Ready To Run

30 03 2017

Pat, Sen. Clemens and Daniel

Spring break in Tallahassee makes Florida’s Capital City seem like a ghost town.

The kids are gone, but the adults are in session. I rode up with Daniel looking for a story. Daniel knows quite a few stories.

“How do you know Daniel’s lying,” a fellow journalist asked. “His lips are moving,” they answered.

We picked up Pat in West Palm Beach. I was intrigued instantly. Of the three of us, Pat was the most recent winner. She now sits on the soil and water conservation board. Originally from New York by way of Virginia, Pat, a seasoned political operative, was disgusted with the election of Donald Trump.

We rode in a SUV Daniel called “Aggie.” It was a used car, probably about 15 years old, but it ran smooth and got us up to Tallahassee and back without breaking down.

Daniel and I split driving duties. Pat sat up front, chain-smoked and cursed Republicans. We solved the dreaded bathroom bill before entering Tallahassee city limits. At a truck stop off I-10, folks breezed into the gas station men’s room without wait, while the line for the women’s room was backed up and flowing into the adjoining McDonald’s.

“That’s how it is in the clubs too,” Daniel remarked.

So much for equality. When it comes to time spent in the powder room, on an average, ladies take longer, we observed.

Daniel had worked security at a Fort Lauderdale nightclub. It was one of his many jobs. It seemed as if he was perpetually running for some public office. He is always eager and full of energy. We had been planning this trip for a while. Daniel comes to Tallahassee ever year in some capacity or form. He started his career at Florida’s Capitol as an aide serving in offices of many South Florida lawmakers.

“This is the young man we’ve been mentoring,” said the legislative assistant as she introduced Daniel to the representatives from Lauderhill.

Daniel holds his own well in conversations, but tends to get over confidant at times. At the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida’s annual “Tally Days” conference, he was a principle organizer. He presented tips – via powerpoint – on how to effectively lobby lawmakers.

“Always be nice to staff and aides,” Daniel urged a room full of energized women at Tallahassee’s Sheraton Four Points Hotel.

While Daniel grabbed the microphone at nearly every opportunity, Pat stayed in the background. She dressed immaculately. Her hair, dress and makeup flawless. She was representing Palm Beach County after all. No small task.

Pat is a senior no doubt, but I would never ask her age. In group meetings with lawmakers, Pat demonstrated a keen understanding of the issues concerning our environment.

But more importantly, Pat is tough. She is battle tested. She’s a winner.

I also found her at times a bit angry.

She did not like the way Hillary Clinton went down and there was a sense Pat was fighting to avenge Hillary’s dignity.

Pat’s most intriguing text to me during our visit to Tallahassee was this:

Consider very carefully what is gossip, what is self serving and what’s in it for them.

Sage advice, indeed.

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Spring Awakening at Christie’s

18 03 2016

There’s a spring awakening happening all across this land. Back in Fort Lauderdale there is plenty of water to go around for those content with retirement. Florida is great this time of year. Always was.

A month after Iowa and my strength has returned. Word to the wise, it is stupid to walk along the shores of Lake Michigan in freezing temperatures. Know your limits.

Billy was impressed. I drank straight whiskey that night. It unplugged my sinuses and allowed me to breathe again and offered just the slightest amount of resistence to Billy’s very vocal brand of democratic socialism.

Iowa had been a disaster. It was clear early on the mainstream media and various campaigns were in bed together. This level of collusion, however, was never before so apparant. A tiny older man from Springfield, Illnois was trying to pass himself off as Jewish in the lobby of the Marriott in downtown Des Moines.

The man was selling kippahs with the Presidential candidates’ name etched into suede fabric. I asked the man how much he was asking for one. He said, ’10 dollas.’

I replied, “Will you take five?”

“Sold,” he said, with a smile.

I chose the Bernie Sanders kippah. It was was gray, unlike the blue of Hillary Clinton or the red of Jeb Bush. I bought it for Jerry, my rabbi friend back in Pompano. It would be a nice souvenir and Jerry was a Bernie fan.

