OK, now that I’ve filed a post criticizing the governor’s rhetorical style (but not his substance, please note, Lee‘s non sequitur about my reviewing his speech in advance notwithstanding), let’s detail some of my own gaffes in the course of this day preceding the State of the State. (I’d go ahead and tell you something of the substance of the speech, but it’s embargoed.)
How many ways can one man screw up in one day? Let us count them. Or some of them — I’ll let myself off the hook on a few things:
— I was late for the annual pre-speech briefing for editorial page editors. Not my fault, but then you have enough such incidents that "aren’t your fault" and you develop a certain kind of reputation anyway. I have one of those reputations. In fact, my boss, the publisher, has mandated that I have a weekly session with our VP for human resources, one of the most organized people I have ever met, in an effort to straighten myself out. At our last meeting, my coach said my assignment for the next meeting would be to think about what I want to get out of these meetings. This caused me to make a note to myself not to spend the next meeting free-associating.
— Anyway, I comforted myself with the thoughts that the luncheon was set for 11:30, and no one would actually start eating that early, and in the past these things have featured 20 or so minutes of standing about with drinks (generally soft in recent years, despite the guest list) before getting down to business. Also, I recalled that at the first such meeting after his election, lunch had been buffet-style, which gave me a little more wiggle-room. I was wrong, as you’ll see in a moment.
— An aside: I should count myself lucky that the guard outside let me pull my disreputable ’89 Ranger through the gates at all. I’ve come to appreciate the mere fact of actually getting into the governor’s mansion ever since one evening in 2002, just before the election. I was at the time a member of the Columbia Urban League board. It was the night of the CUL’s biggest event of the year, and as a minor part of the festivities I was to be honored with the organization’s John H. Whiteman Award for "outstanding leadership" as a board member (sort of a nice going-away present, really, since I was about to cycle off the board). Gov. Hodges had agreed to hold a reception at his place before the banquet out at Seawell’s. The guards looked at my invitation, heard my name, and said I wasn’t on the list, so I couldn’t come in. I remonstrated, and they made a phone call, and told me I definitely was not to be let in, and that I could take it up with the governor’s office in the morning, if I were so inclined. Worse, they wouldn’t let Warren Bolton in, either, apparently because he was with me. Well, I was cool and mature about it. I decided we should stand just outside the gate, and give a straight answer to any arriving or departing guests who asked us why we were standing there. They all shook their heads in apparent disbelief. It didn’t stop them from going in, though, as I recall.
— Anyway, after I pulled into the grounds, another guy in a Smokey the Bear hat waved me into a space. I hopped out and headed in. He said, "Your license plate is expired." I said, "What?… Oh… yeah… I think that sticker’s at the house somewhere." He told me he didn’t mean anything bad by telling me: "I’m just trying to save you fifty bucks." OK, uh, thanks, I said as I kept going toward the front door, but then I slowed down as it occurred to me that it was an ethical violation on my part to accept such a discretionary reprieve when I was a guest of the governor. I was about to turn around when I remembered: These governor’s Protective Detail guys dress like Highway Patrolmen, but they’re not actually troopers, and don’t have powers to enforce highway laws anyway. That is, I don’t think they do. I went in. I was late enough.
— And even though I couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes late, I’m sure, they were
already well into the salad course — everyone seated at the formal
dining table — and in mid-conversation regarding the governor’s
agenda. The only good thing was that I slipped in quietly enough that
the governor didn’t notice me until I had asked my first question, well
into the main course.
— Of course, my question turned into one of those mini-debates with the governor, which went on an embarrassingly long time before I could make myself stop arguing with his answers. Meanwhile, everyone else sat quietly waiting to ask their questions, and probably thinking about what an ass I was making of myself at their expense. I don’t know why I do that, but I do it everywhere I go. I can’t just make like a reporter, write down the answer, and shut up. But I should. Sometimes I should.
— I almost left the digital recorder I had turned on and slid down the table, but the governor called out, "Somebody leave a recorder out here?" Mine. Thanks. At a previous such lunch during the Hodges administration (before I was barred from the grounds), I had left my recorder. I never saw it again. This one was its replacement.
— To make up for my performance inside, I decided to make friends with the governor’s dogs on the way out. One consented to be petted; the other stood off and regarded me with healthy suspicion. Warren and Cindi Scoppe, who had come in a separate car in order to be on time, waited for me. I finally realized they were waiting because we needed to have a quick huddle to decide what, if anything, we wanted to say about the speech for the next day (to avoid interfering with the production of the news pages, our pages need to be done well before time for the speech), and they knew I was planning to go to Harry Lightsey’s funeral at 2:30. I told them I had time to meet them back at the office and discuss it there before heading for Trinity Cathedral. Then I stepped over to my truck, and realized I didn’t have my keys.
— Warren and Cindi waited while I barged back into the mansion without knocking (the faux pas just keep piling up, don’t they?) and searched around under the dining room table while the staff was clearing it. They said they hadn’t found anything. I guessed the answer to the mystery on my way back to the truck. Yep, my keys were in the ignition. Don’t even ask why I had thought it necessary to lock my truck
inside these well guarded grounds, because I don’t have an answer.
— Fortunately, Warren and Cindi were still waiting — they know me well — and we had the opportunity to fully discuss the next day’s editorial while I rode in Warren’s back seat back to the office. I had explained the situation to the guard at the gate, and he said it would be OK to get the truck later. I knew there was an extra set of keys in my desk.
— What I also knew, but forgot until we got all the way back to the office, was that I also carry yet another spare key to the truck’s doors in my wallet, for just such emergencies. Sure enough, as I found standing stupidly back in my office and rummaging around through credit cards, there it was. In my pocket all the time. Great. No one would have ever had to know, if I had just remembered that.
— So I had to ask my boss, the publisher,…
Oops, just realized that if I don’t run home NOW, I’m going to miss the State of the State itself. I have to watch to make sure he actually delivers the speech we’re commenting on tomorrow. Have to finish this tale of serial humiliation later…