32 years ago this week, my longtime compadre, 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? WE HAVE TO BE THERE!” I bellowed.
Peter was all for it. A few weeks previously, another teacher friend, Dave Wall, was giving me a lift to Harvard Yard when we heard that former President Jimmy Carter was at the old WBZ TV studios on Soldiers Field Road, three miles from Widener Library. Dave and I veered toward the studio’s front entrance, waited outside, and then greeted ex-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 to catch a plane.
Peter Green 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. Twelve traffic-filled minutes later, we pulled into the Amos A. Lawrence Elementary School driveway, where a phalanx of satellite trucks was already there covering the event.
We immediately leaped out of our car and sprinted to the scene. On our way to the voting area, we skirted past a reporter who was on the air. I heard her breathlessly say: “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 and the Secret Service swarmed around the candidate. Governor and Mrs. Dukakis then strolled out of the school amidst the tumult.
At that instant, Peter and I were about 20 yards away from the couple. However, instead of heading for their awaiting Secret Service limousine, Governor and Mrs. Dukakis made a beeline to a sea of voters who were grouped outside the school’s perimeter. “Kell!” Peter barked to me, “They are 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.
“Mike Dukakis from Brookline,” the Governor effusively greeted me.
“Shaun Kelly from Wellesley,” I replied. “I have already voted for you today, Sir!”
The Duke and his wife smiled, thanked us, The then Democratic candidate for president gestured to my Red Sox hat on my head and exclaimed, “That’s my team!” The Governor then patted my Harvard sweatshirt I was wearing that day and quipped, “And that’s my school!”
Mike and Kitty Dukakis then got into the limo and sped away with Secret Service agents riding the ramp of the car and sirens echoing from the three police cars accompanying it. As Peter Green said later, “The Duke picked us out of a few hundred people, chatted with us, and then just took off!”
A visibly irritated Sam Donaldson, a prominent ABC reporter at the time, sallied up to me, looked me up and down, and then barked, “Who the hell are you?”
Although others might have been nonplussed, I characteristically was not. I immediately retorted: “While I am a graduate student at Harvard, Sam, you might know me from my pitching days as a decidedly mediocre reliever for the Brighton Braves of the Boston Park League!” He scratched his head and disappeared while Peter guffawed.
In the end, Peter Green and I were both so galvanized by the entire experience that we blew off our classes and ended up drinking way too-many-beers at the legendary Cask ‘N Flagon, adjacent to 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.