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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Jerry and me

I moved out west from New Jersey in 1975 to attend law school at Stanford. It was a turning point in my life, and it was a fairly important time in history for the law school as well. The school's new buildings opened just as we arrived, and if I previously had any doubt that I had made it to the big time, well... the Leader of the Free World was flying in to dedicate the complex. As Stanford law students, we all were invited to attend and sit in the reserved section.

The President at the time was Gerald Ford, the former congressman from Michigan who became vice president and wound up in the White House after Nixon and Agnew were disgraced. He was a decent guy, but dull, and something of a klutz. Chevy Chase would later make a name for himself goofing on the guy. Rather than cut the ribbon on the law school, some suggested, Ford would probably cut his tie by mistake.

For a week or so leading up to the presidential visit, the school and the nearby dorms (of which I was a new resident) were crawling with Secret Service guys. The dark suits, the ear pieces, the funny-fitting jackets that concealed the guns -- there was no mistaking them. Of course, they had good reason to be concerned -- earlier that month one of the Manson harpies, Squeaky Fromme, had tried to take a shot at Ford in Sacramento; fortunately, she didn't know how to handle the handgun she was packing, and it didn't go off. Needless to say, everybody involved with the President's return to the Bay Area was more than a little uptight. The nation didn't need any more drama with White House vacancies.

Anyway, the big day arrived, and we all got there early. Ford showed, made a nice speech warning that government was encroaching on our privacy (if we had only known where that was heading), and managed to stay upright, with tie intact. Here are some of the official Stanford photos:

Now, some of my schoolmates were singled out for a private audience with the President. Here you can see my buddy Rob Biniaz, just behind Ford; Rob's the one with the glasses and the chin hair:

(Not a bad 'Fro on Keith Gorham, either. Lotta hair in '75.)

As for me, however, I was left in the cheap seats outside. Here's how it looked to my el cheapo camera. As you can see, although we students had reserved seats, we all had to squint against the late September sun, which can be pretty powerful in those parts:

It was a lovely day, and I'm sure we all adjourned to the Oasis Beer Garden for burgers and suds afterward. As for Ford, the next day, up at the St. Francis Hotel in San Fran, a gal named Sara Jane Moore tried to shoot him. Her shot was deflected, and a bystander was wounded.

After Jerry and I parted ways, I became a homesick, scared basket case in the Stanford counseling center for a while, but then I got good grades and I stabilized somewhat. Meanwhile, he struggled with runaway inflation and the bad rap he had earned by pardoning Nixon, and he lost his bid for re-election to a peanut farmer. But for 20 minutes or so on the Farm, there we were together.

The next month, I had a much better seat for a much better show.

CORRECTION, 1/3/07, 6:11 p.m.: That's not Keith Gorham in that photo -- he informs me that it's Gary Williams. To the right of Gary in the photo is Marsha Simms.

Comments (14)

That burger at the "O" in Menlo Park would have stood up to any in a "best burger" contest. Still does.

Gerald Ford, burger at the O -- both hockey pucks.

Mmmmmm.....hockey pucks.

I didn't have much opinion of President Ford one way or another, until one night when I saw his press secretary Ron Nessen hosting Saturday Night Live. It included a brief clip of President Ford, looking at the camera, and delivering Chevy Chase's signature line:

"Hello. I'm Gerald Ford, and you're not."

And keep in mind, this was in 1976, while he was =in office=. A sitting president, appearing on SNL. From then on, I've had a tender place in my heart for him, even though he pardoned That Man.

"...and I stabilized somewhat."

And people say I do not restrain myself.

"And people say I do not restrain myself."

Imo, speech in Portland is over-restrained and under-candid".

Your candor is one of the reasons we love you guys.

As world-famous and as celebrated as Springsteen is, I still can't help but think of the guy as under appreciated.

I won't debate hamburgers -- too subjective. But no hockey puck would have pardoned Richard Nixon.

I love it when the news reports say Gerald Ford helped us after we were traumatized by Watergate. Traumatized? I thought losing Nixon was one of best feelings ever. The entire nation was plunged into a political action thriller and it was spectacular fun to follow. Watergate showed our system working to perfection, and that was immensely comforting. Of course, back then we had a 4th Estate that was on the case, instead of the corporate pawns we have now.

The time I helped wait on Gerald Ford in Portland he seemed to be a good guy - a bear-like presence. I do remember President Johnson's comment that he had played too much football without his helmet on. I believe that quality might have been why he was selected to be on the Warren Commission: A basically decent man who could be pushed around if need be. Let's also not forget that he gave us Rumsfeld and Cheney, promoting them from minor players to stars.

The next week will feature many gushing comments about this wonderful Republican President, so I hope we factor in Richard Nixon - the Republican crook who made Ford possible. Of course, even Nixon looks great compared to our current President. President Bush also screwed up the one distinction Gerald Ford had over every other President. Until George Bush came along, Gerald Ford was the only President who wasn't elected.

Make that the only one who served as Vice President and President without being elected. Bush served as Vice President under Dick Cheney.

I will never forget my mother jumping up and down and yelling "yippee!" when Nixon gave his resignation speech while my grandparents (Goldwater Republicans visiting from AZ) looked on dourly. I tried to make Mom take it down a notch but she wasn't having it. My next big Ford memory is seeing him at the Memorial Coliseum for that youth rally they keep mentioning on the news. I was invited by a Republican classmate in H.S. and thought what the heck, why not go. Ford was quite nice but not very memorable. I think he knew he was in trouble. Does anyone remember that 1) he was not elected (yes, like Bush the 2nd) and that his VP was Nelson Rockefeller, also not elected? And I still have my "win" button! "Whip inflation now."

So how much of the clutz thing was real vs SNL? I mean the guy was a starter on 2 National Championship football teams and reportedly was a very good golfer.

During his time in the White House, I believe he took a number of highly publicized falls.

He was also one of the few Presidential skiers. He used Burt ski bindings, which released when you fell (which he did much more than Arnold, but never as hard) and then re-attached to the skis with a couple of cables. So even though he fell often as he skied, he never had to put his skis back into the bindings.

And he also never blamed his falls on his Secret Service agents who skied near him.

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