The following is a blog I wrote back in early 2008, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were still battling for the Democratic nomination for President. We all know how that ended up, but this is just an interesting backstory on my own brush with politics.
Last night, at approximately 8:15pm, going west on Interstate 595, a crappy South Florida driver nearly caused a wreck that probably would have put me in the emergency room at the very least. And even though my friend Larry Rubio was in the car ahead of me, he’s just not cushy enough to soften the blow.
Two days ago, my buddy George Wakeling, who has been working feverishly in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, messaged me to see if I wanted to drive a car in Hillary’s motorcade.
Most of you that know me, know I’m not political at all, I don’t vote and until George joined Hillary’s camp last year, I hadn’t paid much attention to any of the races or candidates.
So the fact that he asked me — and then Rubio, a similarly clueless political bystander — to drive cars in Hillary’s motorcade was pretty interesting.
Rubio and I discussed the randomness of the situation as we drove to a small executive airport just off of Griffin Road in Hollywood, Fla. We talked about how George would likely lose this job once it’s realized he asked two guys without chauffeur’s licenses and a sketchy driving record — to drive some of Hillary’s staff members around Broward County. Then we thought about how George is Australian, not even a U.S. citizen and unable to vote, and we came to understand that this was the M.O. of the Clinton campaign:
Get as many people on your side that can’t help you.
Rubio and I agreed that if we drive bad enough, we could make it on CNN — not in a good way.
Once we got to the airport, George set us up with our rental minivans (SWEET!) and the Secret Service gave us our buttons to show we were part of “the crew.”
Can terrorists really not break this code of “the metal button”?
We drove the minivans out to the tarmac, and K-9 units came out to sweep all of the cars in the motorcade for explosives, guns and doggy treats. My car had none, so they didn’t maul me to death. Approved!
Matt was the leader of the motorcade. He was Secret Service, as pretty much everyone there not named George, Rubio or Gonos were. He was a nice guy, not someone you’d associate with the secret service. He had a Forrest Gump-like quality to him, not really dumb or dopey, but just innocent. He was quick to tell me to not take any more pictures of the dogs sweeping the cars — even after George said it was OK. I guess that was the first instance (of the night) I barely escaped death.
Interesting Tidbit No. 1: The U.S. Secret Service is part of Department of Homeland Security, and they were initially part of the Treasury. Their main task as a group is actually to track counterfeiting, as well as suspicious people that might be involved in financial fraud and identity theft. They are also assigned to protect the President, Vice President, President-elect, Vice President-elect, past Presidents and their spouses.
So Hillary normally wouldn’t have Secret Service around her, except for the fact that she is a former First Lady. Barack Obama is the only other candidate on either side that has Secret Service protecting him, but he requested it and it was granted.
As we waited in the executive airport for Clinton’s plane to arrive, we were “debriefed” on how the motorcade will work. We are to “stay directly behind the car in front of us at all times.” Do not let any cars get in between, even if they are trying to get off on an exit, we have to stay as close to the bumper of the car in front of us as we can. Division of the motorcade is a huge no-no for safety’s sake.
Rubio and I were driving minivans that would contain some of Clinton’s entourage or assistants. There were police cars, a lead car (Secret Service), two armor-plated Escalades (one containing Hillary and one as a backup), a staff car (George drove this one), I think another Secret Service car or two, then Rubio’s van, my van and finally the press bus following me. I asked if I could drive the bus — no dice.
When the plane landed, I waited in the van to see who, if anyone, would join me on this harried trip. Two women finally climbed in the back. Isabelle (she’s French!) and Barbara. Two attractive blonde women. Any of you that have ever driven with me know that I drift and get distracted when people are with me in the car — not a good trait for a motorcade driver … Probably should’ve mentioned that to George.
Once the ladies got in, they were getting adjusted, settling in, asking me how the weather has been. I asked where they were from, to which they responded, “D.C.”
I’m an idiot.
I rolled the windows up and put the AC on, asking them if they wanted it higher or if they were too cold. They asked for the windows to be rolled back down, so like a dummy, I’m looking for the controls that roll down the windows in the backseat of a minivan — which of course there are none.
As I’m looking down, Isabelle (the French one!) says, “GO! GO! Zey are leeeving!”
I looked up to see the motorcade had already started to pull away from the airplane and began leaving the tarmac — so I gunned it. Both women were tossed back in their seats and we were on our way! (Don’t tell me you can’t make a minivan’s wheels squeal because I did it.)
The press bus, which was behind me, had to make up even more ground, since it was much slower than my van. I’m guessing some members of the press got tossed around pretty good. (Good news!)
We were finally on our way to the hotel for Hillary’s event (Signature Grand in Davie, btw). We took every back road possible, flying through stop signs and red lights with a police escort, including State Road 84, before eventually merging onto 595.
For those not in South Florida, I-595 is where crazy people get their mileage in. Even I-95 and I-4 has better drivers than those that make the trip east and west from the South Florida suburbs into downtown Fort Lauderdale. As soon as we merged onto the highway (without blinkers mind you, seriously, as they don’t like letting people know where they’re going), some cars not in the motorcade didn’t understand the whole “motorcade” thing — and they were quickly shoved aside by bully escorts.
Then my near-death experience happened.
One driver in a blue car wasn’t intimidated by the police or the large SUVs bearing down on him, or the flashing lights in the lead car or the follow-up cars or the huge bus following up the train — and he/she refused to move out of the way.
Now, I know what you are saying — “Good for him!” But he even went from being “not bullied” to becoming a bully, as he honked his horn a number of times and tried to swerve into the line.
It was at this point that precisely four drops of pee came out of me, as I envisioned my minivan wrecking into the back of this stubborn South Florida driver, with two blondes behind me screaming, “GO! GO! Zey are leeeving!”
But evidently, the Secret Service has been trained in such matters and they quickly became even more aggressive as they boxed this guy in and ran him back into traffic to get him away from Hillary’s Escalade. Crisis averted, someone hand me a new pair of boxers.
Interesting Tidbit No. 2: The backup Escalade keeps its windows down at all times and they have machine-guns at the ready. Not a joke.
I found out what I already knew, while I was driving, and that is — I’m not good at tailgating. There was just too much room between mine and Rubio’s van, but no car squeezed in between us, so that’s a success in itself.
We got to the event, which was flooded with people and cars, and we parked. Rubio was able to back his van into the spot we were told to easily this time, unlike the 23-point turn he made earlier in the night when they asked him to back into a spot.
Once we got into the event, it became a little surreal. There were so many Hillary fans and groupies, it seemed similar to what it must be like being backstage at a rock concert. I almost wanted to ask Hillary to sign my boob.
Rubio and I were walking around, chatting with whichever pretty woman felt like chatting — which was many. Finally, we settled into a group of about eight, all women, some holding Hillary signs, and they were quite excited to learn that Rubio and I were part of the motorcade. Of course, they thought we were part of the Secret Service, but we were dressed in street clothes so we could blend in, and that we had easy access to Mrs. Clinton.
Wrong and wrong.
Then it started to go bad.
One asked us where we were from, and when we mentioned Florida, they began to grill us about voting. As I mentioned before, we hadn’t voted, so we hemmed-and-hawed until finally admitting as much. It was like we turned a switch on these women and they quickly became kinda mean, with remarks about how it’s our duty as Americans and how we should be ashamed that we were driving the possible future President around and we didn’t even vote. We did the best we could to laugh things off and joke about it, but these girls weren’t having it. One woman, of course the ugly one, was very assertive, bringing over other people from other groups to yell at us. Rubio and I realized the ruckus we had started, so we started to walk away — then Hillary and her bodyguards came our way.
After the initial how-do-you-do handshakes with the women, the “ugly one” ratted us out. Hillary recognized we were part of her entourage (or at least acted like she recognized us) and she began to brush off our errors by saying it’s OK, as long as we vote once she wins the nomination. But the best part of it was when she went up to Rubio — who stands all of 4-foot-11 — tussled his hair and said, “Will you vote for me next time, Champ?” He smiled and nodded uneasily and that seemed to calm the group down. They put down the flaming torches and the pitchforks and we slithered our way out the back.
Interesting Tidbit No. 3: Several scenes from the movie, “In the Line of Fire,” were actually shot during Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992. Robert Redford was originally supposed to play Clint Eastwood’s character, but he bailed. Sean Connery, Robert Duvall and Larry the Cable Guy were also considered for the role.
With that drama behind us, we decided to just hang out by the vans with George, some Secret Service guys and the bus driver. There was also a large group of Davie policemen and Broward County Sheriff’s officers, earning overtime. I can’t even begin to guess how much taxpayer’s money was blown on this event.
The event ended and some groupies waited outside the police caution tape, hoping to see Hillary. I thought about going over and signing some autographs, then decided against it.
Isabelle and Barbara finally came out and got back into the minivan. George had told me and Rubio that they were Hillary’s hair stylist and makeup person. Once she becomes President, I think they become the Secretary of Hair and the Dutchess of Makeup or something; I didn’t do well in my high school American Government class.
They were chatty — and a little punchy — after their long day that was finally close to an end. Hillary won the state, beating Obama by a couple touchdowns I think, so they were in a cheerful mood. They were a fun bunch and we joked around a lot. I pointed out the one cop that looked like Ron Jeremy, but they had never heard of him, so I told them to Google him. That should be fun for them.
Isabelle said, “You are zee funniezt driver we have ever had!” That made me feel good. If you can’t have a safe driver, he should at least be funny.
We were having a good time when I looked over to see Rubio chatting with his passenger, Moe, the guy that takes care of everyone’s luggage on this trip. (No one else saw the comedy in the fact that his van had a Moe and Larry in it. I don’t want to hear any “Gonos is Curly” jokes. George was like Shemp, I guess.)
Moe was regaling Rubio with his dreams of going into politics someday. I told Rubio, there will never, in my lifetime, be a President Moe. It just doesn’t happen. I’m even doubtful if there was ever a Mayor Moe. Rubio sees me laughing it up with the hotties and he flips me the bird. I laugh louder.
Isabelle even taunted him a little bit by yelling, “Ohhh Larrrrrrrry!” Then he leaned out and said to me, “Hey Gonos, make sure you have them tell you when to GO again.” That made the girls laugh a lot, at my expense this time, and Isabelle said, “Oh, he iz a funny one too!”
I had to unbuckle, turn around and explain to them that the teenage boy in the other car was, in fact, NOT funny. They finally agreed.
We went back to the airport without incident. I was much more aggressive on the drive back and I was right on the bumper of Rubio’s car the whole time. I could even change his radio station if I wanted. We dropped our people off, fond farewells for everyone and they were whisked off into the midnight air on Hillary’s jet.
I drove Rubio to his car, and he noticed I was driving like I was still in the motorcade, dismissing stop signs, running lights and veering people off into a ditch. I kinda liked that job.
By the way, everything written above in italics never happened. I just wanted to bust Rubio’s chops a little.