Thanks to an interesting turn of events, I came face-to-face with President Bush during a private event last week.
Through a connection with the local Republican party I was able to volunteer at the restaurant where he held a discussion on Social Security and a photo op with local small business owners. My job was to check the IDs of the invited guests. The President was scheduled to arrive at noon; I had to be there at 9. Although I was on time, I still had to talk my way through two roadblocks enroute to the event.
Watching all the security preparations was fascinating. Very serious business. The Secret Service checked *everything*, including the fire trucks and ambulances. I watched as an agent and his dog inspected the restaurant's sign out by the street. Another checked out the storm drains in the parking lot. Thank God the weather was good (beautiful, actually) because the invited guests stood outside for an hour waiting to be cleared in past the final checkpoint.
By 11:30 we were all inside the restaurant waiting for the motorcade. Everyone had one last chance to go to the bathroom.
Then the motorcade arrived. Several functionaries came and went through the side door that was to be used as the President's entrance, and then a medium-sized fellow wearing a suit with a blue tie poked his head in and looked around. It took a moment for everyone there to realize that it was the President. The room broke into applause as President Bush made his way around the room, shaking hands and kidding with folks. He gestured to to the other end of the restaurant (where I was seated) with a good-natured, "I'll get there in a minute!" For a moment I had a clear view of him down the length of the wait corridor. The room was silent, and I had the urge to shout out, "Howdy, George!" Didn't, though.
He sat down at the tabe with the folks who were scheduled to meet with him,, the press corps rushed in, and the place was dead silent for about ten minutes. All we could hear (with a phalanx of reporters between us and the President) was the occasional group chuckle. Then there was politeapplause, the press left, and the President made his way around the room shaking hands and chatting briefly with folks.
Watching him meet and greet, I was struck by how natural and genuine he appeared. He comes across as a down-to-earth guy who is very comfortable inside his own skin, confident in his competence. He reads as a senior executive (which of course he is) rather than a politician or a power hound. He refers to the Presidency in the third person, as though it is a suit of clothes, a job, a role he is currently playing. It doesn't define the man. I'd like to sit down with him over a cup of coffee and swap flying stories.
I was at the tail end of line with the other event volunteers. He stopped and thanked me for helping out. I told him, "We're praying for you, Mr. President." He looked me in the eye and said, "Please keep it up, because it's working like a charm." I had come prepared with a big Sharpie marker for him to sign my volunteer's pass, but he had one himself. "I see you have one, " I said. "A president without a Sharpie is like a president without..." -- he rolled his eyes -- "an entourage," he grinned. Then he looked at the oversized Sharpie in my hand. "That's the biggest Sharpie I've ever seen!" he said. I wish I'd had the wit to make a crack about being from Texas.
Seeing that he wasn't immediately moving on I whipped out my pilot's hat and asked him to sign it. As he did so he asked me, "You get to fly much?" "Not enough," I replied. "What do you fly?," he asked. I answered, "A Cessna, but I'm building a Fly Baby." Seemingly by reflex, he responded to the word "baby" with a practiced, "Well, congratulations" as he was moved along by the Secret Service. But you could see the wheels turn and click into place as he suddenly realized I'd said "building a Fly Baby," not "having a baby." He stopped, turned back, looked me in the eye, and said, "You be careful!"
What could I reply but, "Yes, sir"?