Wyrick: Jerry was one of us
WASHINGTON, D.C. I love this town.This is how much this town loves Jerry Ford.I was sitting on an American Airlines plane at the Eagle County airport, 7:45 a.m. Friday, and tried again to call the Capitol press room to beg for credentials to Ford’s funeral Saturday night in the United States Capitol Building, which I didn’t have but desperately wanted. Like a little like a kid forced to recite the Gettysburg Address during a Memorial Day ceremony, I made promises to God that if he’d help me through this I would live a better life. Which is a pretty good deal for God because He knows the Gettysburg Address and he knows how to get media credentials for Saturday night’s Gerald R. Ford state funeral in the United States Capitol Building.I was already wearing my seatbelt and the plane was backing away from the terminal, so God was holding all the cards in our deal.Ford served 25 well-spent years as a congressman from Michigan, much of it as the House Minority Leader which is a little strange because in those days there were hardly any minorities in the House.It’s a strange and wonderful thing in this day and age to dial a phone and a human being at the other end picks it up and speaks into it in a polite tone of voice, especially if it’s not your mom.So the nice young people who answered the Capitol phone seemed genuinely happy that I’m a reporter from Vail, Colorado, which was a little off-putting because I’m used to the kinds of reactions telephone solicitors get when they’re trying to sell spiders to sororities.
“We know how much Vail loves the Fords and how much the Fords loved Vail,” said the folks passing out credentials.My guardian angel is the beautiful and talented Joan McKinney, in whom there is no bad thing. She runs the Senate Press Gallery and, like St. Peter, is the keeper of the keys to the kingdom.Sitting in that airplane Friday morning, I was told that if I was trying to get into the Capitol Building wearing cowboy boots that seemed perfect for shoe bombs and carrying bags that could hold enough boom juice to blow the Capitol Dome into orbit around the planette formerly known as Pluto enough to make Arab terrorist kooks commit at least six of the Seven Deadly Sins and trade the virgins they’re supposed to get in heaven for a player to be named later if the Capital Police stopped me for trying to carry any of that stuff into the Capitol, which they did, Joan the Guardian would come rescue me which she did.I gotta tell you, being treated with that much respect will make most men wish they’d strapped on a tie with a little more dignity than my Tigger tie, but not me.On the other hand, if Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger wore more Tigger ties we’d probably like them better.So I got a media credential to Ford’s funeral just because I’m from Vail. It’s a big-deal state funeral and it’s not clear whether they had to bump the Assistant Secretary of Intergalactic Studies from Ubangi-Bangi to get me in, but I’m in.I love this town.
When I got my press credential, sporting a photo of some guy who looks a lot like me only much older, I wandered around with the rest of the tourists.Washington, D.C. is a lot like Vail, except everything in Washington is bulletproof.Like Vail, tourists walk around with digital cameras, their faces turned toward the sky taking pictures of tall things. Every day, every local gets asked the Capital equivalent of, “Is this the bus to Midvail?”Like Vail, you can tell the locals from the tourists by who’s pointing and giving directions, and who’s confused.And like Vail, we’re all tourists. Some of us just stay longer than others.I love this town
When I had a few minutes to kill, I did what I always do. I walked around bothering people. It was Saturday, several hours before the funeral started, but people were already lining up to pay their respects. Since it was Saturday and the week between Christmas and New Years, you tend to run into fewer inflated egos than if you’d come in the middle of the week when you’d be bothering Oh So Important People Conducting the Affairs of State.There are apparently very few Affairs of State that need to be tended to this week, because there’s no one here except tourists. Everyone in congress is back home flesh pressing and baby kissing, making sure the folks back home know those long sought-after government projects (aka “pork”) that landed under the constituents’ Christmas tree arrived there in the congressional sleigh, and that Santa didn’t bring it. Does that mean we can refer to Mark Udall and Wayne Allard as Congress Claus?As I bothered people, two prevailing opinions kept recurring:1. People Conducting The Affairs of State have a rather romantic conception of the truth.2. Jerry Ford didn’t.In the “Us” versus “Them” mindset that wants us to take sides on everything from presidential politics to preschool programs (aren’t they the same?) Jerry and Betty are comfortably “us.”One of the most annoying trends in Journalism with a Capital J, which I try to avoid, is talking to Real People. But once in a while a regular person will say something pithy and worth writing down.Like the guy standing in line outside the Capitol, visiting from some remote location where they still trap the deadly nauga and turn them into naugahide jackets.He suggested we could solve most of the nation’s problems by paying a bounty inside the Beltway for Gucci shoes, as long as they had bullet holes them when they were turned in.”They wouldn’t even have to be in pairs,” he said.”How much would you pay?” I asked.”We’d have to be reasonable,” he said. “Somewhere between what Dan Quayle spent on his last presidential run and Ted Kennedy’s bar tab.”I started to ease away.”And Armani!” he shouted after me. “There should also be a bounty on Armani. And power ties…”When he started making machine gun and rifle noises, I wandered into another crowd as the Secret Service folks began sliding closer, talking into their Dick Tracy wrist radios.
Airports are a life-suport system for shoeshine stands and Don’s is the best I’ve seen in a while.He’s one of the last true entrepreneurs. He rents his space at the Dallas-Forth Worth airport by the shift. That way when he’s too sick, or too well, to come in he doesn’t have to pony up for the space.Don’s in a corner and easy to miss. He could be in the airport barber shop, but he says all they do is watch Court TV, which he calls “Gossip TV.””I watch all that stuff and I start doing the same thing, gossipping,” he said. I’d rather be out here where the people are. I like to visit with the people.”He has that in common with Jerry Ford.Business is slow for Don between Christmas and New Years, but he knew it would be.”It’s business, and business is about money management,” he said. “You better make all you can and can all you make.”He said he’ll be lucky to do five or six shines a day during the Christmas/New Years week. A spit shine for your boots will set you back $6; time and money were never better invested.He’s been doing this for 20 years. Seven years ago he said he’d try the D/FW airport temporarily. He said all work is temporary. “It might be full-time, but it’s temporary. I told some of the pilots that when they were getting laid off.”Don is a pleasant-looking African American guy in his 40s or extremely late 30s, as we like to call it. He’s bald with a shaved head, big brown eyes, a permanent smile and a laugh that would even make the people working in lost luggage crack a smile.His physique looks like he’s had the extremely good sense to say “Yes, please,” when a bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy was passed his way.He was divorced about five years ago. He and the ex laugh about it all now, but it took a while for it all to become funny.”What about President Ford? Did you like him?” I asked Don as I was over-tipping.”When he became president they gave him a big bucket of mess, but he handled it,” said Don, flashing his million-watt smile. “That’s how you can tell about folks. Anyone can roll along when the livin’ is easy. It takes some tough times to bring it out of you.”Just like one of Us.
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