Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Encountering Politics

In 1976, when I was a small fry, I learned the hard way about campaigns and elections. In that year the race was between Jimmy Carter, some peanut-farming ascetic from Georgia, and the incumbent President Gerald Ford, a president who was never actually voted into office, at all.  

Every Saturday afternoon, Brian Pitts and I would meander around Northwest Plaza but this one Saturday, we learned that the president of the United States would be coming there to make a speech and meet with his supporters and well-wishers. Although, as children, we rather doubted our credentials for being actual supporters, we had no reservations about wishing him well. We were pretty polite as far as children went and wishing people well was something that presented little problem for us.

He was supposed to arrive at about 4 and since this was sometime in late October, it would  fast become dark after that. On top of that, a freezing rain began to fall. 

Brian and I assumed that he must have been tied up with a lot of presidential-type duties, giving orders, signing documents, reprimanding other world leaders, and making laws.

Ever so often, somebody would run down the middle of the street, shouting that the President was coming. The crowd would swell forward and become agitated. But he didn't come. I suppose this was some kind of technique to keep the enthusiasm levels high. The worst thing for a candidate is to arrive in some god-forsaken place and see a lot of wet tired faces too cold to wave but depressed enough to stare.

Brian and I were quite fascinated by the security. These tall blocks of steel with close fitting suits, earplugs and, rather oddly- given the gloomy weather -sunglasses. We tried to get them to speak to us but their eyes were always fixed on some mysterious point in the back of the crowds.

After a few chilly hours, we grew very weary and cold but we just could not leave now. We had already waited so long. Just as soon as we left, we knew he would be here.

In the back of the crowd some strangers arrived. We got the impression- don't ask me how- that they were not local people. They held up signs with very unkind slogans, reminding the president of things he would probably want to forget. Nixon, Watergate, MIAs and broken promises.

At that moment, three or four burly gentlemen rushed through the crowd and grabbed the signs and ripped them into pieces and even took the pieces away.

Finally, he arrived. Busload after busload, throwing a yellowish glow down upon us. The bored, exhausted faces of the journalists assigned to follow the president around from place to place. They stared down at us as one would stare down at tadpoles in a small pond.  I doubt that any of them actually knew where they were.

And then, quite suddenly, remarkably, he was there, the president of the United States was moving down the front row, shaking hands. The crowd behind us pressed forward and reached over our heads, like animals. I don't recall actually seeing his face, but I did manage to shake his hand which was not easy because, as I recall, it was as large as guitar.

And then he was gone again, cancelling the speech as he was unfortunately running late, presumably for a dinner speaking engagement downtown. We were all frozen by that point and numbed by the whole event.

A week later, the Democratic candidate arrived at Northwest Plaza as well. I didn’t go.. which was a mistake, of course. Carter won the election that year and Gerald Ford retired from politics. Also Carter had a great fireworks display I could just barely see over the roof of the houses in my neighborhood.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Nomad, a great story and a joy to read.

    Something special is going on the other side of the pond today, eh?

    I will (try to) take a nap now and look at the scores tomorrow morning.



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