Russia, if you're listening...I want to tell you about this crazy American dream, the eight-plus long days and nights that I spent in Ohio and then here at home inside the twin bellies of the beast of our tortured democracy, the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

For some bizarre reason, I'd volunteered for this duty. I’d wanted to be an eyewitness to American history  the first time either major political party has nominated a woman, and the first time either major political party has nominated a dangerous demagogue. I also had the strange emotional attachment to the windmill tilting of a certain 74-year-old senator from Vermont. But most importantly, I knew there'd be no better way to take the pulse of our strange and beloved country in a year when it showed too many warning signs of a massive national coronary.

When you're really gone to look for America, you never know what you're going to find, or where. I felt like I learned more about crime and fear in the nation's cities when I parked in Cleveland's hipster neighborhood of Ohio City behind the agonized motorist with a shattered rear window than I did from Rudy Giuliani, who was shouting incoherently at Volume 11 about law-and-order from my car radio at that moment.

There were some surprises along the route. Who knew that Melania Trump admires Michelle Obama (the plagiarism…that was no surprise at all), or that Ted Cruz has a conscience? Then there were all the texts and Twitter emails from my friends who knew I was headed to Cleveland that amounted to some variation of, "Don't get shot."

Instead, I saw two mostly remarkable performances by the police departments in Cleveland and Philadelphia  smart yet restrained, responding to every situation with the appropriate level of force and the goal of de-escalation. Every major American PD needs to learn from what just happened here. The biggest non-journalism hassle I faced in Ohio was figuring out how to get my unopened company-purchased gas mask back to Philly.

The typical surprises were the no-surprises. In addition to (thankfully) no riots, the various whispered challenges to the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton coronations mostly fizzled, and the minor kerfuffles  the booing of Cruz, the occasional protest whelps of Bernie Sanders delegates  only reminded us of how dull and infomercial-like our conventions have become since the freewheeling 1970s.

It was certainly no surprise that Trump's leveraged buyout of the GOP meant that a bitter, apocalyptic vision of America as a violent burned-out hellzone of rampant crime, with ISIS terrorists scurrying over the border and under your bed — and with Trump as benevolent dictator and Babylonian lawgiver saving our troubled land — flowed from Quicken Loans Arena like so much raw sewage spilling into Lake Erie. Trump made it easy for the Dems to swat him down with a week of "That's not the America I know," and President Obama weighed in with another performance that made a lot of folks wonder what the geniuses behind the 22nd Amendment were thinking. Yet Trump was the one who kept rising in the polls. God bless America.

Nothing summed up the schizophrenia of the Democrats — the occasional party of working people — than showcasing Wednesday's endorsement of Hillary by mega-billionaire and ex-New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the man who militarized a police force that probably would have stopped-and-frisked the Mothers of the Movement who spoke the night before. And yet Bloomberg uttered the political line of 2016 when he pleaded with the nation to elect a "sane, competent" president in the fall, thus lowering the bar for lowering the bar.

The political stagecraft won't be what I remember. It never is. Instead, I'll never forget the tableau that I saw rising up the escalator from the appropriately corporatist AT&T Station near Philly's Wells Fargo Center and the swirling, howling sight of hundreds of Bernie supporters surging against the 10-foot-high black security fence, letting off new wails every time a well-heeled, well-attired Democrat strolled past. Some international journalists said it reminded them of the gates of a refugee camp. OK, that may be harsh  but the desperation of American citizens simply to be heard in a nation walled off by “National Security Events,” by political parties that prefer to deal with society's disaffected in the abstract, was gut-wrenching.

It's easy for a disdainful media to write off the roughly 5,000-6,000 Sanders protesters in Philadelphia, and smaller groups of pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators who came to Cleveland despites all the dire warnings, as unrepresentative. But are they really? The truth is that nearly 70 percent of Americans  liberals, conservatives, centrists  think that America is on the wrong track. I thought the protesters were actually highly representative and brave.

I met people like Patricia Holmes  a broke and unemployed single mother who hitchhiked from central Pennsylvania to protest  and Shanda Masta, part of that crazy nonstop 70-hour caravan from Seattle to a baked South Jersey campground, whose simple desires to stand up and be counted is almost enough to restore all of your faith in democracy. Are you still listening to this, Vladimir? Our craving for free speech is still what sets this country apart from yours — or Turkey, where the government is shutting down newspapers, no doubt an inspiration to Trump.

The reasons that you didn't see more people in the streets are a) too many folks have been numbed, either by the soma of nonstop mass entertainment or by actual drugs like opioids or by depression over a political system that seems hopelessly in thrall of its billionaire donors, or b) they're scared by the massive police presence, the mazes of fences and concrete barriers and the inane "free speech zones," or the kind of violence that flared at Trump rallies this spring.

Eight hot and hazy July days left me inspired by the desire of everyday people for real change, and yet frustrated by all the barriers between them and the political elites who hurried past the security fences to speed away in buses or in limos to lush corporate parties. When they got there, I'm sure the lobbyists slapped them on the back for their fear politics or their identity politics or whatever else ran down the clock to avoid any real talk about job options for the middle class, or how to pay for college, or get time off when their kid or aging mom is sick.

And now the best we can hope for is to elect a "sane, competent" 45th president on Nov. 8  hopefully someone who'll be sane enough to understand that saving America’s sould will mean working with the people and a new and improved Congress (hello, 2018) to tear down all of these damned walls before 2020 arrives.