The salesman, whose name escapes me, had just returned from a function attended by Carly Fiorina, the ousted Hewlett-Packard CEO and lone female Republican Presidential candidate. I was intent on seeing both sides of the story in Iowa and the lobby of the Marriot is where I found a lot of GOP surrogates.

Interestingly enough they were not as scary as depicted in the media. Some where even friendly. I had a pleasant conversion with a middle-aged woman who was involved with the Chris Christie campaign. Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, was once considered a favorite for the nomination. That, of course, was before the Trumpnado twister hit the party. The woman informed me of Christie’s upcoming campaign stop and I gave her my card while expressing a desire to report on the event. It turned out to be a pretty fun outing at a pub on the westside of Des Moines. I got there early and shopped the nearby REI outdoors store. Great products at REI but way too expensive for me. This is what happens when the Chinese are not consulted, Donny, I thought.

One of the REI employees said she was a single working mother voting for Bernie Sanders and the other one who approached me declined to endorse a candidate. At the pub, I ordered some food at the bar while Christie’s advance team set the stage. That’s when I met Ms. Svokos, a Manhattan writer from an elite publication. Young and beautiful. We got the last two bar stools available. It would be a very interesting evening.

Wellman's Pub West Des Moines, IA

Wellman’s Pub West Des Moines, IA





The Caucus and The Camaro

20 02 2016

The jet took us from Miami to Chicago in just under three hours. It was a new frontier in traveling.

Yes, I packed all of my stale cliches into a couple of bags and boldly charted a course to Iowa, site of the first in the nation caucuses for the United States Presidency. I’m still trying to figure out just what the hell a caucus is?

Before Iowa, I spent a few days in Chicago, catching up with an acquaintance from the Florida panhandle. Billy is one of those online friends, who you meet in a club one night and become virtual buds. He is intelligent, handsome and 10 years my junior. I see some of myself in Billy, having been through emotional relationships and escaped what can be an intolerant Southern culture. Billy is dating a young man from Philadelphia and seems happy with life when we meet for brunch at the Golden Apple Diner on Chicago’s north side.

I ask him if he is in love and without hestitation he says yes. He is also quite passionate about a certain U.S. Senator from Vermont. Yes, Billy is a Bernie Sanders supporter. He spouts statistics about income inequality, criminal justice reform and big banks. He agrees with socialism and plays Modest Mouse records on a vintage turntable in his living room.

Knowing his political knowledge was strong I had asked Billy if he was interested in traveling to Iowa with me. He said he couldn’t get away from work, but wished me well. After crashing on his couch, I got up the next morning and motored into Iowa. The guy at the counter of the rental car company had struck up a friendly conversation with me about Pompano Beach. He upgraded my ride and I bought some insurance off him. I’d be rolling into Des Moines in a sporty red Camaro.

ChiCam

ChiCam

The Camaro was fast and fortunately the roads were not slick or covered with snow. It was late January and it was cold. I felt it in Chicago, the wind…. the chill. It had been quite some time since I had felt real wintery conditions. On my first night in Des Moines, I had dinner in the bar of the Bennigans near the interstate. There, journalists and politicos gathered to drink and discuss the day. I noticed a table full of Rand Paul supporters, four dudes, lots of testosterone and tattoos. Next to them were two European journalists who had been following around Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. After my dinner, I approached their table and asked for their thoughts on the election.

“They are all fake,” I said trying to get the Swiss cameraman to show his cards.

“Sure,” he said, appearing somewhat surprised by my pronouncement and seeming bored with me already.

“Who do you think is the most geniune?,” I asked, in my best Cajun French accent.

“Trump,” he said.

This surprised me. The Swiss journalists said they had been at a Cruz event earlier in the day and one of the men boasted of his one-on-one access to Santorum, a former Pennsylvania Senator and stauch crusader of the religious right. Both men also mentioned their wives.

“People must come to their senses sooner or later,” I said, offering a distain for the campaign up to this point. The Swiss said nothing. I went back to my hotel across the street, but before going to sleep, I decided to check the weather forecast for the weekend.

