Crossing paths with strangers

Published 7:49 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I am writing this column on Super Tuesday while traveling home on a plane. It allows me to briefly escape the non-stop media banter regarding this election, today’s likely outcome, and what it all will mean to this year’s presidential election.

During this short three-day trip to St. Louis, Mary Lou and I have crossed paths with three separate individuals, none of them planned. These three gentlemen were all very friendly, engaged in thoughtful conversation, and were very different from me. With all three, we eventually talked politics.

The first conversation was struck up while waiting to board our plane in Atlanta. It was already after dark, everyone was tired and the attendant had just announced it would be another 30 minutes before we boarded. We began talking to the man standing next to us. We discussed where we had been and where we were going, the ages and activities of our children, nephews and nieces, and eventually politics.

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It was only later when we asked the gentleman what he did that he said he was the national director for the NAACP. A few minutes later Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey walked up and our new friend introduced us. Senator Booker is a tremendously charming man who has a politician’s knack for never meeting a stranger. He insisted that we do a “selfie” and expertly grabbed Mary Lou’s phone and took three quick pictures.

Our conversation resumed and the four of us discussed the events of the day in the political world. Senator Booker was traveling to St. Louis to campaign for Hillary Clinton leading up to Tuesday’s primary. It was a very interesting and respectful conversation that I think we all enjoyed.

Monday evening we were attending a dinner with approximately 20 people. The room was a bit small and five of us decided to sit at a regular table in the main dining room of the restaurant. One gentleman had a few papers in his hand and I assumed he worked for the restaurant.

It turns out he was Jack Oliver, who was the national vice chairman of the finance committee for former President George W. Bush in 2004. More recently, Jack was the national finance chairman for Governor Jeb Bush. While this was not Jeb’s time to be the Republican nominee, it wasn’t for lack of money, as Jack and his committee raised over $150 Million for the campaign.

Our conversation turned to politics, naturally, and we discussed everything from the “hanging chad” ballot counting disaster in Florida during the Bush-Gore election, to Jack’s thoughts on what would happen in a brokered convention. It was an absolutely delightful evening, spent with a couple of old and new friends.

I have been reflecting on what the odds would be for a political junkie like me to meet three strangers that all play on the national political stage. The odds must be astronomical that I would separately meet three such individuals in the course of one short trip.

In the space of a couple of days I got to hear the thoughts of players on both ends of the political spectrum. Their comments were not knee jerk or born out of spite. Everything they said was thoughtful and calculated, yet offered totally different thoughts as to what the nation needs in a leader.

In this election season that feels like chaos and has brought many to hope and many to despair, I find myself somewhat comforted by the thought that this nation will prevail regardless of the outcome. Reasonable citizens can have reasonable disagreements and yet still enjoy the conversation. I had that opportunity this weekend and felt better for it.