The stunning irony of it still takes my breath away. The one photo in my entire life I have had taken with a major political figure turns out to be with Rod Blagojevich.
For those of you who have been off-planet for the past few weeks, Blagojevich is the governor of Illinois (or at least he was at press time). Yup—that one.
I passed him in O'Hare Airport in 2004 where he was standing with a minimal entourage: one security guy.
He looked so ordinary and bored. Remembering I had my camera, I walked up and asked if I could take his picture. (Boy, wouldn't the guys in church be impressed with this!)
"You bet," he enthusiastically answered. "My assistant here can take a picture of us together."
After snapping a photo, the governor walked with me to our concourse, peppering me with questions:
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a farmer."
"Great! How do you think I am doing with you guys?"
"Umm, OK, I guess. Actually, the state doesn't really affect me as much as the federal government."
"What should I be doing for farmers in the state?"
"To tell the truth, Governor, I'd just like it if you left us alone." (Knowing what we know now, I should have asked, "Whaddaya got?")
Unusual politics. My answer stumped him into silence. I guess nobody ever wants "nothing" from a governor. At the time, it never occurred to me I could have gotten a "deal." It turns out that is his specialty. I was just trying to take in his noticeably high-pitched, slightly whiny voice. I had always assumed it was due to bad microphones.
Then there was his occasional colorful language. As I recall, we talked about the Bears—who, in fairness, can make anyone swear. And the weather. As it was winter in Chicago and considering we were at O'Hare Airport, we both had some expletives that we could swap on that subject. Plus I had been in the Navy, so I had heard most of the terms before, although his syntax was unusual.
When we finally parted ways, I remember thinking, "How did that guy get to be governor?" I still don't have the answer to that one.
To make matters worse, I sent the photo in our Christmas letter that year, sort of implying that Blagojevich and I were old buddies. Really bad idea. Until now, nobody believed me, but the other day some guy named Fitzgerald called and asked me about our relationship.