By Jeff Salter
Well, let me make clear that none of the presidents I’m about to mention ever had any recollection of our close encounters… as they were blissfully unaware that I was in their vicinity. But I’ve nonetheless held on to these experiences as likely the closest I’ll ever get to the leader of our nation.
John F. Kennedy
Yes, I saw John Fitzgerald Kennedy in real life, when he visited New Orleans … likely sometime in late ’62 or early ’63. I know school was in session because I had to miss a day of Junior High School.
It was just my mom and me and I’d made a little sign which said, “Welcome Kennedy.” Our home was divided politically — my mom being conservative and my dad liberal, so she only went because of me. I stayed out of politics at that age, but I was enamored with our new young president and even wrote the White House for an autographed photo of him. [I’m sure he didn’t actually sign it himself, but I had it framed and hanging on my wall for many years. Wish I knew where it was now!]
Anyway JFK was up on a stage WAAAYYY over yonder and we were among the crowd of thousands. Did I see him? Yes. He was a tiny speck in the distance. Did he spot me or my sign? Uh, no… probably not.
George H.W. Bush
He was only Reagan’s vice president when I saw G.H.W. Bush outside the courthouse in downtown Shreveport LA, shortly before he was elected to the top office. We were fairly close — at times, I was probably no more than 50-60 feet away.
But I got really distracted watching all the Secret Service guys. It’s weird how I was magnetically drawn to the proximity of one (who was probably muttering to himself, “wish this geeky librarian would get out of my perimeter”), but I was fascinated. Then I remembered that scene in Taxi Driver where Robert DeNiro starts talking to the SS guy, and I moved away. I didn’t want him to think I was THAT creepy. Ha.
William J. Clinton
No longer recall when this occurred during Bill Clinton’s eight years in office, but he came to Shreveport at least once. He stayed at the Remington Suites luxury hotel in downtown, just about 1.5 blocks from the library where I worked. My normal route to work was to drive in front of that facility, but on that morning it was blocked off, so I had to drive around the other side. Did I see Bill? No. Did he know I was there? Nope. But he was probably eating breakfast about a block and a half away from me, as I sat in my office around 7 a.m. that day.
George W. Bush
This final close encounter was not very close in one sense, but it was quite dramatic in many ways. On that terrible day of Sept. 11, 2001 – a couple of hours after planes crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in NYC’s, the Pentagon in Washington DC, and a field in Pennsylvania – there was a loud roar of a large airliner over downtown in what was not a normal flight path. Hardly anybody realized it then – and it wasn’t really discussed publicly until the President had already departed – but Air Force One was bringing Bush to the HQ of Strategic Air Command at Barksdale AFB, in Bossier City … just across the river from where I worked in Shreveport. While the command and control structure was being worked out and experts were assessing the extent of those terrorist attacks, the leftover Cold War protocol required Bush to be in a place where he could be protected and where he could immediately order retaliatory military strikes, if the situation called for it.
That day was incredibly sobering in so many ways… and it was additionally “close to home” to know that the President was scarcely two miles away and wired into all the awesome might of the American military of that time.
So those are my close encounters with four American Presidents. Which world leaders have YOU gotten near … or even MET?