I had pretty much a 100-percent-certain chance to meet George W. Bush today if I’d wanted to do it. I say “pretty much” only because nothing in life is absolutely certain. But I could have done it. Didn’t do it.
My second stop in a chain of urgent errands was at Costco, where an unusual number of uniformed security personnel with solemn faces had assembled in front, and many more inside. A sign at the entrance said that George W. Bush would be at Costco for a book signing to promote his new book 41: A Portrait of My Father. The angle is clever—a presidential biography by a son who was also a president—but not unique. John Quincy Adams also wrote about ninety pages of a biography of his father, but the effort was interrupted and he never finished it. And GWB has never written a biography of himself. Frankly, I doubt if he could without a ghostwriter. The younger Mr. Bush is not a literary type.
Once inside, I went about my business, which took me to most parts of the store. Toward the very back there was already a line of perhaps seventy-five people behind yellow police tape that formed an entry chute. Mr. Bush was not there yet, but a crowd had begun to arrive.
That Mr. Bush has written this just-released biography of his father was not news to me, and I had decided that it doesn’t interest me. I’ve read over a dozen US presidential biographies, most of them in my personal library, some of them outstanding, some of them not. On my shelf already is a biography of George H.W. Bush (a.k.a. “41”, his son is “43”—but you knew that, right?), written by Herbert S. Parmet, which I do intend to read sometime when I can get around to it because GHWB was a pretty interesting guy in his day. (Don’t know if it’s supposed to be good.) Maybe I’ll even get to it in 2015, but there’s a lot of books ahead of it right now.
You can probably think of good reasons to suspect I’d rather read GWB’s version of the story. After all, there haven’t been any people closer to the source who would also be able to understand the unique pressures that come upon a US president. The irony is there isn’t a thing I can think of that GWB (43) might have to say about any subject—even about his father—that I’m much interested in. What a pity.
Some guy walked up to a security guy near me and asked where The Man was. The SG asked him if he had any electronic devices on him—a phone or tablet. The inquirer said no, so the friendly SG directed him to the end of the line. I can think of some reasons why they’d rather not have people armed with phones (seeking to take selfies or record conversations) around a former president. Or maybe GWB himself prefers not to have any more of his unedited thoughts recorded and tweeted to the world. That didn’t work out too well for him in the past, as I recall.
Upon rumbling my cart to the very back row, I couldn’t reach what I wanted because it was on the other side of the yellow tape, so I gave up. I didn’t want my life to end in a pool of blood from an attempt to break a security line to get at some Kleenex.
On the way out of Costco, I checked the sign again and saw it was still a little while before Bush would arrive.
I’ve never met a US president, current or former, nor even knowingly been in the near vicinity of one, but I’ll admit that it would be a memorable experience as a sort of bucket list item to shake hands, introduce myself, and all the better, get his autograph on a book. Yeah, I’d have to buy the book to do it. That’s okay. And having gone that far, I’d read it, too, because I usually read the books I buy.
Great respect for the office and for anyone who holds or has held it obliges me to regard the possibility of meeting a current or ex-president as a privilege. Persons who know me are well aware that I’m strictly apolitical and my reasons for that—the vogue term is neutral, which does not mean apathetic and certainly does not mean uninformed. (Don’t get me started on that subject.) So it doesn’t really matter exactly who it might happen to be; a meeting is still an honor. (The number of choices at any given time are limited, currently only four.)
Be assured, too, that I’m not in the least bit intimidated about meeting or talking to high political officials, the rich, well-educated, or intelligent, or those who possess some combination of those attributes. People who accomplish big things in their lives can usually be counted on to be sources of stimulating conversation, if you have the opportunity to pursue it before being pushed away to make room for the next plebeian.
If I’d wanted to do it—and I certainly had that option—I would have had to deposit my purchases in the car, dump my cell phone, get in line, stand there for a while, and buy one of the books, because selling books was the whole purpose of the visit. Copies had been removed from the book tables in the store (I looked), so if I’d wanted one today I would have had to stand in that line and obtain it that way … and presumably also meet the author and get it autographed. The signature would increase its value if I wanted to turn it over—which I wouldn’t, because I would have read it, and when I read history books (I read a lot of history books) I also would have annotated it, rendering it worthless to someone else. But I really didn’t want to go the trouble. So I passed up the experience.
Maybe if I’d known about the event before I went to Costco and didn’t have so much other stuff to do, I might have planned for it and done it, just to be able to say I did. But I didn’t.
Yeah, it would be a fun and memorable experience meet a president or ex-president and have his autograph on a book. So maybe some other time … and preferably some other guy.
 Washington, John Adams, Madison, Lincoln, Garfield, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton, with Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush unread ones on the shelf and a couple more that I’d like to get to before calling it quits. (Not all US presidents are interesting.)