I notice I often start out a blog post with, "Most people don't..." and then go on to explain how I am not most people. Well, we already know I'm not most people, so let's just skip all that and get directly to the point. Yesterday I met President Carter, took some lousy pictures of the guy with a shaky cell phone cam and made a public mess of myself. Okay? Okay. Moving on:
Mr. Carter has a new book out. It's called "White House Diary" and even though I'm only into early 1977, it already has my vote for
the next Book O' The Decade. There's what you remember, there's what you think you remember, there's what they told you in school, and then there's what actually happened. Jimmy Carter was the first President I was aware of, the first campaign I followed, the first time I picked a favorite, and the first time I announced anything remotely resembling a political point of view. According to my mom, I walked into a dinner party around the time of the Democratic National Convention in 1976 (shortly after the Freedom Train blew through town but before Mr. Carter clinched the nomination) and announced that I liked Democrats better than Republicans because they didn't wear suits and they were real people. I was, I think, about eight. Well, look, folks, I probably wasn't talking about Walter Mondale or Teddy Kennedy. I was talking about the guy who would eventually walk from his swearing-in to the White House, the guy who started out as a peanut farmer in Nowhere, Georgia. Mr. Everyman Himself. James Earl Carter, Junior. Jimmy to his friends. And we were all his friends.
Okay, say what you want about his presidency. He was in a bad spot from the get-go (a bit like Obama) and he didn't get a lot of cooperation in making the bad situation better (a bit like
Obama). Foreign relations stuff distracted him from very real
battles at home (a bit like Obama). But was he the worst president in history? Hardly. Harding. Jackson. Hoover. Just to name a few. And has a better man ever held the office? Uh, no. (Sorry, Obama. You're close, though.) And has there ever been a better ex-President? I don't think so. Hard to imagine George W., or even George H.W., spending his retirement time making sure the poor have a decent place to live. And has he retired? No, he has not. He's got to be in his late eighties/early nineties, and it doesn't appear as though the guy has even slowed down very much.
All of these were reasons that brought me to Sam's Club (of all places) in Grapevine, Texas (of all places) yesterday evening. Not being a member of Sam's Club, I'd snagged a copy of the book from a local Barnes and Noble. I got unbelievably lost on the way there; my directions sucked, traffic was insane and I ended up driving around a hospital parking lot going, "It has to be right here someplace" until I chanced to see the Sam's Club sign. On the other side of the freeway. Naturally. I finally got there just after they'd let the crowd (and it was a big crowd; probably two hundred people by my guess) go in. We were all shepherded through a fire door in the back of the building, guarded by Secret Service guys (very obvious in their formal black suits) and local police.
Now, a quick word about me and Sam's Club, or any big box store, or pretty much any situation with large quantities of people, goods and noise all crammed together. SO not a winning situation for me. I tend to have meltdowns. Had one at the State Fair a couple of weeks ago, in fact, on the Midway. Too hot too loud too many colors too many people too much noise too much everything arrrgh. Usually when this happens I freeze up, Joan notices and says, "Is everything okay?", I say "NO!" and start flapping my arms like a deranged penguin attempting flight and Joan grabs me and steers me to someplace quieter before I completely freak out. If Joan isn't there, of course, the freezing-up is not interrupted, and I just get steered around by whoever's there and say "yes, ma'am" and "no, sir" a lot until it occurs to me that if I got out of here I would not be freaking the hell out and then I find a door and run for my life to someplace safe, generally the car, where I lock myself in and hide until I calm down and can once again act like a rational human being.
So there I was at Sam's Club, already a stressful situation, made worse by the layers of security, and about to meet Jimmy Carter. Mr. Carter was on the other side of a row of barrier tape, some ten or so feet away from the crowd. His minions took the books away from us, and the Secret Service guys checked them to make sure they weren't loaded before they took them to his table. He signed the books while the minions indicated which person they belonged to. He looked up from each book to the owner and thanked them for coming. I'm already well into the "yes, ma'am" and "no, sir" phase at this point, and I probably looked like a scared rabbit across the barrier tape when I said, "Thank you" to Mr. Carter, got my book and let myself be herded over to the little section that was set up for the taking of photos. I was still
standing there, blinking a lot and clutching my book as though someone was going to take it away from me, when I realized that I didn't get to say what I came there to say. Which was a shock. Up until that moment, I didn't know I'd come there to say anything.
So I got back in the line, which was shorter now. The Secret Service guy tried to take my book and I held onto it. "I just need to say something," I said. He started to frown. "Nothing bad," I added in a hurry. He was still frowning, but he went up to the table and said to Mr. Carter, "This young lady wants to say something."
Young lady. Dude. Ya flatter me.
So I leaned out as far over the barrier tape as I could go without falling on my face and I said, "Mr. Carter, you've been a hero of mine since I was nine years old, and a lot of people breathe a lot easier because of everything you've done. Thank you."
He looked surprised. He blinked. He said, "What a nice thing to say." And then he smiled at me. Pa rum pa pum pum.
I managed not to really start bawling until I was locked in my car. But it was a close thing.