Sunny and clear for the next day but a snowstorm was approaching out the southwest.

 

 





Readying For Iowa

23 01 2016

One week before Iowa. I have worked a lifetime for this chapter. A U.S. Presidential election in full swing and the first votes to be cast.

“Do you really want to be disappointed?,” I remember Rich distinctly saying.

Rich was a red bus driver at Glacier National Park. He was a bizarre man in that he was almost child-like in his behaviors. He gave me the impression that he had never grown up. We shared the same room at Lake McDonald in one of the nicest dorms in all of the park — quite a long way from Grand Canyon’s shabby Victor (aka Victim) Hall. Yes sirre, at LMD, Rich and I were not roughing it.

Rich had worked some 30 years at Glacier, driving red buses and putting on an act for the tourists. There were times, though, when Rich would — how do I put this nicely — over act in dramatic scenes.

Despite his quirks, Rich was full of local knowledge and knew the hiking trails inside Glacier well. It was on one of our many hikes into the backcountry that Rich began to needle me about my politics. Rich, you see, was staunchly libertarian and believed very strongly that the government was watching his every move.

At night, in between episodes of The Simpsons and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Rich would usually find some sort of conspiracy video to play and then launch into a vocal position of how wars and crises are usually inside jobs. This was his line of attack as we hiked to Hidden Lake that day with fresh snow melt, mountain goats and marmots all around.

Hiking with Rich

Hiking with Rich

“You know Obama is former CIA, right,” he said. “He’s just like all the rest.”

I had mentioned to Rich I would like to cover the next presidential campaign which had triggered a sour response and Rich’s questioning me if I was prepared for what he viewed as certain disappointment. Rich’s first instinct was to always reject my first proposal. It was the essence of our labor/management dynamic that I was oddly enough placed into that summer. In hindsight, I should have moved out of that room early on, but the entire ordeal at Lake McDonald was about proving to the masses that no matter how tough it got, I wasn’t going anywhere. Not even a few steps into a different room down the hall with a less antagonistic roommate.

So fast forward a year and here I am getting ready to head to Iowa and thinking about Rich and as weird as this sounds that asshole might just be right.

I’ve followed all the candidates closely up to this point and scoured their backgrounds like a fine tooth comb. I’ve paid attention to the electorate and trends across this great nation and concluded both parties are full of shit. In Florida, particularly, the bullshit runs knee-deep.

Maybe it has already been decided. Perhaps, as Rich believes, big brother is controlling every move in a pre-destined way that leaves only Mother Nature to chance. Maybe that’s why Rich loves Glacier so much and keeps coming back year after year to drive those antique red buses. He’s clinging to a past and a special place that is quickly vanishing from this planet.

I’ll soon find out the mood of America’s political power on the ground in the heart of the midwest, a region I am none too familiar with. It will be another adventure into the great unknown — that is if we are to believe our nation’s election results are a true reflection of the will of the people.

Are you ready to hit the ground…running?

If you are interested in helping me in this independent effort, please make a small donation to my GoFundMe account here: https://www.gofundme.com/6sd4nbjg

 





Back on Stage with Ed

20 09 2015
Interviewing Ed

Interviewing Ed

The summer trumpets have sounded. Into the autumn we go. Noise of political campaigns consume much of my days and nights — my reporting automatic at this point. I can see what is coming and avoiding danger, drama and becoming a jaded, bitter journalist is what keeps me on guard.

I have joined a monthly writer’s group separate from my two main employers. This gives me hope. At our first meeting, they ripped up my writing style pretty good. Call it an intervention on my addiction to clichés. My writing needs more description, they say. More color. More flavor.

Well, here we go.

When I shook Ed Asner’s hand I was surprised at its strength. It was a firm grip from a meaty hook. We were in Orlando, at the Doubletree Resort at a conference for mature people. Asner is 85 and he doesn’t forget easily. The legendary actor remains ever vigilant in the causes he holds dear. Fighting for the disadvantaged and working poor.

“For so many of us he embodied what being a man was all about,” said Tomcat, the conference organizer.

At this conference, I was the moderator on a panel of two — Asner and moi. My chief concern was not embarassing this Hollywood legend. Asner was cranky and cut me off on several occasions, much to the audience’s delight. My youthful inexperience during the program seemed to be part of the draw. I told the audience this was a first for me — sharing the stage with a Hollywood legend.

But it was not my first time standing before a crowd.

Flashback to 2010 and the race for the Florida House.

On an early Friday morning on the campus of Florida State University, candidates gathered to give speeches to the business community. This chamber of commerce function was attended by all levels — local, state and federal.

I dressed in a suit with pin-strip black pants. During this campaign I was intent on demonstrating an air of worldliness. I knew — we all knew — I would be defeated so I might as well go down in style.

Introduced to the audience my the former Speaker of the House, I spoke atop a wooden structure called a “stump” that had been placed on the stage. It was my desire to deliver words that would make my campaign stand out. I wanted to be remembered and I knew that the issues I was championing would not be a big hit in this room. Panama City, once a stronghold of Democratic values, had been flipped, like much of the South to represent Republican positions.

I was not speaking to the choir — and that was part of the fun.

And so from atop a staged stump, wearing Wall Street threads (Even mentioned to the audience, I was wearing Prada label shoes) I basically for all intents and purposes told those assembled to fuck off.

“Let me close with these words,” I said — slowly and softly — into the microphone. “It is a complicated world out there and only the naive see it in black and white.”

Later in the campaign, the Democratic Party chairwoman would say that speech was a turning point. The Republicans began to fight my message even harder.

“You scared them, John,” she said.

Five years later, I was on a stage in Orlando with labor activist and screen titan, Mr. Ed Asner. This manly man, as his admirers describe, fought the establishment many times in his career and lived to tell about it. I felt rejuvenated by his side and ready for the fight once more. Asner was blacklisted by the Reagan administration. I was by the local GOP good ol’ boys.

Common ground, through adveristy, was forged.

 

 

 

 





Tea With The Cardinal

21 03 2015
All Aboard

All Aboard

My Hammam experience was far from thought on the train ride back to London. I was preparing for my next important interview — with an Irish Catholic Cardinal. I met the Cardinal a week earlier during a World AIDS Day mass in London’s Mayfair District. I approached him after mass during an informal coffee and conversation session inside the fellowship hall of the Church of the Immaculate Conception Farm Street. I gave him my card and disclosed my Catholic hertiage and interest in the Church. Much to my surprise, he responded a few days later, via e-mail, requesting I visit with him at his home in southwest London.

I left Paris before the break of dawn. The Euro Star is worth every penny. It is fast and connects people swiftly under the English Channel on a daily basis. This particular car was full. The man sitting next to me was a French businessman who shared his copy of “The Spectator” Magazine. I found the content, while obviously conservative, quite interesting. He asked about America, I said the country appeared headed for a re-run of the 1992 election. I asked about France, specifically the rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Ms. Le Pen was quite the talk back at the Paris hostel where I had camped out for the weekend. Many of the young ladies I polled in the kitchen one evening during dinner had rejected the notion that Ms. Le Pen was a feminist. I found this fasnicating as I did most of the Parisan culture.

The French businessman dismissed any assertion that Ms. Le Pen was not a woman. He seemed only interested in my thoughts on Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. I said an election between the two would be costly. After that we said nothing more on that subject. Once we arrived in London, he made a quick dash for the door, saying he was late for a business meeting. I was in no hurry, my appointment with the Cardinal was later in the afternoon, so I hung around the train station and took a few pictures. Much like Gare du Nord, London’s St. Pancras station is fascinatingly put together with a mix of modern conveniences built into old world architecture.

