Years ago, just for spite, the night city editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sent me to cover Sen. Robert Dole’s keynote opening of the Young Republican National convention in downtown St. Louis. The regular political reporter was stranded on a highway and couldn’t get back into town from wherever he lived in the suburbs.
I said “for spite” because the editor knew I was a left-of-center Yellow Dog democrat. He also knew I’d arrived at work in my usual summer Saturday night uniform: thong-sandals, raggedy Levi’s, halter top, no bra, no makeup. Only homicides, fires, and fatal carcrashes happen on Saturdays.
Did he send my desk mate who had at least worn a shirt and skirt, perfectly acceptable attire for a Republican confabulation of rising creeps?
No. Send Sweets, looking like a refugee from a bad trip at Burning Man. And of course hotel security intercepted me the minute I walked into the lobby, clearly befuddled when they saw my press credentials. I knew for a fact the ladies who worked that lobby dressed a whole lot better than I presented.
Upon arriving at the auditorium, I had to get past local cops and two feds, none of whom believed I was a real reporter. Finally I found a seat, ignoring stares from fresh-faced young men with expensive haircuts, dressed in blazers, starched shirts, ties, and loafers with tassels.
After nearly freezing while sitting through a speech that seemed to go on forever, in an auditorium where the AC was set to Arctic, I breathed relief when the senator wrapped, posed for photographs, and began to exit up the aisle where I now stood — primed to pounce.
As Sen. Dole got closer, I raised my notebook and called his name. He turned, and started to say something as one of his bodyguards stepped between us.I called his name again and this time called out my name and that of the Post-Dispatch. At least he recognized the fact that I was too badly dressed to be a Republican or a hooker.
He got to where I stood, extended his hand, and said, “You must be freezing. Let’s talk in the lobby.”
And we did.
Senator Dole answered all of my questions and then asked about me — whether I was from St. Louis and how long I’d been a reporter. I apologized for my casual attire, explained who was supposed do the interview instead.
He in turn shared an anecdote about a time he had to make speech and spilled water on himself en route to a reception and decided to pretend nothing had happened. We continued to just chat. Every now and then I’d interrupt to ask if it was ok to use what he was saying, and he’d say yes.
And I ended up with a 1A story in Sunday’s paper. It was below the fold, but hey, not bad for an underdressed, Yellow Dog Democrat who conducted a perfectly enjoyable 30-minute interview with one of the most powerful Republicans at the time.