The Nerdy Reporter And The Supermodel
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.
Yes, you meet a lot of famous politicians, from presidents on down the line, but, after a while, that becomes the commonplace and it doesn't impress anybody, except maybe your mother.
But every once in a while, a genuine, gilt-edged perk comes along. And once in an even greater while, you will meet someone – some non-politician – whose genuine celebrity knocks your socks off.
One of those perks came when I spent a week in the lap of luxury at the Century Plaza Hotel in the Century City section of Los Angeles. Now, how can you go wrong in a hotel with a street address of 2025 Avenue of the Stars?
This was in the summer of 2000, when the historic and glamorous hotel was still in its hey-day. Since then, the hotel part has been trimmed down in a $2.5 billion overhaul, with massive condominium towers built behind the crescent-shaped hotel.
In 2000, it was one ritzy joint.
So how does a working stiff like me end up living the high life in a world-famous hotel?
Well, work, of course. I was covering the Democratic National Convention for the Cincinnati Enquirer and that required staying in the hotel assigned to the Ohio delegation.
Which just happened to be the Century Plaza. Ohio and its 170 delegates were sharing the hotel with the 294-member New York delegation.
I can't say I spent a whole lot of time in the hotel; at these things. A reporter covering a presidential nomination convention starts before the crack of dawn and doesn't rest his or her head on one of the hotel's big, fancy, fluffy pillows until the wee hours of the morning.
I spent more time in the room writing stories on a laptop and shooting them back to Cincinnati than I did sleeping.
Every morning, there was a delegation breakfast, and, because Ohio was a key state, the delegates were entertained at the breakfasts by big-name Democrats, who would come in and give a quick pep talk and move on to another hotel and another breakfast.
But the breakfasts were a good time to have all of your delegates in one place at the same time; and you could nail down more stories of interest to the readers back home than you could on the floor of the convention hall, which in this case was the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was, if I recall correctly, the second day of the four-day convention. I had gone to the delegation breakfast, gone up to my room, and knocked out three or four short stories, which I sent back to Cincinnati.
Before catching the shuttle from the Century Plaza to the Staples Center for the evening convention session, I had to catch a cab to an even ritzier boutique hotel in Beverly Hills, where I had an interview set up with one of the Ohio Democratic Party's principal rain-makers. "Rain-maker," in politics, is short for very rich person who raises boatloads of money for the party.
I was at the taxi stand outside the Century Plaza, in a large group of people, waiting for a cab.
I was near the front; and I became vaguely aware that, standing next to me, was a blonde woman in a red dress. At first, I paid no attention to her. Then I happened to look over at her and made eye contact.
Perhaps the greatest supermodel of all time, featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue for three consecutive years. Model, actress, artist entrepreneur.
The Christie Brinkley.
And she smiled at me. I mean a big smile. That CoverGirl smile.
Hello, she said.
She said 'hello," I'm thinking. My head is spinning. I finally came up with a response.
Hello, I said.
(Brilliant, I thought. Why am I such a lunkhead?)
She looked at the lanyard around my neck and saw the credentials that identified me as part of the media contingent with the Ohio delegation.
Oh, you're from Ohio, she said. We're neighbors this week!
She explained that she was there as a super-delegate from the state of New York, there to cast her vote for Vice President Al Gore as the nominee of her party.
I've never been to one of these before; it's so exciting.
I did my grizzled-veteran routine and told Christie that the Democratic convention in Los Angeles was my 10th presidential nominating convention and that I had been in Philadelphia a few weeks before to watch the Republicans nominate George W. Bush.
You've seen a lot!
Well, I said, I suppose so.
"But that's my job," I said. I wasn't done saying stupid things: "It's not as interesting as your life."
Oh, dear, what you do is important. We need people like you.
I puffed up a bit.
Christie started looking around nervously.
I expected my driver to be here by now, she said.
She was waiting for her car and her driver – and not just any car or any driver. Her car. Her driver. I was ready to take whatever beat-up yellow cab came my way.
I asked her how she became a super-delegate.
The Gore campaign asked me because I have been so involved in environmental issues. I've been active in trying to shut down nuclear power plants. I have three children. I care about the kind of world we are going to leave for them.
The fact that she is a celebrity, she said, doesn't require her to give up her voice as a concerned citizen.
This has been an amazing experience. I've met so many interesting people. People like you.
I started babbling something to thank her that probably sounded to her like I was speaking in tongues. Still, she smiled. Then, her limo pulled up.
I handed her a business card.
Let me know if your work ever brings you to Ohio, I said.
Oh, I will….it's been so nice chatting with you. Have a wonderful day.
And then the limo door shut; the driver pulled out onto the Avenue of the Stars and she was gone.
You have no idea how long I waited for that phone call that never came.
Easy come, easy go.