An “Almost” Encounter with Joe Biden
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By Leslie Linsley
Hey Joe, come on in out of the cold,” I would have said. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and the Secret Service cars, all three of them, were parked alongside the front windows of my shop in the middle of Nantucket Island. The vice president was following his usual tradition of spending the holiday weekend with his family on the island. Friends had brushed shoulders with him on Main Street, even asked him to pose for impromptu photo ops, to which he gladly complied. We heard he stopped with his family at the local drugstore soda fountain. Maybe even swiveled on the old-fashioned stools at the counter while his grandkids sipped frappes – right out of a Norman Rockwell illustration. A friend of mine asked him to sign the back of her Obama campaign button, a permanent fixture on her coat lapel. “Would he do some Christmas shopping in my store?” I wondered aloud to the customers who were more interested in the parked SUVs with Washington plates blocking my store windows, than the display of merchandise inside the store.
Ralph, Joe Biden’s Secret Service (not so secret in our tiny town) driver was taking a break from the cold and windy day while keeping a watchful eye on my large storefront windows for any possible wrong-doing but more likely for a glimpse of the family he was protecting. His earpiece radio was obvious, but he kept up an amiable chatter about the embarrassing event of the recent White House crashers, politely answering my questions.
“Is the vice president allowed to accept gifts?” I asked my new BFF Ralph as I blithely inscribed a copy of my latest book, “A Nantucket Christmas.” “I guess you’d like him to take it back to the White House?” Ralph asked. “Well, he is here at Christmas time and it would be a nice remembrance of his time here,” I responded, not wanting to appear too presumptuous.
I turned away to answer a customer’s question and just like that, when I turned back they were gone – all three cars, Ralph and the other two drivers, a man who I was told was a teacher in another life and a woman who had been a biologist. “They come from all walks of life,” Ralph answered when I asked about the people who get jobs like his. Just as fast as they had arrived, the motorcade that had been flown here in the belly of a cargo plane had disappeared. A call came, they responded instantly. What was I thinking? The vice president would never go looking for his driver, his driver would respond to his call for a pick-up. It was four in the afternoon. It was getting dark. The vice president and his family had been shopping in town for over two hours. They were obviously headed back to the home of their hosts. I imagined a room full of supporters having cocktails and catered goodies out on Washing Pond Road. I had been in his host’s home, even photographed it for another of my books, “Nantucket Island Living.” The day ended uneventfully. I still had the signed Christmas book.
On Monday the streets of Nantucket looked as though a vacuum had come by and sucked up every living body. My store was empty, my assistant was rearranging things and I was on the phone. I happened to look up as a good-looking couple walked toward the shop at a fast clip. Heads bent toward each other they were intent in conversation – only aware of each other. I was looking at their clothing, so out of place on a winter day in Nantucket. He was wearing a dark suit and a purple shirt, no outer coat. She, blonde, casually coiffed and trim also in a black suit with a purple wool scarf wrapped artfully around her neck. They walked briskly by, purposefully as though they had to be somewhere, certainly no time for window-shopping. I was on delay, so into their clothing, thinking “what a nice looking couple, Did they coordinate their wardrobe on purpose?” And in a flash – too late! I knew who they were. I wanted to race after them pathetically clutching my signed book to thrust upon him. But of course I didn’t.
On Tuesday night I watched the television as President Obama gave his speech about ending the war in Afghanistan. I wanted another glimpse of Joe Biden because after my near brush with fame, but all I have is a book that reads on the inside page, “For Joe Biden, Happy Holidays on Nantucket, Leslie Linsley”, that I now can’t even sell!
– Leslie Linsley writes the “Home Style” column for The Inquirer and Mirror