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Driving the Next First Lady

07 Jun 2004

“You have one job,” Bryan told me. “Follow the Secret Service van as close as you can all day. But, um, don’t hit them.”

We were on the tarmac at SFO waiting for Teresa Heinz Kerry’s plane to touch down. She was attending a couple of fundraising events and Bryan was the lead advance organizer for the day (he does this occasionally, in addition to running our company, coordinating our events, and never sleeping.) He asked if I’d help out, and I jumped at the chance. Especially when I found out I’d get to be driving the staff van.

The plane rolled up to our motorcade, the candidate’s wife and all her people dashed into various vehicles, and we all sped off onto the freeway. It was a blast. Although we didn’t have a police escort, we really didn’t bother obeying many traffic laws, either. The dark Town Car and Suburban of the Secret Service would flash their hidden police lights and tear across the lanes of traffic. And I hung on at the end of the line driving as fast as I could. Apparently the staff is quite used to this, as they kept encouraging me to drive faster, faster, faster. We were having a lot of fun.

At one intersection, my van bogged down a bit for some reason when the light turned green, and a 15 yard gap opened up between us and the Service Suburban. It was just enough room for a young guy in a sports car to dart in between us. I stomped on the accelerator, swerved around him into oncoming traffic, then pinched the van back behind the Suburban. It felt a little reckless to me, but the staff applauded my aggressive move.

The young man did not. He flashed his lights, honked his horn, and darted up next to us. I glanced over at him and it appeared as if his head were about to explode as he screamed all manner of obscenities at us. I was still racing to catch the Secret Service, and now he was too. The Trip Director sitting next to me was editing Ms. Heinz Kerry’s comments on her laptop, talking on her cell phone, and yelling over to me, “You’re doing great! Faster! Faster!”

At the next intersection, I had a lead on the lunatic in the sports car. Everyone hit their brakes, I did too, and skidded into the back of the Suburban. (“You have one job…” echoing in my head.) Mr. Sportscar decided it was time for action. He let us know that we were not taking his place in line, no matter what, and nudged his car into the van and started rocking us back and forth. At this point, the woman next to me said, “Um, yeah, better let him know that he’s about to have a really, really, bad day.”

I rolled down my window to a barrage of obscenities and said, “Please back up right now. Please.” I was pleading with him. More obscenities. Extreme road rage.

“Really. You have to back up. That’s the Secret Service and you’re making a very bad mistake right now.”

“Secret Service?” he screamed. “Oh, c'mon! Kiss my…”

And then all the sirens and lights and everything came on all at once. He froze, mouth open, gawking at what he now realized was a motorcade. He looked back at me, slammed his car into reverse, and was gone. The staff was really laughing now.

Afterwards, over a beer, I told Bryan that the hardest part of the whole day wasn’t the confrontation. No, the hardest part is getting back on the highway and having to follow the laws now. I had Legal Jackass status for a day, and I already miss it. ​