|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Dan is an accomplished columnist, speaks four languages, flies airplanes, loves wine and plays the piano badly. Most likely a result of the wine.
He’s traveled a long way from Fenton, Missouri.
Read an Excerpt
Bush, Brokaw, and Burglary at 39,000 Feet
"I have to say that flying on Air Force One sort of spoils you for coach on a regular airline."
— Ronald Reagan
In the fall of 2004, President George W. Bush decided to make one last campaign swing through Florida. The political landscape of the country appeared to be evenly split between "red" states and "blue" ones. Democratic challenger John Kerry had been campaigning hard for Florida's twenty-seven electoral votes, and recent polling had shown the Massachusetts senator making some headway. The political pundits colored Florida "purple." Meaning, that with just weeks before November's election, the state was still up for grabs. After the recount debacle of 2000, all eyes were on the Sunshine State. No one was anxious to see hanging or dimpled chads ever again.
Tom Brokaw had recently announced his intention to leave the anchor desk of NBC Nightly News and was pursuing long-formatted stories for the network. Recognizing Florida as a "battleground state" for the upcoming election, Mr. Brokaw decided to put together a chronicled day-to-day story on last-minute campaign strategy. The White House accepted Brokaw's request, not only offering NBC time with President Bush, but seats on Air Force One. As a cameraman for NBC, I was booked to cover the flight.
In all my time with the network, I was never quite able to understand exactly how the desk assigned crews to various stories. Obviously, correspondents had their favorite cameramen, and some crews had long standing relationships with certain producers. I was with George Bush in 2000 when I spent a few months covering his campaign on his plane with correspondent Ashleigh Banfield. But I had never worked with Tom and had never even seen Air Force One, other than on television and in pictures. With such a coup being offered, my guess was that everyone else must have been committed or on holiday. Either way, Secret Service had my information, ran my background check, and cleared me for flight with the president. After a day of appearances, we would leave from Orlando International Airport, flying south to Miami.
The Peabody Hotel in Orlando was one of the president's favorite places to stay. Why, I'm not sure. Maybe it was the ducks that lived in the Peabody penthouse and loitered around the lobby fountain all day. Maybe it was the 4.5-star rating. Or that it's so close to the tourist attractions Orlando is so famous for. I don't know. Didn't ask and he didn't offer an explanation.
The motorcade was scheduled to leave the Peabody at 5:11 a.m. Air Force One was to be "wheels up," exactly fifty-one minutes later at 6:02. Everything was timed to the second. Lucky me, with such an early call and tight window, I was allowed to stay overnight at the hotel with the White House staff.
On any normal day, traipsing through the lobby of the Peabody meant nothing more than walking through the revolving glass doors, trying your best not to get your luggage snagged in the rotating doorway behind. But this was no ordinary day. The president had already checked in and was upstairs in his room — a suite, I'm told, far less accommodating than the one those ducks lived in.
I arrived in the lobby the night before to find the familiar glass doors locked shut. Everyone entered through a single metal detector. Each person waved over with an electronic wand by men in dark suits and glasses, who talked into their sleeves every few minutes or so. They checked names and IDs on a wooden clipboard with a presidential seal emblazoned on the back. Everything was formal and ceremonious.
The hotel was crowded, but not with tourists. Everywhere I looked I saw people dressed in expensive suits boasting White House badges, with multi-colored credentials dangling from lanyards allowing each of them access to someplace important. Some places, I guessed, that didn't "officially" even exist. National correspondents from major publications pounded away on their laptops, lounging on couches tucked into quiet corners. A myriad of political conversations filled the lobby. All around were personal stories of shaking hands with world leaders and travels to faraway, exotic locales.
Once I had been cleared, I went to stand near the bar so as to have a better bead on all the chaos. Sensing someone take the seat next to me, I turned. National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice settled in mere inches from my shoulder.
Reaching for the bowl of peanuts, our hands crashed into each other.
"Oh," I said. "I'm sorry, Doctor ..." I fumbled for the right title. "I mean, um. Ma'am ... Director."
Just as I was about to blurt out, "Your Majesty," Secretary Rice calmly pushed the bowl in my direction. I knew she'd negotiated far more difficult conflicts. This one was easy to resolve, and she yielded the next move to me.
Clearly, I was out of my element. But there I was — mixing and mingling with those closest to the President of the United States.
At ten past five the following morning, the motorcade moved out. Normally, traveling the Beeline Expressway to the airport, at any time of day, is nothing short of anarchic. Cars weaving between lanes, brake lights coming on and off again, and traffic backed up at tollbooths by drivers searching for proper change. On this morning, the road was as quiet as a church mouse, save for the sirens of the police cars and motorcycles that led the presidential motorcade to the airport.
Air Force One is big – all 4,000 square feet of interior floor space. I noticed the plane parked on the tarmac next to a hanger built to accommodate large commercial aircraft. It was too large to be parked inside.
