Sunday, April 18, 2010


The Docents at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace had their annual "Refresher Course" on Saturday. Ron and I were both asked to speak.

As you know, they are an amazing group of very knowledgeable and supportive representatives of the life and career of President Nixon. Many of them have told me that they love hearing our personal stories about the Nixons.

Ron does a fine imitation of President Nixon, and he peppers his stories with amazing impersonations of the former President. Those of you that have seen him in action, know what I am talking about. Our friend Warren Adler saw "Nixon in China" in New York and called to tell Ron that he did a better impersonation than the guy in the production. Could a stint on Broadway be in his future, the next time he flunks retirement?

I told the story of President Nixon meeting with Mexican President Diaz Ordaz in Puerto Vallarta. The President had been traveling non-stop, which meant that Ron and many other aides had been away from home a great deal. Bob Haldeman took pity on some of us and invited us to travel to Puerto Vallarta and have a few days of rest and recreation. Susie Chapin, Inge Elbourne, Pat Brennan and I were the lucky ladies. The State Department loaned us two dune buggies and we explored the beautiful beaches and mountains of Mexico. We stayed for several days at the charming, but long-gone "Garza Blanca" right on the beach. When the days of fun and sun ended, we returned to the official hotel, the "Camino Real." President and Mrs. Nixon arrival day dawned. "El Biggo Dayo" we called it.

Us girls were asked to disappear, and we were glad to, but requested one of the dune buggies for our getaway. I, the only one experienced driving a vehicle with a stick shift, took the wheel. We had admired the wonderful paintings of local artist, Leppe, and we wanted to visit his gallery. The artist had a whimsical style and did several paintings with American and Mexican flags to commemorate the historic meeting. We wanted to see if we could afford any of his painting with the flags.

When we found the street where the gallery was located, we were shocked and horrified to find the street closed. Having been in the country for a few days, we were very impressed with our own ability to speak the native language, and argued heatedly with the Mexican policeman telling us we couldn't enter that street. "Muy importante," we told him. "El biggo appointamente," we said heatedly as we pointed to our watches. It worked. He shook his head and moved the saw horses that had been blocking the intersection. We were thrilled and proud of ourselves.

When we matched the address of the gallery with the storefront, we couldn't believe our eyes. It was CLOSED. Why would they close it? It was an important day for both countries. Why would the artist want to lose potential business? Then we looked around. All the stores were closed. It was then that we realized we were the only vehicle on the street. Then we saw IT. A parade was headed right for us. Motorcycles, cars with flashing lights, flags, buses . . . . realization hit. It was the President's motorcade and it was headed right toward us.

Now, we had a choice. I could pull a U-turn and lead the motorcade. Or . . . we could sit where we were and let the entire Presidential entourage pass by. There is no place to hide in a dune buggy. There are no doors to duck behind or windows to roll up. We were four blondes trying to hide in plain sight. We froze. We were caught red faced and red handed.

Ron and Dwight were in the pilot car, clapping their hands in slow motion applause. All they said to us was, "Great way to disappear, girls." The President and Mrs. Nixon were riding in a convertible. He didn't say a word, but his face said it all. Mrs. Nixon, always gracious and loving to us, said, "You girls look so cute."

All the people on the buses were laughing and waving.

We didn't think it was funny until several minutes later. Then we couldn't stop laughing. The hilarity of the whole experience overwhelmed us and we had to exit the dune buggy to clutch our stomachs and bend over to accommodate the belly laughs. I promise you, we really did think we were disappearing as requested.

Can you imagine doing that today? In the first place, we probably could never "talk our way" into a secure area, and even if we did, we probably would have been taken out by roof top snipers. I have been on the street in Washington DC a couple of times when President Obama's motorcade is on the move. Streets are totally cleared for several, long minutes before his arrival. Traffic on side streets is blocked off. Pedestrians are told to stay on the sidewalk and "cease all movement." Police people yell at the tourists, "You, in the brown coat, stand still."

Then, finally, he goes flying by in a blur of frantic limo dust action. Tourists wave. "Did you see him", they ask each other? Bureaucrats and local residents release a collective sigh and go on about their day. It's the way of life in our nation's capitol these days.

I wouldn't have missed the way we got to experience Presidential motorcades for all the tequila in Mexico!


Gail said...

As always, thank you for your kind comments about we docents! I love hearing you and Ron tell first hand about your experiences! You both are such talented story tellers! Thank you both for sharing your life with us!!

Cathy said...

Loved this. You are a great story teller. The photos just makes it.
Thanks for sharing