospitable San Diegans laughing at me?

Think you'd like to live in San Diego? August temperatures average 76 for a high. Average rainfall for the entire month? One-tenth of an inch. For the damned month! And they have a little old red trolley car that runs along downtown streets and will take you to Mexico and back. They also have bicycle rickshaws (and I'm dubious as to whether these advance civilization or not). Embarcadero Marina Park is a delight. You can stand there on the grass and cast a line into the bay and catch small barracudas. The Gaslamp District used to be "skid row" and now it's sidewalk restaurants and beautiful people. The whole week I never saw a traffic jam except for the single block between the Hyatt and the Marriott where they bordered the Convention Center.

Great campaign button, worn by my fave Rev. Billy Joe Clegg, "Annoy the IRS. Support the flat tax." Rev. Billy Joe, after I declined to interview him on the radio, offered to show me a large picture he carries about with him (maybe two by three feet) of Barbara Bush.

Another good button, "Here today. Gone to Maui."

Dole's speech was terrific at top and bottom. Then in the middle he went boilerplate, attacking the teachers' union and pledging to bring back Star Wars.

The speech ran 57 minutes. Thirty would have been about right. Kemp's hot stuff.

Best Los Angeles Times convention sighting? That of Madelena Martinelli who wore a banana outfit and wielded a banana baton and confessed, "I'm just a nutty grandma from San Leandro. I've always wanted to go to a convention and I want to get Clinton out of the White House. So I flew down to add a little levity."

They also found Paul Stapleton of San Diego, who bicycled to the Convention Center "to see if there really was a convention or if it's just staged on TV."

Karin D. Winner is one of the few woman editors of a major American daily paper. She runs the San Diego Union-Tribune and does a splendid job of it. The paper's daily coverage of the convention matched up with anyone's. Their national and international coverage is fine and local coverage outstanding. Let's hear it for Karin Winner who used to work with me at Women's Wear Daily.

The San Diego Zoo, rated by experts as the country's best, charges 15 bucks a head to get in and they have long lines at the gate.

The kidnapping of that Sanyo exec from the company picnic and softball game in Tijuana was big news all week. I wonder if it cut down attendance at last Saturday's Artists & Writers softball game in East Hampton? Very big play locally as well for the Padres' series with the Mets in Monterrey, Mexico.

Leftover questions: Did they nominate Ross Perot yet? Will Jim Guy Tucker be introduced in Chicago or do terms of his probation forbid it? Did you see Al D'Amato capering about on the platform behind Dole and Kemp up in Buffalo? Three weeks ago Senator Al wanted Dole to step aside as a "loser." Now he's tugging at his forelock and holding Dole's jacket.

Her floor work was as impressive as anything our munchkin gymnasts achieved during the Olympics. But do you have the hunch Liddy Dole isn't precisely relaxed to be around while you're knocking back the brews during a Sunday afternoon Chiefs' game?

Has Ted Koppel yet abandoned Chicago in a snit?

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