Close Encounters Of The Gubernatorial Kind

For the first time in years, I made a date this (Wednesday) morning to have breakfast away from home while I got my tires balanced (which is not a euphemism for anything, thank you). The Wayside on the Barre-Montpelier Road is a comfy fit; besides, with the average age of the diners usually found there, I can feel pretty damned young!

So after just firing off a letter to the governor's office in Montpelier to complain about his latest veto of anything President Bush wouldn't like, I no sooner step into the Wayside and try to take a seat in one part of the restaurant while my breakfast companion says no, let's sit on the other side. Then he proceeded to choose a seat right behind the counter where Vermont Governor Jim Douglas (R-Bush) was reading the paper and having a meal.

As softly - and sweetly, of course - as I could, I whispered to John, "Uh... are you fucking kidding me? I finally get out to eat and you seat me next to this bloodless Bushie?"

John - having known me only about 20 years so why he'd think I was being "funny" escapes me - thought I was kidding. Then Douglas turned in our direction to talk with someone, John heard the voice, took one look at my face and the way my body was ready to spring, and asked if he needed to move out of the way for his own personal safety. Something about the NEW expression on my face led John (correctly, I might add) to conclude I was serious; that I did not expect to be able to linger another moment without giving Douglas a piece of my mind (something his idol, George Bush, can't exactly offer).

Next, John made the mistake of asking me what I'd call him out for and then sat, bowled over, as I ticked off a list of at least 25 vetoes and other bogus moves he's pulled just in his last term. And I ticked them off loudly enough that the governor - whose entourage was discreetly set aside from him so it appeared the gov was dining alone at the counter - could hear. I mean, I was shaking not only with outrage but perceived self-righteousness; it was my realization of the latter that made me put some brakes on myself.

But there was a bigger reason I behaved (this time!). Douglas - for all my dislike of him - made a point to stop and talk with anyone who was willing to meet his eye contact (except mine.. ahem). When some bratty little kid kept tossing creamers and jelly packages off the table, Douglas kept scooping them up off the floor (later, the mother would brag about how the governor had to keep cleaning up her kid's mess) while he carried on the usual banter. For whatever else he is, and much of it I don't like, much less condone, Douglas was behaving like a Vermonter. And he was being accessible to the people who elected him. Bush has never done this anywhere and, considering Douglas was so faithful to the president, Bush has NEVER visited the state of Vermont as president though many states he has visited hundreds of times (we're ok with keeping the tainted shit out of the state, tyvm). So I have to hand it to Douglas that he, at a time when his popularity maybe isn't so hot, isn't hiding behind his importance.

Now, when Howard Dean (now DNC chairman but then Vermont governor) was gov, I ran into him several times in Montpelier. Even spoke a few times in that brusque New England/Dean way. The state house is right there with every other damned state office building so it's hard not to see your lawmakers and rulers. Loved this about Dean, love this about Vermont.

Where else in America can you get such close access to these people? And if I'd started to blow at Douglas, a lot of things could have happened (after all, I don't know of any governor who doesn't travel with a senior cop, usually in plainclothes, ready to take care of nasty business); the worst of them could be that a man like Douglas would - like Bush - choose to hide away except to attend venues where they handpick everyone in attendance.

Douglas certainly won't have my vote in November when he runs for re-election again. But he gained a smidgen of my respect today while I'm pleased I looked at the bigger picture rather than reacted angrily and rashly and perhaps caused Douglas to stop facing his constituents over a cup of Wayside coffee.