Howard Wilkinson: Tales from the Trail

For over 40 years, Howard Wilkinson has been covering the campaigns, personalities, scandals, and business of politics on a local, state and national level. He's interviewed mayors, council members, county commissioners, governors, senators, and representatives.

With so many years covering so many politicians, there must be stories to tell, right?

Look for a new Tales from the Trail column every Friday.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

One of the most memorable interviews I've done in my career was with a man who was not a politician, but was a spiritual adviser to many occupants of the White House over the years.

Billy Graham, the world's most famous TV evangelist, who has spread his Gospel message to billions on television and in person all over the world since starting his ministry by pitching tents in a Los Angeles parking lot in 1949, is now 99 years old and living in retirement in his mountaintop home near Asheville, North Carolina.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

It's not often in a political reporter's career that you find yourself in a room where you actually witness the moment an American president's chances of being re-elected go up in a puff of smoke.

I was in such a room on October 28,1980, at the old Convention Center Music Hall in Cleveland, for the only head-to-head debate between Republican Ronald Reagan and Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter.

And, to this day, I believe that debate sealed Carter's fate.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

I traveled Ohio on enough campaign trips with the late governor James A. Rhodes, one of the true characters of Ohio politics, to know that his tastes in food were eclectic to say the least.

On the campaign bus, it was sandwiches made from his favorite lunch meat, Lebanon bologna. At the Ohio State Fair, it was funnel cakes and a stop at the lunch wagon run by Der Dutchman, an Amish restaurant in Plain City, for an overstuffed roast beef sandwich.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Last week, Tales from the Trail introduced you to some famous eateries that have become must-stops for candidates running for office in Ohio – from candidates for county offices to the presidency. There are so many such places in Ohio, dishing out chili, piergoies, ice cream, hot dogs and hamburgers that we felt a "part two" was needed. And, in fact, there are so many, that Tales From the Trail may revisit the subject in the future. Here are some more dining spots that make up the political map of Ohio:

Price Hill Chili, Cincinnati

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Food and good places to eat are the one constant of running for public office in Ohio. Every city and town, it seems, has a restaurant, a diner, a hamburger stand that is a candidate-magnet. I've been in dozens of them in every corner of the state. This is part one of a two-part Tales from the Trail on my memories of dining on the campaign trail. Part two will follow next Saturday.

The Maid-Rite Sandwich Shoppe, Greenville

Jim Nolan / WVXU

I write this in the form of a confession.

The bad news is that I was once guilty of creating fake news.

The good news is I was only 13 years old.

Back when we were kids, growing up on the east side of Dayton, my buddy Mike and I put together a whopper of a scam that was meant to prank none other than the U.S. Air Force – specifically, Project Blue Book, the Air Force's long-standing program to investigate reports of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

Reporting sightings of strange things in the skies was all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

There are some invitations to Christmas parties and holiday gatherings where you can thank the person inviting you and send your regrets for not being able to attend.

You might feel bad about it, but there's only so much time and so many places you can be.

In November 2009, I received one where "regrets" was not an option.

An invitation to the White House holiday party for print reporters.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Jim Rhodes, the late four-term governor of Ohio, could be a real pain in the neck.

He could also be a very funny man, in a Rhodesian, Southern Ohio kind of way.

I remember two days, both at the Ohio State Fair, where I experienced both Jims.

The first time was in 1994 and the second in 1998, long after Rhodes left office. Rhodes was getting up in years and couldn't walk the fairgrounds the way he did in the old days, when he was the grand poobah and chief architect of the annual summer event in Columbus.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

I'm writing this for those of you who may be just out of college and looking for a job; or those who a bit older but who are looking for a change of scenery in the workplace.

It is the story of how you can do something incredibly stupid in the middle of a job interview and still get the job.

Not that I recommend this method, mind you. But I am proof positive that it can be done.

Allow me to explain:

Jim Nolan / WVXU

If you are what we euphemistically like to call a "veteran" Reds fan, you no doubt remember watching the sixth game of the 1975 World Series between the Big Red Machine and the Boston Red Sox.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

At noon today, two contiguous states – Ohio and Michigan – will be at a near standstill because of a football game in Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

The Ohio State Buckeyes versus the Michigan Wolverines. Quite possibly, the greatest rivalry in college football history.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

I am a great fan of Thanksgiving. I love the feast; I love the fellowship of being with family and friends; I love the idea of a holiday all about giving thanks for our blessings in life.

I love the fact that I don’t have to cook; my sister Barbara in Dayton is the principal chef.

