"I’m here because I want to thank (Bill Clinton) for his tsunami support," he said. "I lived in Thailand for four years, and my wife is from there." Allen Espy, Asheville Citizens Times
about 4000 people total
after the speech, he was moving my way
right after he finished with me
As ex-President Bill Clinton works the crowd, that's me in the green shirt, looking back. A second later, I'm eyeball to eyeball with the 42nd President. He needed a breath mint; perhaps I did too. In my one to two minutes of basking in reflected glory, I managed to mention that my grandmother from Headland, AL loved him. I also was able to ask a couple of questions about Russia - in particular, Vladimir Putin. And, living up to his reputation as a very charismatic politician, once I put my questions out there, he stopped shaking hands, stepped right up to me, reached for my forearm, squeezed it a few times, gazed into my eyes (a' la Rasputin) and gave me his two cents. That's my story.At the 3 second mark you can spot my bald head in the bottom left-hand corner. I'm wearing a dark greet tee shirt.
And, when I got home, I wrote out exact details about the experience.
Bill Clinton is walking down the line after stumping for his wife at the Asheville High Gymnasium. I’m in the front row, readying my camera and positioning myself for a chance to meet the former president. I noticed that Clinton actually stopped for quite a while with some folks just down from me, and I started thinking, “I’ve got to ask him a question to get him to stop and talk with me. Otherwise, it’s going to be a quick handshake and perhaps just a remark by me and that’s it. What can I do to get him to stop?” I knew I wanted to mention the name of my hometown and the fact that my grandmother liked him. It then dawned on me that I should just ask him a question, perhaps about Russia, since my trip last year was still fresh on my mind. Clinton soon reaches the guy just next to me. The crowd is pushing forward, and there’s a buzz in the air. The secret service agents are on either side of him. Then, as he was finishing shaking hands with that guy, he posed for some photos. As that was happening, I looked down and noticed his right hand resting on the railing, literally inches from me. I then moved my hand up to where his was, thinking this would be a guaranteed way to make sure I was next. I even opened my hand into a handshake position, and then put it beside his just to be sure no one else would sneak in and seize his hand. All this is happening in a matter of seconds. Then, as I expected, my turn came. I shook hands with Bill Clinton, made brief eye contact and the following interaction occurred.
Me: My grandmother from Headland, Alabama really loved you.
He reaches over the railing, back into the crowd, shaking as many hands as he could. At that moment, I’m leaning backwards to give him room to reach those behind me. When he’s done shaking their hands, he then pulls back and is clearly standing on his side of the railing. He was preparing to move on down the line but, for the moment, was still facing my section. That’s when I blurted out,
Me: What do you think of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin?
For a second or so, you could see that he was a little surprised that that was asked. He was looking right at me, just a few feet away. I was thinking, “Gosh, maybe that wasn’t the best question to ask considering his time, so I just followed up kind of quickly with,
Me: Maybe two or three words?
BC: Smart, too dictatorial
Me: You’ve met him, right? Did you think he was a nice guy?
He goes on shaking hands with the folks next to me, while answering a bit more.
BC: Oh, yeah. He’s smart. I can see why Russians really support him. Russia was poor and he’s made them strong again. Now the price of oil is $100 a barrel.
When he finished commenting and paused a bit from shaking hands, I looked at him and said, in a very awkward way,
Me: Thanks. I visited there this past July.
Clinton goes back to shaking hands, reaching around me and behind me. And, as he was reaching through, I kept the conversation going.
Me: Do you think we’re changing our policy towards them?
BC: Yeah, we’ve already had to.
A few seconds later, he’s back out in front of my section, standing a few feet from where I was, just over to the left. He then walks towards me and rests his hand on my forearm, which was up on the railing. This is when the photograph was taken. He follows up on my question, squeezing my forearm the way you’d talk fondly with your Aunt Suzie. I do remember thinking his breath was a bit dodgy, and that a breath mint could have done the trick. And, during this next bit of exchange, it seemed that time had slowed down. As he made the following remark, I was listening to what he said, but I was simultaneously thinking this “moment” will be over quickly, and that what was happening was once-in-a-lifetime.
BC: This missile shield we want to put in Europe has really angered them. Funny thing is the technology with the shield hasn’t been proven to work.
He backs away and I respond,