Reprinted from My Blog at fiftyisthenewfifty.com
Me and Teddy Kennedy
As the plane carrying my Dad and I arrived at the gate in Washington, D.C., that day in 1968, everyone crowded into the aisle to get their stuff from the overhead bins.
My dad was having a hard time getting his sport coat on in the cramped space. From behind him, a tall, ruddy, red-faced man grabbed the coat and helped him get it on.
My dad threw a “Thanks” over his shoulder, never even looking at the man. But I did. It was Senator Ted Kennedy.
I frantically tried to signal my dad to turn around. But he wasn’t picking up on my signal. Finally I just said – when I could finally get the words out of my mouth – “Dad, turn around!”
I had always been fascinated by politics; I had even recently served as a part-time aide to a Congressman from Long Island named Lester Wolff.
We started talking, me and my Dad and Ted Kennedy. As we walked off the plane and into the terminal, I told him of my passion for politics and my work for Congressman Wolff.
Ted Kennedy listened to every word I said as if I was testifying at a congressional hearing. When he responded, it was with sincere interest.
Then, to our amazement, he invited us into a private lounge. He ordered a drink for himself and my dad, and a Coke for me. And he motioned us to sit down at a table.
And there we sat, for another half-hour, as he listened intently to what was probably incessant babbling on my part. He talked about various ways that I could, indeed, use my passion to change the world. He talked of his boyhood summers in Hyannis Port. He even, at one point, referenced his dead brothers.
He also talked a bit about the Senate, and how difficult it could sometimes be to get legislation passed. (Sound familiar?)
As I watched him, I felt the burden that must have been his every day of his life. The burden of sadness, and the burden of responsibility. But he was quick to laugh, and it was a sweet, loud, deep laugh.
And then he had to go.
He wished me luck, and urged me to be involved in the causes in which I believed. And as he shook my hand in front of everyone else in the lounge, I had an incredible feeling of newfound self-importance.
I never saw him again. Thought about writing him after that … but, somehow, I never did. I guess I figured he wouldn’t remember me.
Now, I wish I had. But, whenever I think of that afternoon at Dulles International Airport, I can’t help but smile.
My Drink with George Bush
It was the fall of 1978. And I was a cub reporter at The Palm Beach Post.
“George Bush is going to be at his club in Jupiter (FL),” my editor was saying on the phone. “Get out there and talk to him.”
So I got in my car and drove out to Jupiter Island. I noticed very quickly that the people at the club were very deferential to a slightly-scruffy kid reporter with longish hair and a notebook. And I knew why. With a resume that included a stint in the House of Representatives, Directorship at the CIA, and United Nations Ambassador, George H. Bush was positioning himself for a run at the Presidency in two years. And he needed media coverage.
Having grown up in a family of Democrats, I was prepared for a somewhat-bombastic, rigid Republican. But he was anything but.
He greeted me warmly, and we walked over to a table with an umbrella. When he asked what I wanted to drink, I said, “A coke, please.”
He looked at me with a wry grin, and said, “No, Steve … what do you really want to drink.” So I ordered a glass of wine, and he followed suit.
For an hour, we sat beside the pool in his fancy club and traded opinions on everything from politics to sports to life in Florida (where I had just arrived a month or two earlier).
The conversation was warm and easy and comfortable, and he showed a hearty wit and a sincere laugh. Even though I took notes some of the time, I had the feeling I was in a great dinner conversation, rather than conducting an interview.
Much to my surprise (and, I’m sure, to the consternation of all my relatives), I found him surprisingly moderate in many of his positions. And more than willing to consider mine. And he showed me one skill that many political figures lack … the ability to listen.
Because of this interview, and my resulting story, I became a mini-celebrity in the newsroom. How many reporters – of any age – get to have drinks with a future President?
George Bush didn’t win the Presidency, of course, in 1980. But he became Vice President in the Reagan administration. And eight years later, his time came.
As the sun began setting over the Mediterranean-style roof of the club, I remember thinking that this was a day I’d remember for a long time.
And I guess I was right.
Steve Winston (www.stevewinston.com) has written/contributed to 17 books, and his articles appear in major media all over the world. In pursuit of “The Story,” he’s been shot at in Northern Ireland. Been a cowboy in Arizona. Jumped into an alligator pit in the Everglades. Trained with a rebel militia in the jungle. Climbed 15,000-foot mountains. Flown World War II fighter planes in aerial “combat.” Trekked glaciers in Alaska. Explored ice caves at 11,000 feet in Switzerland. Driven an ATV to the top of an 11,000-foot peak n Colorado, and – much scarier! – back down again. And been thrown out of a reception given by the Queen for the British Olympic team.