Impressive Political Moments

imageOn most days I travel through 5 or 6 towns on my way to work. New England is like that; a collection of tiny, congested, parochial little towns with identities confined within boarders that fly by, one after the other. By contrast to my 17 mile journey, the 35 mile trip from Des Moines, Iowa to Ames, Iowa (where my brother lives) appears to take you through precisely one town. As I cross the Bulkeley Bridge, I move seamlessly from Hartford to East Hartford. The best part of my commute is the fact that I am usually traveling against the flow of rush-hour traffic. That wasn’t the case today. Joe Biden came to East Hartford today.

For the benefit of my readers in other countries, Joe Biden is our Vice President and we don’t see him very often. Nobody has ever characterized the office of Vice President as well as Tom Lehrer did on his satirical album “That Was the Year That Wasimage back in the mid-60’s. The song “Whatever Became of Hubert” (only 1:32 if you care to give a listen) highlighted the fact that the VP spends most of his or (maybe someday) her time in the shadow of the big man or (maybe someday) woman. But today Joe Biden visited Goodwin College to attend a “roundtable discussion” on Workforce Development and Skills Training. CT Gov. Dannel Malloy (not a typo, his name is Dannel) also attended.

For all intents and purposes, Joe could have been attending a roundtable discussion on congestion on undersized highways, like Rt-2, the road that Joe traveled en-route to Goodwin College. He wasn’t there for the discussion, Dannel is running for re-election. Congestion wasn’t a problem for Joe and Dannel because Rt-2 was probably closed for the Vice Presidential motorcade.

I’m not sure when they started closing major highways to insure the safe passage of visiting top brass politicians, but I recall being stuck behind President Clinton from Hartford to the airport (BDL). Since I practically live at BDL, I was following his parade for 90% of my commute.

According to the news reports, the roundtable:

highlighted the school’s Certified Production Technician program, a collaboration between small and large employers and local industry partners…”

Did you notice “State and Federal Government” in that partnership? No, I didn’t either but it was a chance for Dannel to have his picture taken with Joe – the Governor of the third-smallest state and the least valuable politician who is capable of closing a highway. This is why I don’t have to remove my socks to count the impressive political moments I’ve experienced.

Ironically, the most impressive act by a politician that I ever witnessed, involved none other than Hubert Humphrey. Hubert wasn’t VP at the time, he was back in the Senate. Hubert was visiting Pittsburgh to stump for John E. Connelly who was running for the US House of Representatives seat that was left empty when Robert Corbett died. John Connelly also happened to own the Gateway Clipper Fleet, where I worked. Technically, I worked for a catering company that supplied the Gateway Clipper fleet with food for the shipboard events.

For the nightly Captain’s Dinner Cruise, we served imageRoast Beef, Ham, Rigatoni and Au Gratin Potatoes. In addition to driving the food from the catering kitchen to the dock, I scooped out the pasta and potatoes. For John Connelly’s fund-raiser, we served franks and beans. I say “we” but professional waiters had been hired to dish out the weenies and beans to the people who had paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege. I, along with the kitchen staff and deck hands, had been instructed to remain in the kitchen or on the tug (the boat that pushed the Party Liner on its nightly journey).

After dinner and the speeches, Hubert Humphrey started walking toward the back of the boat. John Connelly’s eagle-eyed entourage intercepted him as he got within a few yards of the kitchen. Not close enough for us to see, but close enough to hear:

You’re going the wrong way sir

I know where I am going

No, sir, that’s the entrance to the kitchen

I know that. If I’m going to be shaking hands, I’m going to start by shaking the hands of the men and women who made this night possible. You should remember that!

They had gotten close enough to see that that last line was directed at John Connelly.

As Hubert Humphrey walked through the kitchen, he shook our hands and he said something to each one of us. As he shook my hand, he said:

“What do you do here son?”

“I work for the company that prepares the food.”

“You’re doing a fine job.”

How I wished we hadn’t served hot dogs and beans.

John Connelly lost the election to John Heinz, the man whose family’s business probably made the franks and beans that we served that night. John Connelly wasn’t much of a politician, but he was a visionary businessman. He is credited with starting a movement to recapture the energy of the waterfront in Pittsburgh. That movement spread to many other fading industrial cities, including Hartford where Goodwin College is part of an effort to recapture the waterfront in the region.

32 thoughts on “Impressive Political Moments

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  1. Pictures – That is the Bulkeley Bridge over the CT River. According to Wikipedia, that it’s the largest stone arch bridge in the world. The Rockville Bridge in Marysville, PA appears to be about 3 times as long, but it’s a railroad bridge so maybe there’s a distinction at work in that title. The dark shot is Goodwin College when its new main campus building was being built and the lower picture is the Gateway Party Liner.

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  2. Nicely told, thanks.

    I’m completely out of touch with American politics, clearly. Up until this moment, I did not have a clue as to who Joe Biden is. So, thanks for that.

    Tell, me – the story of HH walking to the kitchen to shake hands – would you say that was pure politics or was he an “everyman’s man”?

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    1. I think he was that kind of man. He wasn’t running for anything at that point. He has lost his bid for President and he was only a year into a 6-year Senate term. Besides, I wasn’t old enough to vote. I could be wrong, but that’s how it struck me at the time. Thanks for dropping by.

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    1. Thanks Kami. Little things can leave a lasting impression. My parents had raised us to appreciate the work of the people behind the scenes. It was neat to have that validated by such an important man.

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  3. You tell a good story !! Love the frank ‘n beans and John Heinz thrown in for yuks !

    Here’s my VP story –

    Back when George H. W. Bush was President (July ’89), I had my first memorable bike accident. When the paramedics arrived and were putting me on the stretcher, they were asking me questions to assess concussion. I had my eyes closed (I always seem to have my eyes closed after bike crashes!!) They asked me who the President was … I thought … and I thought… and I thought… and all I could think of was Spiro T. Agnew. I knew that wasn’t the right answer, but I couldn’t remember who was President.

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    1. That’s funny. I hate the questions they use to access mental/medical state. I know that I’m fine but I often don’t know the answers. I’m surprised that you’re still riding a bike.

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  4. It is difficult to trust a politician but if he greeted your team with a good heart (not to have a win in the elections) then it was an outstanding thing to do.
    In 2010, your VP, Joe Biden, came to Nairobi. That was the day I stayed in the jam from 4pm to 10pm. Most roads had been blocked for his security.

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    1. I’m sorry you were stuck behind that. I don’t know why they feel justified in inconveniencing so many people. I also don’t know why they just don’t use helicopters more often.

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  5. Your description of New England is right on. This is what I like most actually. The succession of small towns, so much alike and yet so distinct from each other.
    When it comes to politicians, traffic issues aren’t their major concern. We’ve got countless visits of our President in CA. Roads are closed, airports are under high control…but I’ve never seen him. I could if I bought my dinner plate. But that wouldn’t fit my budget even with a menu that is probably different from your hotdogs and beans. What a great story with wonderful dialogues!
    I wouldn’t mind seeing Joe Biden, by the way. He seems and sounds the most approachable of all.

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    1. I had a friend when I lived in Washington who moved to Boston. When he came back from an interview he said “it looks like if they drove 10 miles and there wasn’t a town, they stopped and built one.”

      If Joe makes another run for President, I’m sure you will see a lot of him in CA. Most candidates skip CT. Thanks for stopping by, I really appreciate the comments.

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  6. Very nice blog post, Dan! What a fine lesson from Mr. Humphrey. The hospitality team must have been talking about that night for days. I don’t have any impressive political moments to share. Maybe some day in the future😄

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    1. Thanks Elaine. That’s one for me, in almost 60 years, so I don’t think they are common events. Sadly, I don’t need very large numbers to count the number of businessmen and women who have been truly impressive in my 35 year career either. Most everybody has been good at what they do, but very few have been good people. Fortunately, my current boss is and I’ve been working for him for a long time.

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  7. Great story about Hubert Humphrey, a man I admired. Here’s my brush with politicians: My dad held me on his shoulders at a railroad crossing where we’d been stopped. A train pulled up and President Truman appeared on the platform of the caboose where he gave a brief speech in which he said he hoped to make America a better place for children “like this little girl” and pointed at me. I remember hoping that he meant I’d get new shoes soon.

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  8. Honestly, I am not really into American politicians, although, I do write a bit about American politics, or should I say I used to write on American politics a couple of years ago when I had one client. Interesting post by the way.

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    1. I’m not really into politics or politicians either. I pay attention to the ones I have to vote for, but you won’t see many posts of a political nature here. Thanks for dropping by.

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