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Kerry up-close and personal

It was hot out. I was wearing dark-black dress pants and the sun hit me like a dry cactus in the Kalahari. I sat and stood and sat again, and tried to move around. I thought more movement would help me cool off. It only made it worse. There was water being distributed, but it was limited. Normally, I would have jumped at it like a thirsty lion, but there were older ladies sitting around me.

The sky was bright-blue and relatively clear. The only thing I could see was a small police helicopter circling above me. For a brief second I felt like a convict on COPS running from the law. The bright light from the helicopter shone on me from above and I froze like a deer caught in headlights. I drifted out of this fantasy/nightmare and realized it was only the sun.

I was excited. I didn’t really know what I was going to ask, or what I was going to do, or even if I would have the opportunity to open my mouth at all. I was nervous, more with anticipation than anything else.

I don’t really like shaking hands. I don’t like hitting fists, high-fiving, or hugging either. I don’t really like being touched, period. So when John Kerry approached me, I didn’t know what to do. I had been watching this man on TV for months, and he seemed almost robotic. I planned on voting for him, but now he was coming toward me, right at me.

All surrounding motions slowed down to a snail’s pace.

Thoughts started circling inside my head: OK, he’s about to be right in front of me. I would be stupid not to say something and shake his hand. Should I ask a question? What should I say? Should I be smart, funny or both? Forget both, that would take too long. Oh God, here he comes.

Be polite, say Sir or Mr. Senator. No, don’t say Mr. Senator, you dork! His hair is greyer than I thought it would be. Iraq. I should ask something about Iraq. No, too serious. Wow, I thought my eyebrows were bushy. Here he is. What should I say?

I finally blurted out, “I’m voting in my first Presidential Election sir, it’s a pleasure to meet you!”

Meanwhile, inside my head: What a stupid thing to say. What was I thinking? I’ve made a fool of myself. He’s still holding on to my hand. I hate shaking hands. Wouldn’t you think he would hate shaking hands?

John Kerry looked at me and with the most sincerity he could muster said, “Well I hope I can get your vote.” Like he hasn’t said that before.

I managed to add a “You will, sir” before he walked away.

Wow, I thought to myself, I just shook hands with perhaps the next President of the United States. Political junkies will remember a young Bill Clinton shaking the hand of another JFK in a famous photograph that was made popular by Clinton when he was running for president. Will a similar photograph of me shaking hands with a present-day JFK surface years from now? Probably not, but a kid can dream.

With the beautiful Tampa skyline in the background, Sen. Kerry spoke to an invited audience about the environment Tuesday afternoon at Ballast Point Park in South Tampa.

I felt lucky enough to just be one of the few people in attendance.

To add to my day, Sen. Bob Graham was there as well. I am an intern at his Tampa office and have never had the chance to meet him. I took my picture with him, and shook his hand as well. He’s an unbelievably kind man. Think of him as your favorite Grandpa, the one who always brings you gifts.

Overall, my day was good. I met two successful politicians, acted like a bumbling idiot and sweated my butt off. But how many people can say they shook hands with the new JFK? Not many.

Charlie Eder is a sophomore majoring in mass communications and political science.