Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hangin' in Philly with the President of the U.S.

Hi from Philadelphia. The last time I was in the City of Brotherly Love in October it was with the President of the United States. We hung out in someone’s backyard.

I guess you want an explanation, huh?

Fall 1980. My partner David and I sold a pilot to ABC. It was about the White House Press Corps. We sort of pictured the young David Letterman as a hotshot reporter who slept around. Even though he wasn’t strictly an actor we felt he could play that. Judging by recent headlines I’d say we were right.

For research purposes we managed to obtain credentials to temporarily join the press corps. We spent two days at the White House. All that great banter you heard on WEST WING as staffers moved through the halls – we heard none of that. For the most part journalists are confined to the press room where crackling dialogue is replaced by constant bitching.

On the third day we got to make a campaign swing. President Jimmy Carter was vying for a second term. He had as much chance as Al Sharpton but we didn’t know that at the time.

This was the President’s itinerary: Fly to Dayton, Ohio. Speak at a town hall meeting. Fly to Philadelphia. Motor to Upper Darby and speak at an informal backyard town meeting. Then fly back to D.C…. in time for dinner.

We awoke and watched the TODAY SHOW where Jane Pauley rattled off the itinerary and showed the house. How bizarre to think I was actually going to be there.

We zipped out to Andrews Air Force Base and boarded the press plane. When the President travels there is always a press plane that accompanies Air Force One. He takes off first so we can cover that and then we land first so we are in place to cover his arrival. Air Force One has to basically kill time in the air for a few minutes while we land and get settled. I always thought they should do some loop-de-loops, have a little fun up there in the air.

We completed the Dayton portion of the campaign swing and headed for Philly, Pa. There was no such thing as seat belts and tray tables up . These reporters were forever walking down the aisles, leaning over backrests, having conversations while powering down candy bars and beer. Even through heavy turbulence. David and I meanwhile, strapped ourselves in and had death grips on the armrests.

Landing in Philadelphia we were ushered to a waiting bus. Once President Carter arrived and shook hands with Jack Bauer or whoever was in the greeting party we joined Carter’s motorcade and headed for Upper Darby. If you ever get a chance to be in a presidential motorcade do it. Rush hour in Philly and we barreled right through the city. All the streets were blocked off and there were stopped cars for miles. It must’ve really sucked for those million-plus commuters but it was sure cool for David and me, speeding through red lights. Yeah, baby!!

We pulled up at this suburban house (it looked better on the TODAY SHOW) and scrambled off the bus. We were led to the backyard. These were the days before cellphones (if you can even imagine that) so a bank of phones had been nailed to what seemed like a 2X4 nailed to a backyard tree.

Chairs were set up for about fifty hand-picked blue-haired supporters. We were in a roped off area – unfortunately within arm’s reach of a large platter of homemade cookies. Within seconds they were gone.

President Carter came out of the house and addressed the group. I thought to myself, “this is just surreal. Here I am, standing in a stranger’s yard in a town I’ve never been, elbow to elbow with Sam Donaldson, Robert Novack, Helen Thomas, and Leslie Stahl, mere feet away from the leader of the free world, who is perched on a high stool, the family barbeque shoved into the corner. On the other side of the wooden fence are armed gunmen in the alley. Overhead is a Marine helicopter. I was sure one of the shooters in the chopper was going to take out one of the reporters for hoarding a bunch of cookies.

Two hours later David and I were eating lobster in a Georgetown seafood grotto. We stopped at one point to say, “What the fuck just happened?”

The pilot never got picked up. And of course, neither did Carter. But it was one of the great days of my life. And now I’m back, hanging with another icon who will be forever remembered in the pages of United States history – the Phillie Phanatic.


Mel Ryane said...

Your experience was a dream...tonight in Philadelphia, a nightmare.

Ergo: Life is better when you write it than when you watch it.

Paul Duca said...

That's an interesting (and funny) story, as usual. Were you aware that a few years later Showtime aired a one=off pilot or just such a show about the White House press corps I believe it was called "Good Morning, Mr. President", and the main plot focused on finding out why the President was being secretive..requiring a liaison with an amorous White House secretary (apparently the males of the corps took turns on that duty).