As the morning sun peeked just above the tree line at the end of the runway, I began another round of clearances. Inching closer to the plane, I passed through another metal detector and was given one final wand search and a last clipboard check at the base of a stairway, which led to an opened hatch door bearing the presidential seal.
I was aboard Air Force One. Everyone on the plane seemed to know his or her destination, except my audio operator Mike Huntting, and me. I looked at Mike like a deer stares into headlights. His wide-eyed glance confirmed we were in perfect harmony. It wasn't so much that we didn't know where to go. We didn't. But, more importantly, Mike and I realized we were on Air Force One. We were waiting for Tom Brokaw, so we could hang out with the President of the United States of America.
We settled into comfortable leather chairs, facing each other with more legroom than first-class accommodations on a commercial aircraft. My seat had its own window and on every armrest was a box of M&M's with the presidential seal. Looking out my window, I noticed the president's limo parked just under the wing of the aircraft. Brokaw was walking from it, stopping at the clipboard checkpoint Mike and I had cleared minutes earlier.
Tom arrived with a White House official, and we were ushered into an adjacent conference room to wait for the president. The interview, we were told, could last no more than six minutes. Mr. Bush was on a tight schedule. With nothing to do but wait, we sat, unsupervised, in a room on the most sophisticated airplane ever built, waiting for the most powerful man in the world.
Mike and I had brought very little equipment — a camera of course, audio gear, and a backpack, which contained a few extra batteries.
I started making a mental checklist of the situation: A) I was on Air Force One; B) I had lots of room in my backpack; C) There were many cool things on the airplane; and D) No one was watching me. In some so-crazy -I-can't-believe-I-even-thought-this moment, I decided that whatever could fit into my backpack was going home with me.
First, I eased my hand up to my head, pretending to scratch an itch I didn't have ... then I swiped the headrest cover off the Velcro "securing" it place. Next up, the little boxes of M&M's. Walking past the rows of seats I covertly snatched every box, propelling each one into my bag. Those things are never packed to the brim so, thinking the rattling candy might give me away I shoved tissue paper on top of the sweets to keep the noise at a minimum. Then snatched the entire box of Kleenex.
In a normal bathroom, there isn't much to take notice of. But in the lavatories on Air Force One, a treasure chest of items goaded my thievery. A toothbrush with the presidential seal on the handle was an easy item to conceal. Harder to hide — but not impossible — was the water glass with a bald eagle etched into the base.
Even the toilet paper was first-rate. It must have been thirty-ply because it felt thick enough to dry off after a shower. There wasn't a seal to be found anywhere on it, so I left it hanging on the roller.
I took Tic Tacs, a box of soap, hand sanitizer, and a white washcloth with a bright blue Air Force One logo stitched along the bottom. I plopped myself upon the toilet seat cover, thinking surely someone important had sat in the same spot at some point.
Just outside the bathroom, a beautiful, hand-carved coaster was strategically placed on the conference room table. Inscribed into its base was another presidential emblem. I tried in vain to free it, but it must have been super-glued in place. After a failed attempt at prying it off, I caught sight of a shiny, stainless steel, presidential seatbelt buckle. It was the most beautiful emblazoned buckle I'd ever seen. But it had apparently been crafted by the same individual who made the coaster, because that thing wasn't going anywhere either.
More determined than ever to possess what I could not have, I came up with a foolproof plan. But, just as I was about to gnaw it off the strap, the President of the United States entered the room. I had to put my delinquent behavior on hold and get to work.
President Bush sat at the head of the table and, after a few moments of idle chitchat, the interview began. Brokaw asked the president about the political mapping of the country, why Florida was important, and if he felt his chances for a second term in the Oval Office looked good. President Bush answered in that oh-so-casual way he has of speaking and, six minutes later, we were done. Putting the camera on the floor then standing, as protocol would dictate, I waited for the president to make his exit. Mike stood as well. But President Bush didn't move. Relaxed as could be, still sitting in his chair, he continued talking with Tom. It was mundane chatter, really. Celebrities that got under his skin, baseball teams he thought would have a good season the following year. A White House staffer motioned for me to sit down. It was pretty clear the president didn't feel like leaving.
Mike and I found ourselves sitting at a table with one of the most respected and renowned TV journalists in history, and the President of the United States, not to mention a bagful of stolen Air Force One items at my feet.
Ten minutes later, a knock at the door and the First Lady stepped in. She'd decided to say "hello" to Tom. Instead of a quick meet-and-greet, Laura Bush took the open chair next to her husband. Not long after Mrs. Bush's arrival, there was another knock. This time, Condoleeza Rice came in. The conversation switched to football.
The room was growing with people. Bush and Brokaw talked baseball, the first lady spoke about the poor conditions of public schools, and Condoleeza discussed the NFL. And, while I should have been kvelling at having reached such a moment in my career, all I could think about was how to get off the plane before being charged with a dozen federal crimes of theft and piracy.
I stole one last thing: a look at Mike. In silent acknowledgement we decided to slink ever closer to the back wall, lest we be found out for even being in the room!
