My interest in politics reared its head at age 9.
It was 1960 and John F. Kennedy came through Springfield, Ohio on a whistle-stop campaign tour. Well, I say it was a whistle-stop, but it could have been on a bus or plane. Rather than speaking from the back of a train car, he spoke from a platform on the Wittenberg University campus. I have no real clue how he got there.
I pushed my way to the front of the crowd with my Nixon button conspicuously pinned to the front of my shirt. JFK was introduced and made his way to the microphone. I began booing at the top of my lungs with the unbridled enthusiasm only a child can muster. What's a nine-year old know about decorum?
As nearby JFK supporters shushed me and gave me dirty looks, my booing went unabated. I booed every sentence JFK uttered. I was not intimidated by the adults around me. They were only Democrats after all.
Plus, I had the confidence of knowing my father was close by and would protect me if the need arose. He wasn't close enough to tell me to stop booing, but was close enough to save my bacon, if it came to that. What I knew that those in the crowd around me didn't was that he was standing on that platform with a pistol on his hip.
My father was attending the Lutheran seminary at Wittenberg at the time. He had a family to support, so he worked his way through with a job at the campus bookstore as assistant manager, running a campus work crew, and as a campus cop. At that time the Wittenberg campus cops were actually Clark County Deputy Sheriffs.
When it was announced JFK was coming to Springfield, my father was one of the sheriff's deputies tasked to help guard him. I doubt that my dad's superiors or anyone else was aware his weapon wasn't loaded.
My father didn't think there was much of anything worth killing a college kid over and refused to carry a loaded weapon. But there he was anyway, about 10 feet from JFK.
When Kennedy was finished speaking he shook some hands including mine. I don't know if he realized I was his star heckler. If so, he didn't indicate it.
Fast forward 52 years.
I was sitting at my PC this morning preparing to perform some actual work when my phone rang. It was Richard, a Florida buddy of mine. It wasn't yet 8 a.m., so I was thinking bad news of some kind.
No, Richard had just read that both Mitt Romney and New Gingrich were going to show up at Tommy's Ham House in Greenville about the same time. Thinking it would make excellent blog fodder, he wanted to alert me.
So much for getting any work done.
I shut down the PC, grabbed my camera and rain jacket -- today was absolutely miserable -- and headed out. My first stop was to vote. The poll workers at my voting place were thrilled to have something to do when I sauntered in. They seemed almost surprised to see someone. You could hear crickets chirping. It took all of 30 seconds to cast my ballot and most of that time was spent waiting for the poll worker to find my name on the voter roster.
With my "I voted!" sticker displayed on my jacket, I headed to Tommy's Ham House. The irony of politicians talking at a joint called the Ham House wasn't lost on me.
When Richard told me the name of the place, I thought I knew where it was. I drive pass it every Wednesday driving to the gatherings of the Wednesday-Night Irregulars at the Peddler Steak House.
As I approached, I knew I had the right spot; it was a madhouse. Locating a parking spot across the street, I managed to work my way inside and even found a place to stand. The joint was slammed.
Campaign workers for both camps were working the crowd and handing out posters with the candidates' names on them. Leaning over to a Romney flack I mused that they should be passing out "Anyone but Obama" posters. He smiled politely and nodded.
Newt had scheduled himself to be there at 10:45. Evidently -- all being fair in love, war and politics -- Mitt decided to crash the joint and showed up around 10:00.
I caught a few glimpses of Romney as he stood on a chair and spoke, as well as when he worked the crowd. I couldn't get a clear photo, though. He never got to the part of the room where I was standing. He jumped up on a chair and spoke for a few minutes, but no one beyond 10 feet could hear anything he said. Newt's team had a public address system set up and offered the mic to Mitt, but he declined.
I did see SC's governor Nikki Haley and shook her hand.
Almost at 10:45 on the button Gingrich arrived. The joint went nuts. Newt also stepped up on a chair to speak. I had a much clearer field of view and managed to snap a few photos, even though my flash didn't quite carry that far.
All in all, it was a fun morning.
The biggest difference between today and that day in 1960 is, today I got to cheer and applaud.