WV brastraf-something a man tries to unhitcf

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

"If you ever get a chance to be in a presidential motorcade do it."

Ah, yea. Right after the Queen invites me for tea.

That's such a fine line! Thank you!!

gottacook said...

I hate to nitpick, but the White House briefing room photo can't have been from the Carter administration -- the oval "The White House / Washington" logo behind the podium didn't appear until the term of Carter's successor, about whom the less said the better.

Anonymous said...

Funny story Ken, thanks for sharing.

D. McEwan said...

I could see Letterman playing that, but wasn't that right around when he had his disastrous morning talk show?

I think he's probably been wise to avoid taking acting roles, a lesson Roseanne Barr (or whatever last name she wants to use) never learned. She was never as good as her show was. (She kept bitching about not winning any acting Emmys. Well duh, Roseanne.) Jay Leno learned that lesson the hard way. I saw that one movie he did where he played a major supporting role. So not an actor.

I did not know that bit about the president taking off first and landing second. Interesting detail. And here I thought Clinton would just tell the pilot "Once more around the city, and keep your eyes on the sky."

Did you ever actually get to talk with President Carter? I met him a few years ago. The only presidential autograph I have is his, though I shook hands with both Nixon (IT BURNS! IT BURNS!) and Clinton. Carter is an interesting man. Mediocre president, but a GREAT ex-president.

carol said...

If you are still in Philly at the weekend and have time to kill, and find yourself with the uncontrollable urge to see talanted amateurs perform Merchant of Venice, come to Haddonfield Friends just over the bridge to see the Collingswood Shakespeare Company.

I'm not in this one, so promise you won't discover anyone, though. I'd be jealous.

Sean D. said...

Ah, 1980 and Philly. As a Kansas City Royals fan, that combination is still a painful one.

WV- "ditipah": Father of a ditty

John said...

Hey, if Carter had dumped Mondale and run with the Philly Phanatic in 1980, he might have had a chance. Or at least if he had said in the debate he was told by the Phanatic and not Amy that the most important issue in the world was nuclear proliferation he would have had a better chance that November (Don't foget the Phils won their first World Series in 1980, so the Phanatic had a lot of clout in that fall's election...)

LinGin said...

My baseball team scored more points yesterday than my football team.

Roger Owen Green said...

A fun story.

Non sequitur: How do the Eagles lose to the Raiders?

Picky dept: Lesley Stahl, not Leslie. Robert Novak, not Novack.

Pamela Jaye said...

"It must’ve really sucked for those million-plus commuters but it was sure cool for David and I,"

oh please. it's bad enough when writers write supposed intelligent TV characters making this type of error, but in your own voice?

shouldn't it be for David and me?

(really, it *is* annoying when smart, learned, TV characters, who probably went to college, unlike me, do this)

Back to unreality. Years ago I started to write a fac fiction-ish story about an actor who was playing press secretary to a senator and had a girlfriend who was a reporter. I was definitely ripping off The Powers That Be (except the Press guy was my lead, not the Senator) and we tossed in the reporter girlfriend for conflict (and cause I didn't want my star/character to have met her in a bar).

Never finished the story but it did lead me to curiosity as to how TV is made and a bit of curiosity about how DC works.

a few months after we started (a friend was "writing" with me. on IRC) Spin City premiered. sadly, the girlfriend was written out of that pretty quickly.

Thanks for that flashback to the 80s, though.
(One odd thing about Jimmy Carter: I can name 3 people who got their first job through CETA)

Anonymous said...

can you believe a girl is reading about sports. lol :) i can't help it i love it!

mandie reed

Mary Stella said...

1980 -- Memorable for me for two reasons. 1) The Phillies won the World Series. 2) I was working at a radio station in Asbury Park and Chip Carter visited to stump for his father during the primary. He ran around shaking hands. Even though I was on the phone with a client, Chip stuck his hand out at me. I was so flustered that I forgot I was holding a pen and stabbed him in the hand.

To the commentor who asked how the hell the Eagles lost to the Raiders, I don't know but if you figure it out, please call Andy Reid.

Ken, I'm a big fan of yours so normally I'd have sympathy for you about your baseball team's loss last night, but ... there's no sympathy in baseball when it's my team that scored 11 runs against the Dodgers while our pitcher completely shut down your lineup.

