I’d like to say that I just signed up to be helpful since I had a lot of free time on my hands, and I’m pretty sure that was an element of my decision to get involved, but included in the story was the news that President Clinton would be there as well, so I decided that this might be a good chance for me to spend some quality time with one of the greatest Presidents in this Nation’s history.
As it turned out, President Clinton wasn’t the only dignitary to attend. Arriving early, I was about 10-15 yards from the outdoor stage, where President Bill Clinton and wife, Hillary; President Jimmy Carter and wife, Rosalyn; President George H.W. Bush and (I think) his wife Barbara Bush; General Colin Powell; Nancy Reagan; and Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper stood on April 27, 1997 at Marcus Foster Stadium.
(Links here http://clinton2.nara.gov/WH/New/Summit/ or just Google “Presidents' Summit for America's Future”)
Once the hour or so of speechifying was finished, we were all sent to our pre-set assignments based on the color of the t-shirts we’d been handed upon our entry. I rode my assigned bus until they told us to get off, just 50 or so yards down the street from where I saw a large media crowd gathered around one particular work group.
Despite the protestations of an organizer who insisted, fruitlessly, that I stay with my group, I jogged up to the other group to see who the fuss was about.
And there being interviewed on CNN was my favorite all-time President, or if he wasn’t already, he has been ever since that day, Jimmy Carter.
And pushy wangler that I am, by mid-afternoon, I was literally elbow-to-elbow with the (ex-) President, painting an old building. Not surprisingly, my mind raced with things to ask him about, but I came up blank, except when he asked me my opinion on whether we should paint over one particularly artistic 3’ by 3’ area of colorful graffiti. After discussing the options, I demurred in my reply, but unsurprisingly, President Carter chose to paint around it, not wanting to whitewash, so to speak, a local child’s expression of artistry.
Later, we were given box lunches, and I ate on a stoop of a building there with Roslyn and Jimmy, who were constantly asked to pose for photos (pre-selfie days). True to his reputation, President Carter obliged each request though my two clear memories of that interlude were:
1 – When those making the requests were young males, he would pose and then go sit back down to eat. When they were attractive young college-age girls, he gave them all the time they desired, with Roslyn smiling and rolling her eyes as she watched.
2 – When the organizers asked us to finish our lunches to get back to work, and there were still people who wanted to chat and get pictures with the 73-year old President, he reminded them that we were all there to work, and he picked up his gloves and rake and got back to cleaning out an area strewn with trash.
A few years later, I went back to the site to see whether the graffiti was still there, and if the area was still as clean as we’d left it. The entire building the President and I had painted was gone…demolished with no tangible evidence of its existence, unlike the strong memories I have of that day that I hope will never leave me.