I got on board the AMTRAK train to New York at New Carrollton as I normally do. Walking down the aisle wheeling my carry-on luggage with one hand and holding my coffee and blueberry Danish in the other, I spotted my old friend Joe. Even though he was wearing Ray Ban sunglasses, there was no mistaking his big, broad smile. Joe and I had spent many hours together on AMTRAK - Joe going to Delaware and me going to New York.
Joe must have recognized me; he gave me a little wave and moved from the aisle seat to the window seat and signaled me to sit next to him. He held my coffee and Danish while I placed my luggage in the overhead bin.
"Thanks!" I said while sitting down, "It's been a long time."
"Yes, it's been a while," Joe said with his big smile still in place.
"Good to see you, you're looking well" I said while taking my first sip of coffee and began to unwrap my pastry.
"Thanks! By the way Tom, where did you buy your coffee and Danish?" Joe's smile broadened.
"I got them at the little café at the station as I usually do. Why?" I asked curiously.
"How many workers do you think it took to get that coffee and Danish to you?" Joe asked without answering my question.
"I don't know. There's the lady at the café stand that sold me the coffee and blueberry pastry. I guess someone had to bake the Danish, and someone had to deliver the coffee and Danish to the station. Is that what you mean? Also someone had to pick the coffee beans. Someone had to pick the blueberries," I answered becoming more confused.
"So that's five, but I guess we really shouldn't count the coffee bean picker. The coffee is probably from Columbia or somewhere else in Latin America. So let's just say four. I better call that in," Joe said holding up his hand before I could say anything.
Taking out his cell phone Joe dialed quickly telling me, "My office."
"It's me," Joe said into the phone, "Add four jobs for Maryland." After a short pause Joe continued, "No, I don't know the district. It doesn't matter much. Just add them to Maryland," Joe said turning off his phone.
"Tom, you just saved or created four jobs for your state. It's being added on my Web site as we speak," Joe said beamingly.
"So you're still in charge of tracking jobs," I said smiling almost as broadly as Joe. Since I'm a retired government employee with both military and civilian service, I know that there were many ways to count things to prove that government is doing a great job - from counting sorties and body bags in Vietnam to the number of turkey dinners served to the homeless on Thanksgiving.
"Yes, it's about the only thing they have me doing now!" Joe laughingly answered.
"What are you doing back on AMTRACK?" I asked a little surprised to see him on the train.
"Going home to Wilmington," he answered a little defensively but still grinning.
"I mean, why the train?" I asked incredulously.
"As you know I took the train for years, and the White House said it may be good for PR purposes to ride the rails again. You know with all the deficit spending and the President flying off to one fundraiser or another, they say that the Administration needs to appear to save money somewhere. I like trains. I really don't mind," Joe said adding a half-hearted laugh.
"They?" I asked.
"Well, it started with Rahm Emanuel, but continued with Bill Daley as Chief of Staff. You know, both Chicago boys you don't argue with! But like I said, I really don't mind," Joe said, this time with his big smile a little too forced.
Looking around at the other passengers in the car, I asked, "Where's your Secret Service agents? I don't see any unless they're now wearing flip-flops, shorts, and an Eagles tee shirt." I was describing the nearest passenger; a middle-age man, about 50 pounds overweight, who was sipping a Bud Light while munching on some chips.
"The Secret Service said they don't do trains anymore - not since Adlai Stevenson in the '50s. They said that it's even in their union contract! They're going up by helicopter. They'll meet me at my home," Joe said, then added, "I really don't mind." I thought that I noticed a slight crack in his smile.
"But is it safe? You're traveling alone?" I asked in amazement.
"I did complain, but Daley said that I should be okay. He said that no one would notice me as long as I kept my big mouth shut. He then gave me these Ray Bans to wear," Joe said with a little more emotion than usual. "I really don't mind," Joe added quickly.
"So you're going home for the weekend?" I asked hoping to change the conversation to a more pleasant topic for Joe's sake.
"No, I moved back a few months ago. I'm living there permanently. Daley said that it would be good for me to get away from Washington. He said that they'll send me an e-mail if they wanted me," Joe said still smiling.
"So, what were you in Washington for?" hoping that Joe was needed for something of national import.
"Oh, it was just my secretary's birthday. They needed me to bring out the cake," Joe said with a snicker.
"But it's good going home. You'll be spending some time with the family," I said trying to put a decent spin on Joe's situation.
"No, I'll be alone - Jill off to Africa, visiting refugee camps. She'll also be meeting with some presidents and prime ministers. I only meet presidents and prime ministers when they're dead, going to their funerals. But like I said, I really don't mind," Joe said with a forced laugh at the end.
"What about the Naval Observatory?" I asked too eagerly, but I wondered what was going to happen to the Vice President's official residence.
"Daley said something about Hillary moving in. She's been traveling a lot and it would be better for her if she has a nice, secure home when she's in Washington. She can also use the Observatory for official business and entertaining foreign dignitaries. At least that's what Daley says. I really don't mind," Joe said as if he really did mind.
"What does the President say?" I asked being an inside the Beltway junkie.
"I haven't seen the President much since the Beer Summit. Jill sees Obama more than I do! Daley doesn't want me around the President much. Daley says that if I have to be with Obama, I should keep my big mouth shut. Daley says that if there are any microphones around, I should keep my big mouth shut. No big [expletive deleted] deal. I really don't [expletive deleted] mind," Joe said with too much emotion.
"Keep your voice down, Joe," I whispered. "You don't want anyone to recognize you."
"What are they going to [expletive deleted] do? [Expletive deleted] drop me in 2012?
[Expletive deleted] replace me with Hillary? I really don't [expletive deleted] mind," Joe said with more passion than I have ever seen him express.
"But Joe, I think if you play your cards right and stop saying '[expletive deleted]' you can stay on the ticket in 2012 - as Hillary's Vice President!" I advised my good friend.
"Now THAT I really wouldn't [expletive deleted] mind!" Joe said with his biggest smile that we all know and love.