The Philly Phanatic is the best mascot in sports!

Go Phillies!!

By Ken Levine said...

It always read "David and me", he said while trying to gaslight Pamela Jaye.

Pamela Jaye said...

It could be worse. I was watching, last night, a rerun (well, technically it was a recording, not a rerun) of Big Bing Theory, and Sheldon said "very unique." Modifying "unique" is a big bugaboo around here. I think I may have heard Spock make some odd grammatical error as well - and I find them both.... out of character for characters who are so precise about things. (on that front, I'm more sure about Sheldon than Spock)

I have a friend who is a proofreader. Every time I write something in her ...viewing area, I have to stop and go back and correct my grammar.
(my typing is beyond help)

Patrrick said...

Man, this blog (and it's commentors) just never ceases to entertain me. Being Philly born, an Eagle hater child of a one time Philly Daily News sports writer. But also a Phillies lover, grandson of a one time Irish bookie from 2nd and Ritner (Those who know the neighborhood -- it would appear that there are several on here who do, will I'm sure, have a response. But I doubt that Ken got down there this weekend even though he was only a few miles away) -- I have to say that this weeks posts are just great. Love the Phillies/Dodgers posts -- just love them.

And then I see someone commenting on the Collingswood Shakespeare Company. Who'd of thought? Such a small, massive community we live in. Being a graduate of Collingsweood Senior High (1983, for Carol), and having bolted from the Jersey burbs of Philly to study theatre in NYC, I am so blown away by the convergences here, that I'm spewing all this personal non-sense about myself. Can't help it though.

Thanks again for the entertainment, Ken -- personal and genereal.

And for allowing me to go off here, I have a treat for Ken. You could probably get a hundred suggestions for a good cheesesteak. But you're about to get one from a kid who used to walk up to the stadiums in a gang of Irish troublemakers, with a dollar in his pocket. Fifty cents for the ticket to get a seat in the "nose bleed" section of the Vet -- innevitably though we would end up in the 'brown seats" down by the field, always in the process of being chased by the seat attendants. And fifty cents for a hot dog and a soda. But if you were agile enough to get over the twenty foot fence without being caught by gate security, you had three hot dogs, instead of one ... but I seriously digress.

Anyway Ken, if you haven't been before, you have to go to the Melrose Diner for a cheesesteak. Apparently they've gotten a bit of a bad rep over the last twenty years, but they've been there for over fifty years, so ... Besides it's right near Citizen's and you are better off at a deli, or a diner for a quality cheesesteak than you are at the Cheese Whiz Factories.

And if you'll indulge one last note, ask one of your box attendants for a woman named Suesanne. She's a bit wacky -- she may show you a picture of her pet boxer dressed in full Phillies gear -- but she knows the lay of the land down there. She's my older sister, ao I know she'll definately give you more options than the Melrose Diner -- I haven't been to the neigborhood in like twenty years. Anyway, in addition to hooking you up with the best cheesesteak you've ever had, she's bound to give a story, or two about South Philly sports fans. And that's always entertaining.

Sorry to take up so much space, but I just couldn't resist -- and excuse again, but GO FIGHTIN' PHILS!

Pamela Jaye said...

PS - I'm still thinking about the bank of phones in the backyard. Don't know why that fascinates me but it does.

Pamela Jaye said...

Oh, and now that I've been impolite (I did mean to soften that grammar thing. something distracted me.) I was wondering. I know you have shown clips from Almost Perfect. Is/are the scene(s) where Kim is directing and Mike is an extra too long to YouTube. I think that/those was/were my favorite(s) is the whole series (that I got to see. didn't know when they were airing the rest on cable).

dramity - a dramatic reality show?

tb said...

So what, you didn't bark a few questions at Jimmy? You didn't try to out-shout Donaldson? What silly question did you two come up with over lobster that you should've asked?

AHF said...

What are your thoughts on "the neighborhood play"?

YEKIMI said...

Pamela Jaye said... I was watching, last night, a rerun (well, technically it was a recording, not a rerun) of Big Bing Theory.

The Big Bing that where Microsoft has a theory that their search engine can outdo Googles?

Pamela Jaye said...