Not that I don't contribute to the family feast. I put together a relish tray. That's right – a relish tray. It's not exactly slaving over a hot stove, but, hey, those Spanish olives don't jump out of the jar by themselves, you know.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Pool reporter.

Most people outside of journalism don't know what that term means; and could not possibly care less.

I know, because I have been the local pool reporter on a countless number of visits to Cincinnati or environs by presidents, first ladies, vice presidents and others who have Secret Service protection.

And I consider it the worst job in journalism.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

When you are on the road with a presidential candidate, campaign press aides will promise you the moon and stars to make you happy.

They promise to make sure you are fed, that you have plenty of time to file your stories, that you will have dependable transportation to get from one event to another.

They may even promise you some quality time with the candidate.

After a while, though, you learn to take these promises with a grain of salt.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

I've done a lot of traveling in my years as a reporter, from one end of this country to the other. Lots of airports; lots of airport hassles; lots of long cab rides from airport to hotel.

And I've learned a thing or two about travel.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Meeting very famous people in politics and the media has always been part of the territory in my line of work.

It generally doesn't impress me much, especially when it is at a presidential nominating convention, where you don't have time to stand around and gape at celebrities. (With one exception, which I wrote about in this column a while back, when I encountered supermodel Christie Brinkley and chatted for a while at a taxi stand outside a Los Angeles hotel in 2000. That got my attention.)

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Dan Quayle.

Now, there's a name from the past you probably haven't thought about lately.

The 44th  vice president of the United States.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

First Lady Barbara Bush was one of the most popular presidential spouses of my lifetime.

She was also one of the most politically savvy First Ladies we've had.

I found that out in early October 1992 in, of all places, a chili parlor in downtown Cincinnati.

She was here for the day campaigning for her husband, President George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States. Her husband was locked in a brutal and ultimately unsuccessful re-election campaign.

WVXU-FM

WVXU politics writer Howard Wilkinson spoke with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik Monday about the origin of his off-beat politics column, Tales from the Trail, and where it is going from here. You can find Tales from the Trail here.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

One drawback to covering politics for a living is that you end up riding on a lot of campaign buses.

I've been a passenger on hundreds of them – some very fancy, others very plain. Some were reasonably comfortable; others were hot and sweaty and gave one the distinct impression mechanical failure was imminent and you might have to find an alternate mode of transportation.

But there was only campaign bus I rode on that was pulled over by the Ohio Highway Patrol for speeding.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

Every presidential administration has its own way of getting its message out to the American people.

That's something we expect. Something we didn't expect was presidential communication via Twitter.

But that's another story for another day.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

Charles P. Taft II – better known to generations of Cincinnati voters as "Charlie" – is a Cincinnati politician I never knew; he passed away in 1983, the year after I arrived in Cincinnati as an Enquirer reporter. I was one of two Enquirer reporters assigned to write his obituary. 

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

For Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan, the Cincinnati Democrat, 1974 was supposed to be a very good year.

He was a candidate for re-election to a second term as governor, facing the former Republican governor James A. Rhodes.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

This is about the time I didn't interview Bob Dole.

Sounds like a rather odd thing to write about, but stick with me; there's a pretty good story behind it.

It was the early fall of 1996. Dole, a Kansas senator,  had just stepped down as majority leader to campaign full-time for president.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

There aren't a whole lot of perks to being a politics reporter.

Not complaining, mind you. But it's not usually very glamorous work.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

I am a recovering smoker. A recovering heavy smoker.

I smoked day and night; and nearly everything I did during the course of a day triggered the urge to light up – getting up in the morning, having my first cup of coffee, driving to work, taking a break from writing.

Everything.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Having been one of millions of little kids in this country who worshipped John H. Glenn Jr. when, as a Mercury astronaut, he became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, it still boggles my mind that as an adult, I got to know him so well.

But it never really occurred to me that, in 1988, I would be sitting on the couch with Glenn in his hotel suite at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, trading political buttons with him.

But I did.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

I cut my teeth as a young reporter on one of the toughest nuts to crack in Ohio political history – the late James A. Rhodes, four-term governor of the Buckeye State.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

There are an awful lot of people who knew Morris K. Udall – better known as "Mo" ­– who believe he would have made a great president of the United States.

The Arizona Democrat served in the U.S. House for 30 years until the effects of Parkinson's Disease forced him into retirement in 1991.

WVXU-FM

WVXU reporter Howard Wilkinson talked with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik Monday morning about the phenomenon of Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval. Wilkinson also talked about a new column which will appear on Saturdays at wvxu.org - Tales from the Trail, a light-hearted behind-the-scenes look at over 40 years of covering politics. 

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