Ed. note: Howard Wilkinson launched his "Tales from the Trail" column on July 15, 2017, in an effort to take you behind the scenes of politics and hear some of the funny—and occasionally outright bizarre—situations that happen on the campaign trail. Since Wilkinson has been covering politics for more than 40 years, he has plenty of stories to tell. To mark the one-year anniversary of his column, we are republishing Wilkinson's first-ever "Tales from the Trail" here today.
When you are traveling with a candidate – particularly a candidate for president – there are all sorts of obstacles you must overcome.
Lack of sleep, paucity of food, not enough time between campaign rallies and events to file your stories, being herded into buses and planes like cattle and corralled into pens during the campaign events so that you can barely see or hear what is going on.
And, if you are me, you have the occasional police dog attacking and nearly destroying your laptop.
This actually happened to me, thankfully only once.
It was October 2008. I was working for the Enquirer. Photographer/videographer Michael E. Keating – my partner on many a campaign trip – and I were assigned to cover candidate Barack Obama on a two-day bus tour which began in Dayton, swung through southern Ohio and ended in Columbus.
The first event on the tour was a rally at Fifth Third Field in Dayton, the ball park that is home to the Dayton Dragons, the Reds' class A farm club.
Keating and I hit the road early for Dayton and ended up parking in a lot beyond the left field wall of the ball park.
That was the media entrance for the rally, in a ball park where the seating bowl was already full and so too was the infield in front of the makeshift stage where the candidate would speak.
At the media entrance, there were at least 10 police officers and Secret Service agents, along with campaign people issuing credentials for the media types who were going to travel on throughout the two-day campaign swing.
After getting our credentials, we had to go through the obligatory "sweep."
This is something which happens at every event where a candidate with Secret Service protection is present. The agents and the police "sweep" all the equipment that the media brings in – laptops, still cameras, video cameras, audio recorders, boom mics and the like.
As is often the case, the sweep is conducted by police with bomb-sniffing dogs, followed by a search of equipment bags by the agents.
Things were moving very quickly; there was a media mob trying to go through.
I'd had the screen flipped up on my laptop and sat it on the ground for the dogs to sniff.
An Ohio Highway Patrol officer with a huge German Shepherd on a leash was going down the line of equipment. The German Shepherd came to my laptop and began to sniff.
Not good, I thought, this shouldn’t take this long.
Then, for no apparent reason, the bomb-sniffing dog went wild and began scratching furiously at the keyboard of my laptop.
Suddenly, keys started flying into the air, landing on the ground. To me, it was as if it were all happening in slow-motion -- Noooooo….Not my keyboard!
The dog stopped and moved on, leaving me scrambling to pick up keys scattered on the outfield grass. Keating was laughing. The cops were laughing.
I don't see what you guys think is funny about this, I hollered. I'm dead in the water without this laptop.
As I assessed the damage, it became quickly obvious that this stupid dog had torn off every single numerical key on the laptop, along with all the symbols attached to them like dollar signs and ampersands and the like.
One cop decided to rub salt in the wound.
That dog seemed real interested in that computer, the cop said, eyeing me warily. Maybe we should take another look at that one.
Cookie crumbs, I said. I used the laptop last night at home and I was eating cookies. Some crumbs fell between the keys. That's what the dumb dog smells. Cookie crumbs.
The Secret Service and the cops conferred briefly and decided to let me go.
The first phone call I made was to my editor back in Cincinnati, explaining what happened.
Look, I said, here's what we are going to have to do – when I use a number in a story I'll have to spell it out – such as "the population of Scioto County is approximately seventy-seven thousand." The same goes for dollar signs, ampersands, brackets, hash marks and exclamation points.
This did not make said editor very happy, because it slowed down the editing process and made more work for him.
Not to mention me.
Later in the day, after a huge Obama rally at Ault Park in Cincinnati, the campaign buses roared out State Route 32 and took a hard right on U.S. 68 in Brown County. Word spread on the press bus that we were making an unscheduled stop in Georgetown on the way to Portsmouth for a night rally at Shawnee State University.
Indeed, that was the plan. The bus caravan rolled off U.S. 68 and into Georgetown, pulling into the parking lot of a local restaurant called The Fireside Restaurant.
The restaurant was crowded; and Obama went straight to work, doing what he does best – working the crowd. He shook hands with every patron, posed for photos, even bought some of the Fireside's homemade pies (strawberry), which he paid for out of his own pocket.
Ted Strickland, Ohio's then-governor, was with him. Strickland made the mistake of coming up to me, very cheerfully, asking me if I was enjoying the trip.
No, I am not enjoying the trip. I am not enjoying the trip because your dog tried to destroy my laptop.
Strickland looked at me quizzically; clearly, I was babbling and he had no idea what I was talking about.
One of your Ohio Highway Patrol dogs, a bomb-sniffer, tore into my laptop at Fifth Third Field in Dayton and did a lot of damage! You're the governor; you're in charge of the Ohio Highway Patrol, so it's your dog.
Strickland just stood there with his mouth open. He was looking at me as if I were some three-headed alien from another planet.
Never mind. I'll just send the state of Ohio the bill, I said.
Well, it never came to that. After I got back in Cincinnati, one of our techies fixed it in a couple of minutes, popping one keyboard out and snapping a new one into place.
And, yes, I apologized to the governor for my rant the next time I saw him.