Tales from the Trail

Pool reporter.

Most people outside of journalism don't know what that term means; and could not possibly care less.

I know, because I have been the local pool reporter on a countless number of visits to Cincinnati or environs by presidents, first ladies, vice presidents and others who have Secret Service protection.

And I consider it the worst job in journalism.

When you are on the road with a presidential candidate, campaign press aides will promise you the moon and stars to make you happy.

They promise to make sure you are fed, that you have plenty of time to file your stories, that you will have dependable transportation to get from one event to another.

They may even promise you some quality time with the candidate.

After a while, though, you learn to take these promises with a grain of salt.

I've done a lot of traveling in my years as a reporter, from one end of this country to the other. Lots of airports; lots of airport hassles; lots of long cab rides from airport to hotel.

And I've learned a thing or two about travel.

Meeting very famous people in politics and the media has always been part of the territory in my line of work.

It generally doesn't impress me much, especially when it is at a presidential nominating convention, where you don't have time to stand around and gape at celebrities. (With one exception, which I wrote about in this column a while back, when I encountered supermodel Christie Brinkley and chatted for a while at a taxi stand outside a Los Angeles hotel in 2000. That got my attention.)

Dan Quayle.

Now, there's a name from the past you probably haven't thought about lately.

The 44th  vice president of the United States.

First Lady Barbara Bush was one of the most popular presidential spouses of my lifetime.

She was also one of the most politically savvy First Ladies we've had.

I found that out in early October 1992 in, of all places, a chili parlor in downtown Cincinnati.

She was here for the day campaigning for her husband, President George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States. Her husband was locked in a brutal and ultimately unsuccessful re-election campaign.

WVXU-FM

WVXU politics writer Howard Wilkinson spoke with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik Monday about the origin of his off-beat politics column, Tales from the Trail, and where it is going from here. You can find Tales from the Trail here.

One drawback to covering politics for a living is that you end up riding on a lot of campaign buses.

I've been a passenger on hundreds of them – some very fancy, others very plain. Some were reasonably comfortable; others were hot and sweaty and gave one the distinct impression mechanical failure was imminent and you might have to find an alternate mode of transportation.

But there was only campaign bus I rode on that was pulled over by the Ohio Highway Patrol for speeding.

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

Every presidential administration has its own way of getting its message out to the American people.

That's something we expect. Something we didn't expect was presidential communication via Twitter.

But that's another story for another day.

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

Charles P. Taft II – better known to generations of Cincinnati voters as "Charlie" – is a Cincinnati politician I never knew; he passed away in 1983, the year after I arrived in Cincinnati as an Enquirer reporter. I was one of two Enquirer reporters assigned to write his obituary. 

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

For Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan, the Cincinnati Democrat, 1974 was supposed to be a very good year.

He was a candidate for re-election to a second term as governor, facing the former Republican governor James A. Rhodes.

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

This is about the time I didn't interview Bob Dole.

Sounds like a rather odd thing to write about, but stick with me; there's a pretty good story behind it.

It was the early fall of 1996. Dole, a Kansas senator,  had just stepped down as majority leader to campaign full-time for president.

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

There aren't a whole lot of perks to being a politics reporter.

Not complaining, mind you. But it's not usually very glamorous work.

Ed. note: Tales from the Trail is a column that will take you behind the scenes of politics to see some of the funny, and sometimes outright bizarre things that happen on the campaign trail, based on Howard Wilkinson's recollections of 43 years of covering politics. 

I am a recovering smoker. A recovering heavy smoker.

I smoked day and night; and nearly everything I did during the course of a day triggered the urge to light up – getting up in the morning, having my first cup of coffee, driving to work, taking a break from writing.

Everything.

Having been one of millions of little kids in this country who worshipped John H. Glenn Jr. when, as a Mercury astronaut, he became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, it still boggles my mind that as an adult, I got to know him so well.

But it never really occurred to me that, in 1988, I would be sitting on the couch with Glenn in his hotel suite at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, trading political buttons with him.

But I did.

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