“You’d think if the President was coming, you would have dressed up,” my co-worker says to me.
I froze, eyes wide, hands outstretched. “What? Really? Today? When?”
“Yes, soon”, my co-worker said. “You won’t have time to change.”
“Soon” became evident when the Secret Service agents came into the offices, walked around and decided they needed to have somebody stationed right outside my corner office with adjacent floor-to-ceiling windows across from a parking garage. Later on, I found out I wasn’t going to be able to leave, anyway. Our building was on lockdown, the high-end shopping plaza our offices were in was cordoned off and traffic around that area was being diverted.
At the time, I was working for George’s youngest son Marvin at a start-up hedge fund. Through this job I had already met a variety of famous people: an ESPN star, an NBA agent, an NFL quarterback. I always figured it was a possibility that Dad (now less than two years removed from the Presidency) would show up to the office one day. And I sort of tried to figure out how I would handle that moment. Now, I was really having to figure it out. I decided to take a passive approach thinking he was here to see his son and there was no reason for me to pursue an interaction. If one happened, I decided to keep it simple and basic with some kind of, “It’s an honor to meet you sir.”
And then it happened. HE WALKS INTO MY OFFICE!!! I get out of my chair and walk towards him warily keeping an eye on that Secret Service agent outside my door. He smiled, stuck out his hand and said, “Hi. I’m George Bush.”
The just recently most powerful person in the world casually introduced himself as if we were meeting at a networking event?
At this point all my preparation went out the window. Making matters worse was the fact that I’d seen him on TV so much that he looked familiar. And he was less physically imposing than my fantasy of what a leader of the free world was supposed to look like. And he sticks out his hand and says, “Hi. I’m George Bush.”
My response? I shook his hand and said, “Howya doin’?”
OMG, Ray. You just said what to George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States?
“Howya doin’?” Seriously????
And much to my delight, it went uphill from there. A congressman recently said about him, “He was kind. He gave everyone a smile, a handshake and respect.” That was exactly what I experienced. He didn’t treat me like he was President of the United States. And because of his totally disarming manner, I didn’t feel like I had to treat him like he was, either. We ended up having a delightful conversation in my office, two strangers getting to know one another – albeit with the Secret Service guy standing outside the door.
Moreover, he honored my request to sign something personal to me. What that thing is doesn’t matter and as a memento of that day, it’s taken on a new meaning for me, anyway.
R.I.P. Mr. President.