My wife and I spent the weekend in New Hampshire. The mission: get a picture of the next president of the United States.
You learn quickly that candidates in the back of the pack are easier to track down than those more secure in their poll numbers. The also-rans actually want the people to find them.
The Internet told us where John McCain would be, what he would be having for lunch, his favorite color. All we could find on Al Gore and George W. Bush was that they were actually in New Hampshire. My guess is their donors didn't have any trouble finding them.
Mr. McCain was late. We learned that despite all the candidates' ideological differences, the one thing they share is their lack of punctuality. The solution: Blow up balloons and let people hit them around for a half-hour.
The other thing the candidates have in common is that they're all going to be the next president of the United States. We thought our mission was accomplished after seeing McCain, that is until we saw Mr. Bush and found out that he was going to be the next president of the US. And apparently none of this information reached the guy introducing Mr. Gore.
The crowds weren't as big as we thought they'd be. We were able to get quite close to the candidates. One reason was that we weren't planning on being loud - loud people had their own section, usually several hundred yards away, behind wooden barricades. The police apparently enjoyed the company of the loud people. And the loud people enjoyed the company of other loud people.
Captain Atmosphere was counted among the loud. He and his loud brethren, some of whom were also dressed in tights and a cape, had the environment on their mind. They had a chant that I couldn't stop humming the rest of the day: "We're young, we vote, we demand a plan on global warming, we're young ... "
Some people didn't share their sentiment and countered, "Al's the man, he's got a plan." We stayed with the quiet folks.
On the campaign trail, your personal ideology becomes clearest when you're trapped in a room with zealots from the other camp. If they start applauding at all the points when the hair on your neck is standing on end, make a note to register with the other party.
We'd seen McCain and Bush and shot 2-1/2 rolls of film. A Gore dinner at Keene State College was our final destination. We had a 50-mile back-road drive ahead of us and had to be there by 6:30. We made it. And we didn't miss anything because Gore is on mountain time.
At about 8:40 Gore's people gave us the last two seats in the back of the cafeteria by the kitchen. After a light frisking and other pleasantries, we were seated. He was due any minute. We focused our camera on the podium ready to start snapping shots from a mile away.
Word reached the stage that the next president of the United States had arrived. We stood to find that he was entering the room from, yes, the kitchen. He walked out right into us and I snapped away. I reached out and shook the second most powerful hand in the world, and then shot some more. Vice presidents may only be a step from the Oval Office, but that power doesn't seem to eliminate the red-eye from flash photographs.
We had a wonderful time "bird-dogging" the candidates, and we learned something in the process. Politics is exciting if you feel connected to it, when it's not just TV sound bites, when the players are three-dimensional and talking to you face to face. Every civics class in America should have to do what we did.
New Hampshirites have it good. Next month, when 34 primaries are happening on the same day, and the candidates can't be in every place at once, sound bites will rule the day, and people will make their decisions based on important things like "electability" and "charisma." In the meantime, there's New Hampshire in all it's simple glory.
And with all due respect to Messrs. Bauer, Keyes, Bradley, and Forbes, we think we have pictures of the next president of the US.
*David S. Hauck is on the Monitor staff.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society