30 years ago this week, my longtime friend, Peter Green, and I were driving to our Harvard graduate school classes when we heard on the radio that Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis was about to vote at his local elementary school in nearby Brookline. “Hey, when can we ever see a man running for president vote in that election? Let’s go check it out!” I exclaimed.
My buddy, Peter, was all for it. A few weeks previously, another teacher friend, Dave Wall, was driving me to a class when we heard that former President Jimmy Carter was being interviewed by a news reporter from WBZ Channel 4 at the station’s Soldiers Field Road near Harvard. We veered toward the studio’s front entrance, waited outside, and then greeted President Carter when he exited the building. Dave and I ended up conversing with the nation’s 39th chief executive for more than five minutes until his Secret Service detail reminded Mr. Carter that he had another appointment.
Peter and I were now in a similar situation. With the same kind of impulsivity that had enabled me to converse with an ex-President, the two of us were now reconnoitering away from Harvard Square to the Longwood section of Brookline. Ten traffic-filled minutes later, we pulled into the driveway of the Amos A. Lawrence Elementary School where a phalanx of satellite trucks was already there covering the event. We immediately leaped out of our car and sprinted to the nearby voting area. On our way to the school, we skirted past a reporter who was on the air; I heard her say breathlessly, “Governor Dukakis and his wife, Kitty, are already inside the school voting. They should be out momentarily!”
A minute or so later, the Klieg lights fired up, and a string of reporters emerged surrounded by the Secret Service. Suddenly, Governor Dukakis and Mrs. Dukakis strolled out of the school amidst a flurry of media surrounding them.
At that instant, Peter and I were about 20 yards away, but instead of heading for his awaiting Secret Service limousine, Governor Dukakis made a beeline to those voters who were grouped outside the school’s perimeter. “Kell!” Peter barked to me, “They are literally heading our way!” Our impulsiveness in “witnessing” the historical event had now turned into something approaching the surreal. Seconds later, the governor approached us, vigorously shook our hands, and introduced himself to us.
“Mike Dukakis from Brookline,” the Governor said to me.
“Shaun Kelly from Wellesley,” I replied. “I have already voted for you today, Sir!”
The governor and his wife smiled, thanked us, and then got into their limo and sped away with Secret Service agents riding the ramp of the car and sirens echoing from the three police cars accompanying it. Sam Donaldson, a prominent ABC reporter at the time, sallied up to us and grumbled, “Who the hell are you?”
“I am a graduate student at Harvard,” I replied. He scratched his head and disappeared.
Peter and I were so astounded by the entire experience that we blew off our classes and ended up drinking way too-many-beers at the Cask ‘N Flagon, which overlooks Fenway Park.
Thus, if anyone ever asks me, “Have you ever conversed with a presidential candidate just after he or she voted in his or her district on election day?” I can answer in the affirmative. After all, life is what happens to us when we’re making other plans.