To remind, "there" is the Reagan National Security Forum at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. When last we spoke (wrote? read?), I was flying across the country making use of the wifi-enabled aeroplane. It won't be long until all planes are so-equipped, leaving us breathless and bitchy when the system is down. For now, I consider it a great gift of the airline gods, and so made maximal use of it by Tweeting incessantly throughout the flight. You want to make seven hours of flying go fast? Tweet your ass off.
I arrived at the Burbank Airport right on time (thanks, Southwest), and began my California adventure by attempting to find the rental car confab. Didn't take long, but along the way, I was able to size up the Burbank Airport. Horribly laid out, it is a place that appears to be stuck in the 1950's--a theme I will return to. Don't get me wrong--it has all the accoutrements of an airport--but is very narrow, as if designed for smaller, less prosperous travelers. One must walk everywhere (horrors), no moving sidewalks, no escalators (it appears to all be on one level). It is one of those airports designed in a slower, different world, where a traveler would be let off right at their gate and or picked up similarly. Which is of course, completely orthogonal to how it is done today.
Finding my rental (Chevy Cruze), I began the 33 mile trip largely up 101 , or "the 101" as Californians put it. All highways (freeways) are preceded by "the" as in "the 5", "the 405"---something not done in any other state, to my knowledge. Burbank ain't much of a town, kinda run down, kinda seedy, but once you're free of it things begin to improve. As you drive, you see signs for streets you've heard of your entire life, because much of your life has taken place in Southern California produced TV shows--Van Nuys, Oxnard, Sepulveda--the names roll past as you drive along the road.
California was once the land of the future, but to me these days, it seems stuck in some weird time warp, as if the population density and environmental regulations conspire to ensure no buildings are torn down. And so, my mind looks around and sees street scenes and other scenery that would have been familiar to me as a five year old watching the Brady Bunch. It just never seems to change.
Ravenously hungry (it now being 3:30PM stomach time, with only peanuts thus far consumed), I stopped off at a small commercial strip about a mile from where my GPS program was telling me my hotel was. There I found a serviceable looking Chinese joint busy with the daily lunch crowd. I was ushered to my seat and enjoyed a tasty chicken and broccoli and treated to the overloud conversation between a doughy white man of about fifty, and a 20ish year old Latino. Truth be told, it was more of a monologue, as I did not hear the Latino utter a complete word the whole time, merely monosyllabic grunts of assent. The largish fellow spoke several decibels higher than was required, and in his banal story telling, seemed to take great pride in his ability to recreate engine noises and the vocalizations of farm animals. Needless to say, I did not linger, and headed to my hotel.
The hotel is a resortish place, very nice, and I have a fine room with all the trimmings including a Keurig single serving coffee maker, which I believe should be included on the "Travelers Bill of Rights". My first request at the front desk was to have a massage, and they made the appropriate arrangements for two hours later. Once in my room, I tried to do some writing (I have a speech to do in Colorado Monday, and I am avoiding its creation), and I made a few business calls. At the appointed hour, a nice woman arrived and gave me the aforementioned massage, which was wonderful. As soon as she left, I suited up to get a little exercise in, hoping to relieve myself of the Chinese calories recently acquired.
As I walked in, I ran into former Missouri Senator Jim Talent, the senior defense adviser to the Romney Campaign. We spent a half hour trading stories of depression as we ran on the treadmills, both of us reaching the same conclusion many of you have--we elected the wrong guy, and we missed the opportunity for sublime competence.
Back to the room for a bit, then off to dinner. The resort has a few restaurants, but I was too lazy to look at the map to figure out where, so I ambled by the front desk to ask. There, seated by the fire, was my friend/mentor former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, also a senior Romney adviser. We greeted each other warmly and spent a few minutes doing what Talent and I had done. It is almost like some kind of flamingo mating dance, this renewal of friendships among those from the Romney team. There is a structure to it, wistful but clear. All of the conversations play out along this structure, only the players change. Secretary Lehman--in his wonderfully inclusive way--asked me if I would join him and one other for dinner, and as they were headed where I was headed, I of course agreed.
It was a delightful dinner. Lehman is one of the single most interesting men I have ever met. He worked for Kissinger in the Nixon White House, and was in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Ford White House. He was Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, perhaps the most consequential man ever to hold that title. He then went off and created what appears to be an investment bank/hedge fund, buying up American industrial businesses initially in the maritime industry, but increasingly now in other areas. He knows everyone, or at least everyone who has mattered to me in my lifetime. He is downright funny, and his stories lock you in rapt attention. What amazes me is that he's been at this stuff since 1969..but is STILL only 70 years old. He was Secretary of the Navy at 38. If it sounds like hero worship, it probably is.
The three hour time difference began to catch up with me as the night rolled on, and so I begged to be allowed to proceed on duties assigned. Short walk, clothes in a pile, wake-up call requested, unconsciousness. Eight hours later I was up and alert at 0500, and so here I am. I will shortly get myself together and head over to the forum. I imagine it will be an amazing day, and I will let you know how it goes.