Dateline: A radio studio in Seattle
Some kids grow up thinking they want to be the President of the United States. Some kids dream of becoming famous classical piano-playing fighter pilots for the Blue Angels.
I was in the latter group. I actually had three dreams growing up.
Not only did I want to be a world-renowned concerto playing pianist at all the finest concert halls, I also wanted to be bad-ass jet pilot blasting through the infinite skies of blue in an F/A 18 Hornet in flawless formation. And finally, I wanted to be a radio D.J.
Somehow I managed to make one of those dreams come true.
Was it to become an acclaimed pianist? Nope. I never practiced. I mean ever.
Did I don the jumpsuit and strap into a blue and yellow fighter jet? Nope. Motion sickness and aircraft went hand-in-hand. In fact, I was the kid who couldn’t do the merry-go-round on the playground without projectile vomiting on my classmates.
So that leaves radio.
In my very early 20’s I was fortunate enough to start at a teeny-tiny radio station and created a career that has had some interesting twists and turns. More on that another time.
I am here to talk about the President of the United States.
On February 12, 2009, many years into my broadcast career, I was working at a Seattle-area news radio station. Now understand, my radio background was in music radio. I had only been at this well regarded news station for about a year-and-a-half. When they hired me, I looked at them and said “You do know I am not a journalist. I have never done news radio. Ask me about the top hits of 1992, or the Oldies act that played in revolutionary costumes. But news? I haven’t a friggin’ clue”. But, they simply said “you know how to be on the radio, and we trust you”.
Just know, that is the scoped down version of my introduction to news radio. Again, that’s for another time.
Back to February 12, 2009. I was filling in as a co-anchor on the afternoon news, when I experienced the most surreal, exciting moment of my entire career up to that point.
I met and interviewed a former President of the United States of America. Not a member of the band that sang “Peaches”.
I mean a real life, living breathing president. POTUS number 39 from 1977 to 1981: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr. President Carter had come to the station to talk about his book about obtaining peace in the Middle-East.
About two hours before he was set to come in, Secret Service, along with Seattle’s bomb-detecting unit, which included a golden lab named Freddy, came through to make sure everything was copacetic in-studio. They left no stone unturned. Freddy enjoyed sniffing everything in sight, including us. Freddy exuberantly placed his nose under desks and consoles; in between garbage and recycling cans; up and down hallways.
I spent two hours sweating and pacing. I remember thinking that I should have worn more anti-perspirant in preparation to meeting a former world leader. Instead I secretly devised ways to distract him from my armpits.
Regardless of what you may think of any President, past or present, you have got to admit, meeting someone who once sat in one of the highest positions on the planet is pretty damn cool.
What do you say? How do you act? If I only knew what was going to come out of my mouth in two hours. If only I knew.
This is a guy who brokered the peace accords between Egypt and Israel. Plus, he’s a Nobel Peace prize winner. Does he carry it around with him like an Olympic speed skater? Like, “Hey, I’m former President Jimmy Carter. Why yes, I would love to show you my Nobel prize, thank you for asking”.
As we waited, time became a construct of perception. Was the second hand even moving? Wait, now it’s spinning around the clock in double-time. What the hell is happening. I felt like Alice down the rabbit hole. My pits were as soaked as a member of Congress admitting that, yes, they did send those nudie pics to that college freshman.
Finally, the time had come.
As my co-anchor and I wrapped up local news, weather and traffic, an entourage of Secret Service, book reps, assistants, photogs and TV cameras paraded into the studio. And there he was.
I thought my head might explode.
During a commercial break, we are properly introduced. He was a smaller man than I expected, but still impressive at 5’10”. As I would imagine would be the case with any former U.S. President, he still maintained a commanding presence.
He was also friendly and approachable. He took my hand to shake it, and I remember wondering if he could tell that my palm was cold and clammy. He looked me in the eye as he spoke, and I wondered if he could tell my cheeks were on fire.
It was time for the interview. My co-anchor and I brought up our country’s serious economic turmoil when he was president, and talked about how a new President Obama might handle that similar situation now. We also asked about his sit-downs with Hamas and his response to critics who think it’s only purpose is to be a terrorist organization. We asked him about his current book, and what I am sure was a whole bunch of other super important social issue questions.
I don’t honestly remember everything we asked him. I just know there was one thing I needed to do.
The one thing I promised myself I would do if I EVER got to meet President Jimmy Carter.
So, during another commercial break, I mustered up the courage, and said “I want to share something with you I thought I would never be able to tell you in person in a million years. Your daughter Amy and I share the same birthday and birth-year. We are EXACTLY the same age. When I was a child, I felt so special and thought it was so cool that the kid of the President of the United States had the same birthday as me!”
There. I did it. Would he blankly stare at me? Would he just say “uh huh” and tell the Secret Service to escort me from his presence? No. He actually laughed.
Like a sincere gut-busting laugh. He loved that I told him and promised me he would tell Amy. I felt such relief. I also felt ridiculous. I mean, who discusses world affairs with a former U.S. president, then goes all fan-girl about sharing a birthday with his kid? Right.
It was time to pose for a few photos, and right before the first one was snapped, he turned on gave me a kiss on the cheek. It was more like a peck. I was stunned. I stammered how great it would be if he could repeat that for the camera. He politely declined.
He then smiled, I smiled, and before I knew it, he was gone.