Monday, September 07, 2015

the day i met john glenn

I loved Iowa - after Jimmy Carter made it the place to win, the pre-New Hampshire political center, lots of political candidates would come out to Iowa, and it was fascinating to watch them awkwardly shake hands with farmers and eat farm wives' fresh pies. people would wear their new overalls to a gathering at some white farmhouse out in the middle of a field - and the political candidates couldn't be more like a fish out of water. What I loved about this was that I, also, was like a fish out of water sometimes. Iowa cornfields, though I'd visited since I was a tiny boy, were not my natural environment either.

But there was a time that I fancied myself a journalist - I wanted to have an alternative newspaper, and to do this, I figured, I had to cover the political candidates. I'd hitchhike to Des Moines, I figured, and I'd try to get into wherever they were speaking, and I'd listen to them. Actually I saw several candidates this way, although with each election my circumstances had changed; I didn't have this particular dream for more than one electoral cycle. But the point is, it wasn't hard to hear the candidates. If they had press passes, you could get one, but usually, you could just sit there and listen, as an Iowan. The candidates wanted audiences. I saw Ted Kennedy this way, and Fred Harris, and a few others.

John Glenn was unusual in this regard because I don't remember being able to get into his speech. He was a celebrity anyway, being the first person to circle the earth, and I remember being interested in him simply because he was an Ohioan. But when I went to get into his speech, I couldn't do it, and this left me in the lobby of the hotel, kind of in a hallway off the lobby really, by some telephone booths, wondering what to do next. I had a minimal pack, having set out from Iowa City hitchhiking. There was nothing for it, really, but to go home. But I hesitated, there by the telephone booths, because I wasn't quite organized enough to turn around and go home.

Then, he walked into the hotel, and I caught his eye. He walked directly over to me and shook my hand. He had large blue eyes and he was well dressed, in an off-white suit. I felt an interesting sensation, like the interesting trajectory of his life had led him right up to me, just as mine had led me up to his. Within seconds he was gone; he had an entourage; he wasn't planning on stopping to chat. But it was unmistakable; he'd taken a second to acknowledge me.

Coming back he did it again, and I was still there. This was only minutes later. I was still standing in the same place, still calculating whether to try another trick to get into his speech, or simply go home. The heck of it was, I probably could wangle my way into the speech. But I didn't really need to hear it. It wasn't really the politics I was interested in.

Coming back, it was the same as the first time; he simply went out of his path, came straight over by me, and shook my hand heartily. This time he remembered me. I had a wide smile. I don't care who you are, or where, it's an honor to meet a famous guy like that. Years later, I remember that he had some trouble in politics; he was a little too close friends with the S & L boys; but I forgive all that. As an astronaut, he was one of the first; he was special. And like all those presidents and me, he was from Ohio.

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