Monday, February 22, 2010

My Best Friend Forever and Former Neighbor, Alexander Haig, RIP

When Alexander Haig died recently, I was surprised to see a headline in the San Jose paper that identified him as a former "White House aide." He wasn't a "White House aide;" he was President Reagan's Secretary of State. Unfortunately, what most remember about him is that when President Reagan was shot, Haig took to the podium in the White House press room, misstated the line of presidential succession, and,in a shaky voice,told us:

"As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and in close touch with him."

He looked too much like Dr. Strangelove to most of us that day, and, though he served for another sixteen months as Secretary of State, his swan song was truly written that moment in the White House press room.

I, however, had none of this insight in October of 1981, when I moved to Washington D.C. to work as a reporter for the ABC-TV affiliate there. My husband and I bought a little house just across the D.C. line in Bethesda, Maryland, right near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Western.

One night, we were driving home from the Kennedy Center on Massachusetts Avenue, in our orange Ford Fiesta, when a jaunty little Mercedes zipped by in the left lane. The profile was immediately recognizable.

"Hey," sez I. "That's Alexander Haig. Let's follow him and see where he lives." I was naive, I know, but I thought one day information such as this might come in handy. Plus I was really curious to find out if he lived near us.

My husband was driving and he was a little dubious, but since we were going the same direction as Secretary Haig anyway, he agreed.

Mr. Secretary's Mercedes was followed, I should add, by the usual complement of black SUVs filled with large guys wearing heavy overcoats.

As we crossed Western Avenue, we passed the street where, to go to our home, we would have turned right. Instead, we followed the Mercedes about a block further up the road and, when Secretary Haig turned to the left, so did we in our Ford Fiesta. My husband was muttering under his breath that this was a really stupid idea, but I was not to be deterred.

Unlike our own tiny little abode with garage space for one vehicle, Mr. Secretary had a dandy town home with a big two-car garage underneath, and, as we made the turn onto his street, his car was just disappearing behind his automatically operated garage door.

That's when we noticed his street was a cul-de-sac and we were the only moving vehicle on it at present.

The large men in the black SUVs wearing those large raincoats had sneaked past us, had parked around the street in a circle-the-wagons formation, and were just reaching under their coats for something (weapons perhaps?) as we turned into the cul-de-sac.

We slumped down in our little orange car and tried to be invisible as we headed home over to the less expensive side of Mass Ave.

"That was great," said my husband. "Now our license number will be registered with the Secret Service."

But I was still in dreamland. I'd seen where the old guy lived. I'd made those security guys do a little work for their money--they were on special alert at the time, for what were then being called "Iranian Hit Squads," which, by the way, never materialized. I had enjoyed my little people-watching-brush-with-greatness-brush-with-being-shot-at-by-the-Secret-Service enormously.

After I had lived longer in Washington D.C., I became more jaded and got so I didn't even notice when a motorcade went by. I became too sophisticated to poke my husband in the ribs and urge him to follow a cabinet official.

And when that happened, I lost the sense of wonder I felt that day, at how much fun it was and how interesting it was to live and work around the people who run the world.

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Alexander Haig at Wikipedia

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