Before anyone had time to slap handcuffs on my wrists, we landed in Miami and right on time. After a few campaign stops and a couple of motorcade drives through the city, the president and Air Force One flew back to D.C.
But without me.
I was on my way to Miami International from where I would fly home ... in coach.
Looking out the window, my body pinned against the seat, I watched the shadow of the wing disappear from the runway as that floating sensation rolled in my stomach. It was a much bumpier takeoff than Air Force One. That's when I thought of all the things I'd done. Not just that morning or the night before, but rather how I'd even gotten to this moment in the first place. How a kid like me, who grew up in one small city after another, ever managed to find himself flying on Air Force One with the President of the United States. No one back home would ever believe it. I'd just lived it and I couldn't quite take it all in. But it happened. As had a number of other things. Remarkable things. Fantastic and wondrous things that, as a kid, I only dreamed possible.
Reaching into my backpack, I pulled out one of the M&M boxes. I opened it and popped a couple into my mouth. Dreaming of my next adventure, I realized each tasted like every other M&M I'd ever had. But I was keeping the box.
No question about that.CHAPTER 2
Music in the Midwest: The Sound of My Formidable Years
"Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness."
— Maya Angelou
The most impressionable period of my life — or, at least, according to the majority of psychologists and psychiatrists what should have been the most impressionable period of my life — took place in a modest house on Stillbrook Estates Drive in Fenton, Missouri.
Fenton, a small suburb thirty-minutes southwest of St. Louis, was as middle America as you could get, both in geography and status. Stillbrook was a newly built middle-class subdivision, which sat at the top of a lonely hill. And what seemed idyllic at first glance, upon closer inspection was tinged with troublesome issues. Two red-bricked, low-rent apartment buildings flanked the entrance. And, if that didn't shrink the property value of the new homes, Shangri-La, the disjointed clumps of broken-down doublewides that encompassed nearly all the land in the valley below, certainly did.
Like the scintillating shine of a new car, every home on our street had a pristine appearance and each lined up smartly alongside the next, dotting the single road that made up our neighborhood. Landscaping, though, took a backseat. Patchy remnants of sod, weeds, and construction debris littered each yard.
Every house looked just like the next. Except for an occasional front door placed on the opposite side of the garage, confusing the eye and making them appear slightly different.
On the other hand, Shangri-La was unruly. A prison yard without walls. I imagined trigger-happy guards daring to hurl buckshot at anyone who dared an escape. It was always difficult to recognize firecrackers from live fire.
Each night, the sound of street fights and arguments from the trailers below traveled up the hill, spilling onto our dinner tables. Causing our fathers to square their shoulders, our mothers to purse their lips, and us Stillbrook kids to wonder what was really going on "down there."
"Down there" was home to some of the meanest kids I'd ever seen. Most of them were backwoods delinquents who spelled school with a "K." They spent the better part of their days setting fire to small woodland creatures with a magnifying glass and their nights planning what they'd do to us fortunate ones who lived up the hill.
We were sure of it.
Zeke was their leader. He didn't have a last name. In fact, I don't think he even had parents. If he did, he probably ate them. Zeke was our residential Goliath, standing at what seemed like eight-foot tall. Rumor had it he consumed chickens whole and served years in juvenile detention for bludgeoning his entire class with a breadbox he made in shop class. It was a reputation he relished.
As a teenager, a reputation is important. In our neighborhood, it defined us. And the kind of music we listened to determined our place in the pecking order of our adolescent hierarchy. Zeke liked Black Sabbath, so he pretty much scared everyone into submission. For the rest of us, listening to Boston or Blue Oyster Cult meant you were cool. Get caught listening to Lionel Ritchie and you were sure to become a social eunuch.
My mom had been my only conduit to music. Luckily for me, she played it all the time. Not so lucky was her taste. She wore out the needle on our record player listening to Carol King's Tapestry and Captain and Tennille's Love Will Keep Us Together. One day, she brought home an album by Culture Club.
"I've got a crush on that girl," I told her.
"What girl?" she asked, looking a little worried.
"The one on the cover," I said, pointing to Boy George.
Her expression changed from worried to weird.
I had no idea how much she was screwing me up.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "How'd I Get Here?"
Copyright © 2014 Dan Beckmann.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsAcknowledgments
Falsehoods and Liberties
A Note From The Author
Bush, Brokaw, and Burglary at 39,000 Feet
Music in the Midwest: The Sound of My Formidable Years
Stars, Stripes, and Yikes!
Laundry Day and Local TV
“His Airness” and The Little Man
My Life and Times in the Middle East
“Is This Supposed To Happen?”
Golfing With an Arnold Palmer
Brother, Can You Spare My Dime?
Spies, Lies, and Videotape
Happy Birthday, John!
“Get Me People in Spandex”
Steven Hawking Unplugged
There’s Something Fishy Going On In Dubai
Floating from Finland to Florida
Lastly, a quick thanks:
Lastly, Lastly—About the Author: