Howard Wilkinson: Tales from the Trail

For over 40 years, Howard Wilkinson has been covering the campaigns, personalities, scandals, and business of politics on a local, state and national level. He's interviewed mayors, council members, county commissioners, governors, senators, and representatives.

With so many years covering so many politicians, there must be stories to tell, right?

Look for a new Tales from the Trail column every Saturday.

Some people find it hard to believe, but there was a time early in my career that I was known to the public as primarily a humor columnist.

It's true. From 1977 to 1982, at the Troy Daily News, I had a column that ran in the Sunday magazine section called And Another Thing…Don't ask me how, but it became wildly popular in Troy; aside from the sport pages, it may have been the most read thing in the paper.

Beats me how it happened. But it made me a celebrity of sorts in that small town in western Ohio.

Having been something of a class clown growing up in Dayton, Ohio, terrorizing many an innocent grade school teacher at Cleveland Elementary School with my pranks and wise-acre behavior, I suppose it's not surprising that, as an adult, I would get my chance to be a genuine circus clown.

Complete with greasepaint, baggy pants, and dozens of skinny balloons stuffed into my oversized pockets to turn into balloon animals for the kiddies.

Part 2 of a two-part Tales from the Trail:

Sometimes, I don't believe it either.

I've had a career covering politics where I have gone to 16 presidential nominating conventions, Democratic and Republican.

More than any one human being should have to bear.

I shouldn't complain, though, even in jest. I've visited some great American cities, seen a few baseball games in some ball parks I might never have gotten to, and, from time to time, actually witnessed American history being made.

And told the story.

It's a fact; I have been to 16 presidential nominating conventions, Democratic and Republican, over the course of my career covering politics.

Some would say this cruel and unusual punishment is more than any one human being deserves.

After all, the political people only go to their own party's conventions. I go to both. Often in back-to-back weeks.

People often ask me which conventions have been the worst to cover and which have been the best.

Usually, when you look back at a long period of time working in the same place, it is the first day on the job that you remember the most.

The nervousness. The overwhelming desire to impress. The first time you have to go to someone and ask where the restroom is.

In other words, your general dorkiness.

That first day is something to remember.

But, for me, it is the second day I worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer I remember the most.

One of the most memorable interviews I've done in my career was with a man who was not a politician, but was a spiritual adviser to many occupants of the White House over the years.

Billy Graham, the world's most famous TV evangelist, who has spread his Gospel message to billions on television and in person all over the world since starting his ministry by pitching tents in a Los Angeles parking lot in 1949, is now 99 years old and living in retirement in his mountaintop home near Asheville, North Carolina.

It's not often in a political reporter's career that you find yourself in a room where you actually witness the moment an American president's chances of being re-elected go up in a puff of smoke.

I was in such a room on October 28,1980, at the old Convention Center Music Hall in Cleveland, for the only head-to-head debate between Republican Ronald Reagan and Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter.

And, to this day, I believe that debate sealed Carter's fate.

I traveled Ohio on enough campaign trips with the late governor James A. Rhodes, one of the true characters of Ohio politics, to know that his tastes in food were eclectic to say the least.

On the campaign bus, it was sandwiches made from his favorite lunch meat, Lebanon bologna. At the Ohio State Fair, it was funnel cakes and a stop at the lunch wagon run by Der Dutchman, an Amish restaurant in Plain City, for an overstuffed roast beef sandwich.

Last week, Tales from the Trail introduced you to some famous eateries that have become must-stops for candidates running for office in Ohio – from candidates for county offices to the presidency. There are so many such places in Ohio, dishing out chili, piergoies, ice cream, hot dogs and hamburgers that we felt a "part two" was needed. And, in fact, there are so many, that Tales From the Trail may revisit the subject in the future. Here are some more dining spots that make up the political map of Ohio:

Price Hill Chili, Cincinnati

Food and good places to eat are the one constant of running for public office in Ohio. Every city and town, it seems, has a restaurant, a diner, a hamburger stand that is a candidate-magnet. I've been in dozens of them in every corner of the state. This is part one of a two-part Tales from the Trail on my memories of dining on the campaign trail. Part two will follow next Saturday.

The Maid-Rite Sandwich Shoppe, Greenville

I write this in the form of a confession.

The bad news is that I was once guilty of creating fake news.

The good news is I was only 13 years old.

Back when we were kids, growing up on the east side of Dayton, my buddy Mike and I put together a whopper of a scam that was meant to prank none other than the U.S. Air Force – specifically, Project Blue Book, the Air Force's long-standing program to investigate reports of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

Reporting sightings of strange things in the skies was all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s.

There are some invitations to Christmas parties and holiday gatherings where you can thank the person inviting you and send your regrets for not being able to attend.

You might feel bad about it, but there's only so much time and so many places you can be.

In November 2009, I received one where "regrets" was not an option.

An invitation to the White House holiday party for print reporters.

Jim Rhodes, the late four-term governor of Ohio, could be a real pain in the neck.

He could also be a very funny man, in a Rhodesian, Southern Ohio kind of way.

I remember two days, both at the Ohio State Fair, where I experienced both Jims.

The first time was in 1994 and the second in 1998, long after Rhodes left office. Rhodes was getting up in years and couldn't walk the fairgrounds the way he did in the old days, when he was the grand poobah and chief architect of the annual summer event in Columbus.

I'm writing this for those of you who may be just out of college and looking for a job; or those who a bit older but who are looking for a change of scenery in the workplace.

It is the story of how you can do something incredibly stupid in the middle of a job interview and still get the job.

Not that I recommend this method, mind you. But I am proof positive that it can be done.

Allow me to explain:

If you are what we euphemistically like to call a "veteran" Reds fan, you no doubt remember watching the sixth game of the 1975 World Series between the Big Red Machine and the Boston Red Sox.