First things first. A lot of people are reacting to the news of Sen. John McCain’s brain tumor as if he just died. Big mistake. I would not put it past the man to “beat the rap” and live another 20 years.
So this story is not to be taken as an obituary. It just happens to be one of my favorite memories of a great man who is in the news lately.
Is this your car?
In 1994, I was in my second semester of graduate school and got a job offer I couldn’t refuse. I was hired to be the office manager for the Casper, Wyoming campaign headquarters of “Craig Thomas for Senate.” Congressman Thomas was running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the venerable Sen. Malcolm Wallop and was going up against a good friend and popular Democratic governor – Gov. Mike Sullivan. I made arrangements to continue my spring semester classes and began working for the campaign in late February 1994.
I was a college student that was lucky enough to have my own car – a 1984 Buick Century Limited that was in perfect condition. I loved that car. Unfortunately, a few months after setting up shop in Casper, a woman driving a compact car blew a red light near downtown resulting in me T-boning her and totaling both our cars. I ended up getting a bit more money out of it than I expected, and one of my friends working on the campaign told me about a car that a friend was selling. It was a 1991 Lincoln Continental Signature. White, burgundy leather, sunroof, JBL sound system…pimp-mobile.
Of course, I bought it. It was ridiculous.
Fast forward a month or so. The campaign was in full swing. Both the Republican and Democratic National Committees were putting a lot of money into Wyoming because it was deemed a potential Dem pickup. Gov. (later Ambassador) Sullivan is a good and honorable man, and he was a popular governor in conservative Wyoming. Craig was also popular and had made his mark as a Congressman in his first few years. That kind of contest meant bringing in the big guns. For the Republicans in mid-1994, that meant a fundraiser in Casper with Charlton Heston and U.S. Senator John McCain.
As luck would have it, I was asked to go pick up Senator McCain at the Casper airport. I was lucky enough to have met him when I interned for one of Wyoming’s favorite son’s, U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, although I had no expectation in the world that Sen. McCain would remember that. I made sure I was early and pulled up outside the terminal in my amazing new (to me) Lincoln Continental. Out he came, and I secured him quickly and got him into the car. Without hesitation, he tossed his stuff in the backseat and sat down in the front. A man of the people.
We had about 10-15 minutes of travel time between the airport and the event location, and true to form, Sen. McCain was interested to know who I was and how I came to work on the campaign. As I gave him my brief biography, talked about my time as an intern with Sen. Simpson, and recounted the time I had met him outside the Senate chambers, I could not help but notice that Sen. McCain was distracted. He looked around the front of the car, turned to look around the back seat, up and out of the sunroof, and then turned to me.
“Is this your car?” he asked, incredulously.
“Yes, sir,” I answered.
“Son, how much is Craig paying you?”
I only had about two minutes to explain the whole tale. To this day, I have the memory of his half smile, snickering slightly under his breath as he got out of the car and grabbed his stuff. If you have seen him do it, then you know exactly what it looks and sounds like.
Sen. John McCain got to ride in my pimp-mobile – and we had a pretty good laugh about it. That’s my John McCain moment, and it is one of my favorite memories.