Sunday, December 31, 2006

Witnessing a Bit of History

President Ford's family arrived in Washington yesterday for the lying in state in the Capitol rotunda, followed by the funeral service at Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday morning. Being someone who greatly appreciates the importance of historic events, I wanted my family to be a small part of the functions taking place over the next several days. In fact, this marked another unique opportunity for my daughter; she's not yet three years old and has already had the opportunity to witness the processions for two American presidents (Reagan in 2004, and Ford last evening).

My wife and daughter and I drove into Old Town Alexandria last night (where Ford lived for several years, including the time he was serving as Vice President) to watch the procession as it moved from Andrews Air Force Base into Washington, D.C. The crowd along the street in Alexandria -- while small -- was very respectful and very appreciative of his service and his place in history, and there was applause for President Ford and his family as the procession moved past. (The photo at right -- while of poor quality -- is one I took as the hearse passed where we were standing.)

I then went home, changed into a suit, and drove back into Washington to go through the Capitol viewing line (the first photo in this post is one of several that I took -- via camera phone -- while standing in line). I was amazed at how quickly we moved through -- I was actually through the line and back out in about two hours, which was a far cry from the 12 and 13 hours that many folks had to wait back in 2004. (I was much more fortunate during the Reagan visitation; since I was on staff in the House of Representatives at that time, I had access to a different entrance and only had about a 10-minute wait.) I enjoyed chatting with some folks from Iowa and Maryland who were standing in line with me, and it certainly made the wait go by much more quickly.

There's no way to adequately express what I was feeling as I moved through the rotunda -- the only sounds I could hear were the clicking of the camera shutters being manned by the bank of photographers back along one wall, and the subdued sounds of footsteps as people moved past the catafalque. Even though we were really only in the room for about a minute, it was more than enough time for me to soak in the history I was witnessing, something that has happened less than two-dozen times 1865. During my ten year career in the House, I was in the rotunda many times, but I haven't ever really noticed how beautiful and peaceful the place can truly be except during those rare occasions such as this where there are no tours and no chaos -- those times where you can really think and really reflect on the place, the history, and (in this case) the person. We then moved downstairs into the crypt, where we received memorial cards and had the opportunity to sign the guest books that had been placed there for the public. By the time I left the Capitol shortly before 11:00, I had been in line less than two hours -- and had already received a voice mail from my father telling me that he had seen me walk through as he was watching C-Span (these things are always special for Dad; he had driven up to Washington in 1963 from his home in Southwest Virginia and went through the viewing line during President Kennedy's lying in state).

I was dismayed to get up this morning and read in the Washington Post just how many officials didn't bother -- and that's my phrasing -- to come up for the funeral services last night. According to their story on VIP absentees, "President Bush sent his regrets; he was cutting cedar and riding his bike on his ranch in Texas. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his deputy, Richard Durbin, couldn't make it, either; they were on a trip to visit Incan ruins. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a pass, too -- as did nearly 500 of the 535 members of Congress. A 6-to-3 majority of the Supreme Court, including Ford's appointee, John Paul Stevens, ruled against attending. All the nation's governors were invited; few, if any, came. Apparently only two Cabinet members -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez -- accepted the invite." Bike riding? Inca ruins? I think it's absurd -- and I don't care if it's Republicans or Democrats. Gerald Ford was equally effective with folks from both sides of the aisle during his career, and it's sad to think that any show of gratitude or thanks for his life can be superceded by cutting down trees or scaling pyramids.

Aside from my frustration with the actions (or inaction, in this case) of so many high profile officials, it was nonetheless a memorable evening, one that I'm very proud my family took the time to observe. II hope that many, many more Americans take the opportunity during the next several days to express their thanks for President Ford's life and service, and to extend their prayers to Betty Ford and her family for strength and healing in the days ahead.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Tagged - Six Surprises About Me.....

I've been tagged by both Julie and Susan to list five things that most people don't know about me. This was an interesting challenge and it took me a while to come up with them; let's see how this goes (I've actually got six):

1. Many folks know that I love history and literature, but many don't know just how early those loves developed. Although I touched on this very briefly in my posting on President Ford, a lot of people don't know that I watched the Watergate hearings religiously on television when I was just 3 and 4 years old -- and could point out and actually name Haldemann, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Dean, and a lot of the others at that young age. As far as the literature side, I sat with my father and watched a performance of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" on Masterpiece Theater in the hours just ahead of my 6th birthday party.

