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It’s Conference Eve — Do You Know Where Your Colleagues Are?

January 4, 2008, 1:31 am

This is how you know History is Happening: change over time. Seriously, I don’t think I have ever attended the AHA during the Iowa caucuses, in Washington, ever before. In fact, this would have been impossible in the last election cycle because the caucuses have never been this early in the entire history of our republic. I ate tonight in an American style restaurant in Adams-Morgan, and all the gay folk were coming to dinner after a long, hard day running the country. There was lots of interesting political chat among the single folk at the counter, of which I was one this evening. The prediction among the young politicos was that the Clinton machine is too powerful to stop, but that Iowa is always too quirky to call. Go figure. Meanwhile, there was a huge flat screened TV, with no sound and the court reporter thing going on so that you could read what Wolf Blitzer was saying, listen to the hip music the restaurant was playing, and talk to Congressman Forehead’s liaison for suitcases full of money, all at the same time. And of course, there is nothing to know at this point because, being Midwesterners, they were still serving pie and chatting at the “Live” caucuses CNN was showing us.

So different from our primaries in the Northeast, where we truck people in from retirement homes, flip the knobs that they can’t see, duct tape their hands to the lever and let them collapse gently to the floor. Democracy has many different faces I guess.

My favorite part of the coverage, however, was that the court reporter doing the teletype thingy couldn’t seem to get Hillary’s name right: once it came out Hilly, and once Silly (“a vast right-wing conspiracy….”)

As to conference travel, it was blighted as always. I flew down here against my better judgement since I am heading down to see my niece in Florida for a few days after the meeting, and logistically, a three corner trip like that makes more sense on planes than on trains, if you know what I mean. This was the only leg of the trip that was not non-stop, and they still screwed it up. My itinerary said that the plane would go from Hartford to JFK, where it would land, I would wait on the plane, and it would take off 25 minutes later, landing at BWI at 3:00. No, no, no. At check in, they told me that I would have to get off at JFK and go to another gate. “But my itinerary says no change of planes,” I said assertively.

“There is no change of planes,” the woman at the counter said with a straight face. “We are substituting equipment.”

Really. She said that. And did you know that when you take little planes at JFK, they make you march around outside in the cold, rolling your suitcase down these ridiculous boardwalks? This means that when you get on the plane they ask you a zillion times where you are really going, which makes me think people often take a wrong turn on the boardwalk and get on a plane to, say, Buffalo, rather than Baltimore. Which would be a huge, virtually uncorrectable, error.

On the upside, although I didn’t get to BWI until 5:00, I finished all my back issues of The Nation, which means I could be beamed into an Iowa caucus tonight and really make a good show of it. As it was, I think I did pretty well with the Capitol Hill types at the restaurant without having to prop up my feeble authority by coming out as a history professor. And as a bonus, slightly earlier, when I had seated myself on the bus to go to Washington, I looked down at the luggage rack, and one of the tags said Robert Self. Well, yay, since I haven’t seen him since we were introduced in October, in a kind of across the room sort of way, at a seminar we were both attending in Cambridge where no conversation was really allowed. We had a lovely chat, all the way in to Woodley Park-Zoo Station.

So there’s a little bit of good in everything, isn’t there, even being late and traveling for hours because Ronald Reagan thought that deregulating the airlines was a terrific idea? And you know what — of we made a law that presidential candidates had to fly commercial, I bet someone would damn well fix them.

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