Last night I flew from Los Angeles to Houston and early this morning I flew back, all for one man: George H. W. Bush.
We all have traditions of some kind. If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you know that one of my traditions is to attend every Presidential inauguration, regardless of party. That’s why you would have found me in the audience of both President Obama’s and President Trump’s inaugurations. Another cherished tradition is to pay my respects in-person when a U.S. President dies. I did this when Ronald Reagan died and again when Gerald Ford died. And last night, I did it for George H.W. Bush.
President Bush’s casket arrived in Houston from Washington yesterday afternoon, where it was to lie in St. Martin’s Episcopal Church before a final funeral service earlier today. Although the funeral itself was invite-only, the church was open to the public from 6:00PM yesterday evening to 6:00AM this morning.
Figuring that paying my respects in Houston would be easier than in Washington, I booked the following trip on United:
This schedule would allow me to work almost entire day, travel to Houston, and be back in LA to put in another full day’s work today.
How I Almost Missed My Flight
Yesterday afternoon, I planned to leave my office in Glendale at 4:00PM. Depending upon traffic, it can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes to reach LAX. We had a meeting scheduled from 3:00PM – 3:30PM that went over and I ended up not leaving until 4:05PM. Furthermore, it was raining in LA yesterday and traffic was the worst I’ve ever seen it.
I did not arrive at LAX until 5:15PM, just 25 minutes prior to departure. I parked in short-term and sprinted across the street, up the escalator, and into Terminal 7. Thankfully, the PreCheck line was empty and I was through security in two minutes. I made my flight, with a few minutes to spare.
Onboard, I found myself in a middle seat in the exit row. After catching my breath, I settled in and used the flight to work…and also to enjoy a United cheeseburger:
After all, I didn’t know how long it would be before my next meal…
The Great Necktie Adventure
Arriving in Houston, I changed into my suit and made a dismaying discovery. In my haste to make my flight, I had left my necktie sitting on the passenger seat of my car. It was now after 11:00PM…could I find a replacement tie at this hour? At that moment, two United gates agents walked by me, wearing ties. I seriously considered hitting up one of them for their tie, but my mobile phone suggested a Ross about 15 minutes from the airport was open till midnight.
Once again, this would come down to the wire. I jumped in the shuttle to the rental car center and upon arrival, sprinted to National’s Emerald Aisle, jumped in the first car I hit, and headed for the exit. There was a line to get out…
By the time I was out and on the road, it was 11:26PM. If I did not take any wrong turns, I would arrive at Ross at 11:44PM.
I found myself on an eerily empty tollway. A stark juxtaposition to Los Angeles, there was a stretch of about two miles where I was the ONLY car on either side of the road. It felt like a horror movie.
I arrived at Ross at 11:48PM, and found this:
They closed early! I knocked on the door but they would not open it. But the mission had not failed: there was a Kohl’s next door…and it was still open!
Now at this point you might ask why. Why did I even need a tie? What difference does it make? I do not dress up when I go to church or funerals to earn brownie points from others or from God. To me, it is an issue of respect. I wore a suit and tie to demonstrate my respect, in this case, for the man and the institution he represented.
Kohl’s had a huge selection of ties and I had trouble choosing. Eventually, I chose the one in the middle. I was literally the only customer in the store. The only one. I was so happy Kohl’s decided to lose money and stay open late for me…and I even got the tie for half off. I will always smile every time I wear my
$34 $17 tie from Kohl’s and think back to where I purchased it.
The Waiting Game
It was now a 35-mintue drive to the Second Baptist Church of Houston, the staging grounds where the public had to line up in order to reach St. Martin’s. Traffic was not as bad as I thought, though I sat for about 10 minutes waiting to turn into the parking lot of the church.
Car parked, the waiting game began. Lines were quite long, though they moved quickly. After waiting outside for a bit (it was cold, but heat lamps were strategically placed), we entered an indoor area where Secret Service screened every person. My belt and watch set off the metal detector and I was carefully wanded by a Secret Service officer.
After security, a bus took waiting mourners from the Baptist campus to St. Martin’s. Once there, I faced another line to get into the church. I’d estimate 90 minutes in line, total.
I entered the church as the clock struck two o’clock. In this season of Advent, I was reminded of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. There, when the clock struck one, the ghost of Christmas Past appeared. Ebenezer Scrooge was given a picture of his life…a depressing picture of greed and discontent. Oh what a blessing that it did not take the appearance of ghosts to make George H.W. Bush realize that a life of service to others leads to a life of contentment.
As I made my way up to the front of the sanctuary, the honor guard was performing its hourly ritual. I filed by Mr. Bush, said a small prayer, and continued on. I had come all this way for those 30 seconds.
On the way out, an usher handed me a small memento of my visit, something I also have from when I paid my respects to Reagan and Ford. I treasure these documents as memories not just of the president being memorialized, but of the joy of living in a nation, while not without many serious issues, that so remarkably boasts a peaceful transition of power between political parties.
My mind went to The Terminal, one of my favorite movies. It’s about a man named Viktor Navorski from the fictitious country of Krakozhia who comes to the United States to fulfill the work his father started. His father, an avid jazz fan, had vowed to collect the autographs of all 57 musicians featured in the famous “A Great Day in Harlem” photograph. Before his death, he had collected all but one and kept them in a Planter’s peanut can he entrusted to his son. Viktor completes his father’s work and obtains the only missing signature, that of saxophonist Benny Golson.
I thought about my own collection of Presidential momentos and hope that my son will one day continue this tradition when I am no longer able to.
Two Detours On the Way To the Airport
It was 2:40AM by the time I returned to the car and my work was done. But I was hungry again.
Since all the airprot lougnes were closed, I hit up a local Taco Bell. There’s nothing like a cheese quesadilla at three in the morning.
Back on the highway, I stopped to refuel the rental car and decided to take a little nap in the filling station parking lot. By this point, I was truly exhausted. That 20-minute power nap turned into an hour-long nap, but I had still had plenty of time.
I continued my journey to the airport, returned the rental car, cleared security, and headed for the American Express Centurion Lounge, which opened at 5:30AM.
It was nice to have some coffee, water, and a light breakfast before my flight home. I was still tired.
The Flight Home
I was very fortunate that the flight back to LA was lightly was filled. I managed to secure…without even asking…an entire row in economy class and used most of the flight back to LA to sleep.
Was it really worthwhile to spend the money and leave my wife and son to spend 30 seconds filing past a casket?
Yes, it was. But I must also commend my precious wife Heidi here for her patience with my eccentricities…
I’ll conclude with this thought on George H. W. Bush. His life of public service is such a testament to his character. Yes, he was born into privilege, but his entire life…from his days in the Navy to his final days as President…were spent serving a country that he loved. A country is merely the people that make it up. He loved people, one of our great callings.
I do not think the U.S. constitution permits compelled public service of any kind, but I sure do recommend it. To give back to a country that has provided so many opportunities to you seems like a necessary outflow of gratitude. Think how much better this country and this world could be if we all just did a little more, like President Bush did.
Finally, I was so touched by President George W. Bush’s euology of his father yesterday.
In that sense, my title is a bit of a misnomer. I did not spend 30 seconds with George H.W. Bush. For he is now flying with CAVU.