2. I collect autographed books and have built up a collection of nearly 100 of them over the years -- famous authors, presidents, secretaries of states, Pulitzer Prize winners, etc. It's an eclectic collection, ranging from Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger t0 Charlton Heston and Donald Trump. I love the challenge of getting them, but even more than that, I look forward to having something of some value (both personal and monetary) that I can pass on to my daughters years down the road.

3. I'm a classical organ music afficianado, and attend concerts as often as I can in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area. I also have a sizeable collection of recordings, dating as far back as some of the old 78s that "Fats" Waller recorded in the early part of the 1900s.

4. I bartended for a few years in small college town (Radford) in Southwest Virginia -- and I certainly wouldn't have been confused for Tom Cruise's character in "Cocktail."

5. I was a contributor to (and interviewer for) George Plimpton's oral biography of Truman Capote that came out a few years ago; I've written two published articles on Alabama history; and I've been acknowledged or cited in a collection of Capote's letters and in a recent biography of Harper Lee.

6. I'm extremely sentimental and have a strong attachment to the people, places, and events of my past -- most good, some not so good, but all an important part of who I am.

I'll now tag Ipanema, Suzy, and Patchouli for this one.....

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

He Was a Ford, Not a Lincoln

My parents have told me often over the years how, at age 3 and 4, I sat transfixed in front of the television and watched the broadcasts of the Watergate hearings. I'm not sure about the nation as a whole, but I'm sure that in the little town of Rustburg, Virginia, I was the only kid that young who could identify Haldemann, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean. (Before interjecting comments about my nerd level, just refer back a post or two and see that I only came in at a 34, so I'm not THAT bad.)

I have no recollection, however, of Nixon's resignation and Gerald Ford's move into the White House. In fact, my earliest memory of Ford was just prior to the 1976 election, when the kid's section of our local newspaper ran a story (written for my age level) about the Ford-Carter election. At that time, I thought Carter seemed more down-home and folksy, and I wanted him to win (while the nerd level hasn't changed, my political leanings have). It wasn't until later that I recognized how decent and unassuming a man Gerald Ford really was (the title of the post was taken from his famously self-depracating line, "I'm a Lincoln, Not a Ford". He never wanted to be president -- Speaker of the House was his highest ambition -- but he handled the task the best way he knew how; as the news programs have repeated constantly today, he was referred to as "The National Healer," and while his pardon of Nixon was met with outrage (and arguably contributed to his defeat in 1976), he truly did end the "cancer" of Watergate and move the nation forward. He never sought post-presidential fame, and was content simply sit on the occasional corporate boards, play golf, and spend time with his family.

Gerald Ford's passing has brought to a close the life of someone who truly did personify the "grand" in the Grand Old Party. In my opinion, it will be a long time -- if ever -- before we see another like him.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

You Need a License to Drive a Car; What About One for Pushing a Cart?

Well, I did make it out to finish my last-minute Christmas shopping this afternoon, and although the store was extremely crowded I was able to get in and out in pretty short order. While I didn't see anything that would warrant a lengthy diatribe on social behavior at Christmas, I did notice several things which lead me to believe that the rules of the road are left in the parking lot. A few examples:

1. When folks are outside the store, they're driving in America -- on the right side. However, when they cross the threshold of the store, they're magically transported to Great Britain or one of its colonies where it's permissible to drive on the left side of the road/aisle (and some customers actually act like it's their right to be on the wrong side of the "street").

2. In traditional highway situations, cars arriving at a four-way intersection proceed through the intersection in the order at which they arrive at the intersection. In shopping-land, carts arriving at a four-way intersection are all entitled to barrel through at the same time. To (somewhat) paraphrase Admiral David Farragut, "Damn the other carts! Full speed ahead!"

3. Under normal circumstances, folks driving down the highway wouldn't leave their car in the middle of traffic and run into a convenience store to grab something along the way. When shopping, however, it's okay to get in line (yes, right ahead of me) and then abandon the cart while running off through other parts of the store. And what happens when it's their turn? There's no horn on my shopping cart to honk -- and somehow my exasperated stares and under-my-breath mumblings just don't do the trick.

Naturally, there are some similarities between highway driving and store driving: crashed carts will often lead to anger and perhaps a gently-extended finger somewhere on the hand; lots of hit-and-run incidents where no insurance information is exchanged and -- oddly -- there are no witnesses, etc. etc.

