Presidential candidate Wesley Clark greets supporters.
This was our third time going to New Hampshire. My wife, Ana, and I have previously trekked up to New Hampshire in the middle of the winter to take in the various campaigns for president in 1988 and 1992. Some friends had suggested the trip and it truly was an amazing experience.
Intervening between our last trip and this year was the arrival of our two boys, Andre and David, now 8 and 6 years old. We thought they might be old enough to give it a try.
The basic strategy for these trips was to try to see as many of the candidates in the shortest period of time. This involves quick stopping and starting, changing plans on the dime and can be a little nerve-wracking. Thankfully, with the Internet, the campaign schedules are much more accessible. When we arrived from 14th St. on Friday night into Boston, our friend, Dave, who acted as the master of ceremonies throughout our weekend, presented me with about 15 sheets of paper including all the campaigns schedules, our tentative targets and maps on how to get there.
Of course our trip needed to be different with the kids along. Kids require more careful planning. We checked the weather in advance. We bought chemical foot warmers and hand warmers for everyone. We made sure everywhere we stayed had a pool.
The authors son, Andre, left, and wife, Anna.
Also the trip became a rolling teach-in. Andre, our older boy, quickly understood the horse race aspect of it and was intrigued with trying to select the best candidate. More important, we actually talked about issues: healthcare, employment, taxes, education war and peace.
Dennis Kucinich speaking at a Catholic church in Derry, N.H., Saturday morning was our first stop. This was a solemn setting with Kucinich speaking in a meeting room with a church priest directly in back of him. He spoke principally of his transformation on the abortion issue to pro-choice. There was only a smattering of light applause throughout his speech. A bold speech to deliver in a church, perhaps, but decidedly less than scintillating. A dull start for the kids.
Next was John Kerry at a hockey rink in Manchester. Now, we expected Kerry was going to give a speech at the rink. When we arrived there was a hockey game going on. The arena was filled with Kerry banners and people with Kerry buttons and signs. Many of the players had Boston Bruin jerseys on. This was an exhibition game of mostly retired Bruins. The kids were able to go right up to the glass and were excited watching the game. I asked someone who looked like a campaign person when Senator Kerry was arriving. This is when we learned he was on the ice and had already scored a goal. Number 4 in the University of New Hampshire jersey, with Kerry on the back.
We had missed Kerrys brief opening remarks. Now that we recognized him, we saw that the team was continuously feeding him for easy shots. Nevertheless, he was able to skate on one skate and looked to New Hampshire like an impressive 60-year-old hockey player. Looking around in the stands we found former Public Advocate Mark Green, who was gracious to his fellow New Yorkers, shaking the kids hands. We went outside to wait for Kerry by his campaign bus. This is when the near-zero temperatures began to bite. The kids were miserable. We gave up on this. Time for the foot warmers. They began to work and they thawed us out.
We next went to eat lunch and settle into a motel in Concord where the kids went swimming. Things were fun for them.
Last for the day was John Edwards at a bowling alley in Merrimack. This was packed into an area near the lanes, about 200 people in a space the size of a large living room. After a few minutes of waiting, the inevitable I have to go to the bathroom, came up. The bathrooms were on the opposite side of this crowd. We considered leaving but braved our way through to reach the bathroom. Senator Edwards arrived shortly before 9 p.m., jumped on a makeshift platform (a pool table) and waved his arms like a world champion. It was a rock concert-type atmosphere with John Cougars Small Town on the sound system. Edwards delivered an enthusiastic two-minute speech calling for everyones vote and jumped down. The kids got to play air hockey and were happy about that.
As we left, the bowling alley apologized to the bowlers, saying they had been misled about the size of the event. Andre kept asking me whom I liked the most. I am wavering and I told him that.
Sunday, getaway day, was our last chance to catch candidates. Howard Dean had a 9:30 event with his wife at Southern New Hampshire University. We were told by our friends who acted as an advance party that this one was full before the event. So we didnt go.
Instead we went to see retired General Wesley Clark at Daniel Webster University in Nashua. We arrived early and got good seats for all of us. The event took a long time to begin. It was nearly 1:30 and we hadnt had lunch. One needs a lot of munchies for the kids in situations like this. A platform of celebrities and politicians were assembled on the platform. We heard from New Yorkers Congressmember Charlie Rangel and former Mayor David Dinkins. Rangel did a nice job in firing up the crowd. Our group particularly liked his appeal to vote for Clark, so that we could have a first lady who was from Brooklyn, where they take no prisoners.
Introducing Clark was Mary Steenburgen, whose mother was a co-worker and friend of Wes Clarks mother when they were growing up in Little Rock, Ark. Clark came out and delivered a half-hour stump speech and took a few questions from the audience. Andre was disappointed that I didnt ask a question.
That was the end of the candidates for us. We did do some polling, counting the lawn signs of the candidates. This sampling showed a close race between Dean and Kerry. Andre decided his favorite candidate: John Edwards. He was the most exciting.
On the way back we discussed what we would do if we were president
. David would have a baseball card store on every corner.