(Providence, Rhode Island) – The government shutdown is over! Time to move on to other stuff in the world of politics! I am saddened this week by the deaths of two Congressmen I got to know a bit during my years in Washington. As a reporter, it is hard to really know lawmakers on a personal level, but I was lucky to occasionally meet House Speaker Tom Foley (D-WA) and House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-FL) socially, as well as professionally. Their deaths reminded me of funny stories associated with both men (Young, left, and Foley, right in the photo), as well as other humorous stories from my years in Washington. Here goes:
“Congressman Young; Young Wife” – When I went to Congressman Bill Young’s office as a reporter for WFTV in Orlando, I was always treated well. I was a University of Florida grad and had been a broadcaster in the Sunshine State fourteen years. One day when I was there, so, too, were the Chiefs of Staff for each branch of the military. Congressman Young went around the room and introduced me to General and Admiral so and so, and then said, “Mark I want you to meet my wife, Beverly.” At the end of the receiving line were two women - a grayhaired, grandmotherly type and an attractive young brunette. I extended my arm, as if in slow motion, not knowing whose hand to shake. I was mortified. Very discreetly, the grayhaired woman, who was about Bill Young’s age, cupped her left hand and pointed to her left with her right finger silently mouthing the words, “It’s her,” as she slightly nodded her head toward the much younger woman. I suspect my face was beet red as I shook Mrs. Young’s hand. My photographer, David Chase, and I laughed all the way back to the office.
“Who Are You?” – I went to Washington as a Congressional Fellow with the American Political Science Association. House Speaker Tom Foley was a huge supporter of our program and came to many of our social functions. I was having a drink with him at a reception in the Capitol, when my old boss, Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), stopped by and asked if I could walk back to his office to discuss something. We said goodbye to Speaker Foley. As we got halfway down the Senate steps, a family below started cheering and applauding, while snapping pictures and rolling their video camera. Both Senator Kohl and I presumed the attention was for him; but, as we walked up to them, the man said: “Mark Curtis, we watch you every day from Washington on Channel 9 in Charlotte. We never thought in a million years we’d get to meet you!” I then sheepishly introduced them to Senator Kohl from Wisconsin, but it was clear they had no clue who he was. As we walked away, Kohl - who really had no big ego issues - laughed that I was now more famous than he.
“You Never Know” – One of the things I like best about DC, is that you meet a lot of famous people just walking down the street. When I first moved there in late 1992, I was at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change. Up next to me walked House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-GA). I turned, introduced myself and said, “Did you see Jay Leno’s monologue last night?” He hadn’t. So I recited a few jokes Leno made about President Clinton’s difficulties finding a nominee for Attorney General. Gingrich howled. Then the walk light came on. We shook hands, he went his way, and I went mine. Little did I know that in just two years I would be interviewing him often for WSB-TV in Atlanta and calling him “Mr. Speaker!”
“Godspeed, John Glenn” – Back in 1998, when it was announced that John Glenn was going back into space, we rushed out to National Airport to interview him for WHIO-TV in Dayton. Senator Glenn still had his pilot’s license and flew himself back and forth between Ohio and the nation’s capitol. So with all of the press there asking him about going back into space after 33 years, the Senator said goodbye and jogged over to his plane for takeoff. There was only one problem: The plane belonging to one of the world’s most famous astronauts had a flat tire!
“All Aboard!” -- The very first time I met John McCain was 1993, and I was a Legislative Aide, working in the U.S. Senate. Many people probably don’t know this, but there is a small subway system which runs under the U.S. Capitol complex. Senate and House members - along with their staffs - use the subway to get to and from the Capitol. If you are a staffer who is seated and the train stops for a Member of Congress, you must stand up and offer your seat. I was sitting with Jim Borland, a friend from our days as Congressional Fellows, and up walked Senator John McCain of Arizona. Nervously we stood up; and I said, “Senator McCain, please have a seat.”
“No, no, guys, that’s not necessary," McCain said. “I don’t mind standing.” Then, just as I sat down, McCain sat right down on my lap. He swung his legs up and placed them across Jim’s lap. He put his arm around my shoulders, looked us dead in the eyes and said, “So, gentlemen, how are things going today?” We laughed nervously, but he stayed on my lap for the two-minute ride. When the strain stopped and McCain said good-bye and left, I said, “You know, if McCain ever becomes President of the United States, I am going to have one hell of a story to tell!” (From my book, “Age of Obama: A Reporter’s Journey…in the Making of the President 2008).
“I’m as Mad as Hell!” – The public anger with the nation’s capital, especially with the recent government shutdown, reminds me of a funny story. I was driving around one day with photographer David Chase; and - as is so often the case -we could not find a parking space, so we kept circling the block over and over again. Our only amusement was this man who was all alone on the street corner, just “shadow boxing” the air. The only problem was that, while he kept punching the sky, his pants kept falling down. And there was nothing underneath. Nothing! This went on for about 20 minutes. Hundreds of cars must have driven past him, naked as a jaybird, punching the sky. As far as I know, no one ever called the police. He probably exhausted himself (from pulling his pants back up, as well as boxing) and eventually went home. You can’t make this stuff up!
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