Just a few thoughts from a Christmas shopping survivor!!!

How Nerdy Are You?

I've got time to kill today before I try and go out and finish my Christmas shopping, so I'm visiting some blogs and catching up on some older posts that I've missed. I found this on one, and decided to take the test. Sadly (or maybe I should be saying fortunately!), my results put me at "Not Nerdy, But Definitely Not Hip." What about you?

(I'll put some more mentally challenging topics on the blog later today -- finishing my shopping should provide me with some good social commentary.....)

I am nerdier than 34% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The End of an Era

It still hasn't quite sunk in yet, but today marked the end of a decade of working in the U.S. House of Representatives. In many ways, this hadn't come as a surprise -- I had been looking for a new job for several months, one that would boost my salary while not requiring me to work 12- and 13-hour days that were so prevalent at regular intervals throughout the year. With a three-year-old daughter and a wife pregnant with a second child, a job with those hours just wouldn't have been fair to anyone.

However, what was unexpected was the fact that, immediately after election day, I found myself as one of the hundreds of "collateral casualties" resulting from the switch in power from Republicans to Democrats. Many members of my family who are Democrats called to gently rub in the massive GOP losses on November 7, only to find out that I got voted out of office along with many of the members of the House. I certainly don't hold that against them though; in fact, my youngest sister voted for the first time this year, and I can only be proud of the fact that she educated herself about the candidates and issues in her area and went out to cast her ballot.

It's certainly been a great ten years. I've had the honor of working with some phenomenal staff members during that time, but more than that, I've been employed by three of the best Members imaginable: Sonny Callahan (Alabama), who first took me on as an intern in 1996 and then (in his own inimitable way) jokingly told folks that he hired me as his field representative one year later because I just wouldn't go away; Jo Bonner (also of Alabama), who gave me a great opportunity to be his press secretary in the heart of the action on Capitol Hill (and to try to fill the big shoes he left behind when he was Sonny's press secretary); and Jim Nussle (Iowa), who brought me on board to give me the chance to work for one of best committees in Congress. I learned more than I would have ever thought possible from each of these men, and I will certainly carry many of these lessons into the next phase of my life.

My last few days on the Hill were really bittersweet, a time when I could roam around some of the offices and visit with old friends to say goodbye. I also took the time to wander through the Capitol one last time and soak in the history and wonder of that magnificent building. I've been around it and in it for so many times that I really took for granted the fact that I'm one of the privileged few who could walk over there whenever I wanted and just look around. At the end, when I realized when my time on staff was at an end, I just had to go through one more time. How often do each of us go through life -- with places, with family and friends, with jobs, with just about anything -- taking so much for granted, and not realizing what we have in front of us until it's too late. It is a powerful lesson indeed -- NEVER take your time here for granted.

The next phase represents the great unknown in my life, however. I'm so much of a Type A personality that I always like to have everything planned out in advance and know pretty much how things are going to work. In this, I don't; I've had some very successful interviews and have progressed well into the hiring process at several firms, but there's still no solid answer on where I'll be hanging my hat in the new year. I keep reminding myself that God will put me where I need to be when I need to be there -- and I'm sure he's getting quite a chuckle that I'm insisting on continuing to try putting Him on MY timetable, rather than surrenduring myself to his schedule.

I can certainly use the next week after Christmas (a nice period of down-time before my next round of interviews) to reflect on the changes in my life, and to think about many of my friends and coworkers find themselves in a similar position. God has plans for each of them, too; I just hope they are aware of that and carry that knowledge with them from one day to the next.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What Book Do YOU Have at Hand?

Karen over at The Sword's Still Out ran across a fun little exercise on another blog, and she decided to play along. The rules for this game as posted are:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog, along with these instructions.
5. Don’t you dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest!

After seeing, I decided to play along, too. I never really noticed the eclectic collection of books I have near me at any one time until I did this.....

Scott was already in Europe when Ernest embarked from New York. He and Zelda had crossed on the Conte Biancamano in March, landing in Genoa and working their way across the Riviera before going to Paris. As in 1924, the Fitzgeralds hoped that a change in scenery might alter the disturbing rhythm of their stateside lives. At Ellerslie Zelda had become increasingly obsessive about the ballet, forever practicing before a mirror to "The March of the Toy Soldiers." -- Scott Donaldson, Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald.