My boss was in this part of the state today, and stopped by. He very kindly took our team out to lunch. We don’t exactly work in a major metropolis….it’s more a truck stop off I-81. We ate at a simple barbecue place in a standard shopping plaza (a Kroger and about 8 other stores, and that’s about all there is around there). As we were finishing up, someone looked up and said, “Oh, there’s George Bush.” My first reaction was mere confusion, and then surprise as a black SUV parked, and a secret service guy walked into the restaurant, followed by George Bush (the senior).
I quickly snapped a very bad picture using my cellphone, and then my boss and one of my co-workers, neither of whom could ever, ever be called a shrinking violet, headed over to ask if he would allow to have our picture taken with him. He very graciously did, and my boss pulled out his digital camera.
He asked if this was a “Mother and son” picture, which unintentionally gave us a bit of a laugh, and then we left him to get his lunch. It was all very low key. No huge entourage. Just him and a couple of guys basically. It did occur to me that such a picture could have cost me several thousand dollars a few years ago.
I was born and bred in England, and so really have no automatic reverence for the presidency, and I hope, no particular reverence for anyone who holds high office, so I’ve found my reaction to be a bit more subdued than my co-workers who were pretty tickled about the whole affair (although to be fair to them, not with awe). Part of me feels that the really classy thing would have been to just ignore him and let him have some lunch, and acknowledge that there was nothing special about him, that he was just a guy doing his job. In terms of the cult of celebrity, I feel a little bit that I let myself down by having the picture taken. I didn’t say anything meaningful. I just had my picture taken with him, and, considering the alternatives that didn’t really make the world a better place. I just kept an old man from his lunch.
As is usually the case, about three hours later I thought of some things I maybe would have liked to say to him, aside from my mumbled “Thank you”. Perhaps I could have told him that although I didn’t agree with a lot of the things he did while he was in office, I thought he was a pretty decent guy and I respected him, and I could have thanked him for his service both then and in earlier times. But he is no longer a public figure, I doubt he would care to hear my opinion, he’s eighty-one years old (and looking very healthy) and he probably just wanted some barbecue.
I could have said something about his son, and the war, and the country. Would it have made any difference? I doubt it. Was it my moral duty to do so? Maybe so, even if it were a whisper in a storm.
I’m surprised that an old guy having some lunch at a truck stop could confuse me so.
[update: news items here and here]