The Cardinal lived south of the River Thames. I got off the tube in Stockwell, directions in hand, and proceeded past an Irish corner pub and into a section of government housing projects. Once I arrived at the apartment, I noticed a sign on the front of the door which declared, “Sonny Does Not Live Here. Nor JD nor Taylor. Wrong Door!! No Sex No Drugs.” I found this quite interesting even though I was after neither, instead seeking simple counsel. Back in the south of Florida, I had begun writing about AIDS. The subject was challenging and broadened my journalistic abilities. It has traditionally been written about in the American media as a horror story and yet I was discovering more and more remarkable tales of bravery.

Cardinal Warning

Cardinal Warning

I was hoping the Cardinal could give me the United Kingdom’s perspective. I knocked on the door and Vincent invited me in.

“Come in, John, I’ve been expecting you,” he said. “The kettle is on.”

His apartment was full of books. It was small, humble and somewhat disheveled. I was there for almost three hours. Talking, sharing life stories. It was amazing. During our visit, a man and his apprentice came to check on the water line. Vincent was the building superintendent and the men needed direction. I said hello but nothing more. Once they left, I began my probe.

The Church, Disease, Power, Charity and, most important of all … Surrender.

 





Seeing Red

28 07 2014

No matter how hard I try, I cannot escape politics.

This summer I stepped right into it, unaware of just how delicate a situation I was entering. For the first time in decades, a new concessonaire contract was awarded at Glacier National Park. This contract includes the park’s historic fleet of red buses, which have been masterfully rebuilt from the frames of the original 1930s White Motor Company models. The red buses have come to represent Glacier, providing an iconic symbol associated with the park’s renowned Going-To-The-Sun Road.

The buses were previously operated out of East Glacier, their hub being the Glacier Park Lodge, located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. That all changed last year when the National Park Service, much to the locals’ surprise, awarded Glacier’s concessionaire contract to Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Xanterra, in turn, pitched its tent on the west side of the park near the rapidly developing tourist towns of Whitefish and Kalispell.

Red Ride

Red Ride

Losing the contract and its red buses has left East Glacier isolated and angry, its community suffering from a dramatic drop in revenue. There are hard feelings in the park. I experience them every day.

I lost count of how many times locals, posing as tourists, came in to question me about Xanterra’s operations. I found the questions odd at first, but then began to notice a trend and with it an unpleasant demeanor. I was a target no doubt, the new guy with the 10 gallon hat, riding in to represent the big corporate outfit from Denver — unaware of just how many roots had been ripped out in this move.

Early on, I tried to keep a positive attitude, but the constant attacks have worn me down. There are incredible logistical challenges here — it is a remote area drawing affluent visitors who expect every modern luxury while experiencing a true backwoods wilderness adventure. Delivering this total package is the challenge that gets me out of bed at 6 a.m. every morning.

Through all the complaints, raised voices and temper tantrums, I have managed to keep my cool. I am determined to leave here with my dignity intact. Again, I think of my father often now and what it must have been like to go through those hurricanes back in Florida — as he did many times — and manage to keep emotions in checks while restoring power to the masses.

Here in Glacier, appeasing tourists is just part of the equation. A big chunk of my time is devoted to our red bus drivers. Keeping them happy is as vital — if not more — than our guests. Affectionally known as “Jammers” for their gear shifting driving style, red bus drivers do require a certain skill set to succeed. The Going-To-The-Sun Road is no piece of cake with its twists and turns, falling water, ice and rock and God knows what else lurking in the other lane just behind the bend.

Jammers provide commentary along the way, each with their own unique personality. Some have been doing this upwards of 40 years, others like me, thrown into the fire for the first time. In the old days, it was college aged men driving the red buses across the Continental Divide. This year, in another first for the park, we have an equal number of women Jammers, including several college aged girls.

Evelyn, one of our veteran Jammers, is quick to cite statistics showing women to be much safer drivers than men. I’m not sure where she gets her data, but Evelyn is not one to pick a fight with. She’s a motherly hen type, her beautiful white hair braided in a long ponytail and her knowledge of wildflowers is unmatched. Evelyn recognized early on that I was in for a rocky ride this summer.

“Hang in there, John McDonald,” she said during a recent stop by my concierge desk at the Lake McDonald Lodge. “You are halfway there.”