There are few times in life when one gets the chance for a close encounter with a high level official. For me this occurred in 1983 with the then Vice President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. I was not a big fan of the vice president at the time, finding him too patrician, noblesse oblige, and out of touch with the common man. Plus he was an old school, conservative Republican.
On this day my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to humble the man and put him in his rightful place was staring me in the face. It happened on a dreary, cold, fall day in early November on the running track at St. Albans School. Bush lived in the vice president’s mansion only a few blocks from the school and was known to run around the track at Saint Alban’s along with his secret service bodyguards. I had seen him running myself a couple of times before and did not think much about it, but this time as I came running down the hill from the National Cathedral, there he was, chugging along at a pretty slow pace. I, on the other hand, was at the top of my running game. I was routinely logging in 20-25 miles a week, had clocked a 10-miler at 72 minutes and was riding high. I was signed up to run in the Marine Corps Marathon in a couple of weeks.
The idea popped into my head seconds before I reached the gate leading into the playing field: I am going to dust the guy. “Dusting” is a runner’s term which refers to an action when a faster runner approaches a slower runner from behind, then slows up to run along side him for a brief moment, followed by a stunning acceleration, leaving him “in the dust.” It is an act of bold superiority designed to humiliate the slower runner, to show him who is boss. What more could I ask for? This was my moment.
Instead of passing by the track as I usually did, I turned into the gate and charged onto the track about 25 yards behind the Bush team. He was guarded by three secret service companions, one in front and two jogging behind him. Two additional guards were at the gate to the track, and I heard one of the guard’s hand held radio sputter out, “Watch the guy in the red jacket.”
I was wearing a red jacket.
It did not take me long to catch up. I could feel my heart throbbing not from running too fast but from anxiety. I was about to pull off a stunning victory. The guards were far enough behind that I could swing in toward the vice president, just for a second, run near him, and then turn on the afterburner, streaking ahead in a moment of glory.
It all worked perfectly. Until I started my acceleration. Down I went with a thud, stumbling into a mud puddle, landing face down in a pool of wet cinders. Ooops!
The whole world seem to stop. The guards surrounded and frisked me, probably wondering what kind of idiot I might be. It is a miracle that I wasn’t shot.
Then an outstretched hand met mine and pulled me up.
“Are you, ok?” someone asked.
“Er, yes, Mr. Vice President.”
“Well, be careful, especially when the track is wet.” And off they chugged as if nothing had happened.
I stood alone on the track for a couple of minutes, dejected, wondering how on earth this disaster could have happened. I had never stumbled or fallen when running before. I then turned around and started to jog home. As I looked over my shoulder, I saw the team coming around the track and a smiling vice president waving goodbye. Grinning sheepishly, I returned the wave and could not help muttering, “Serves me right, serves me right.”
So from that day on, while I never agreed with his politics or voted for him, I became a closet fan. Maybe he was a patrician, but he also was the real deal. And from the perspective of where we are today, oh my goodness! May he rest in peace.