September 24, 2000.
The traffic snarl was endless.
Those of you who share the misfortune of living and working in a big city, know exactly what I am talking about when I describe it as the meeting between the Friday night rush home, and a major sporting event; there was no way I was going to be on time. The road leading to the Convention Center runs right into the heart of Coconut Grove and I had made the choice not to run the back streets. Big mistake, really big mistake.
The minutes turned into hours as movement became a matter of feet per minute rather then miles per hour, and by now the rally was well underway, my only consolation being the Bush/Cheney 2000 sticker on every car around me. This was no Miami nightlife traffic, it was a Conservative pilgrimage. This night Mecca was the Coconut Grove Convention Center, and I was late.
I grew tired of the radio and fumbled around for some soothing music, I needed something to counter the growing frustration as I counted the 16th consecutive change in the traffic light half a block away, we moved at less than a car length with each change. As I turned the dial searching for something other than 70’s rock and Disco revival music the sound of a soft country guitar brought back some old memories. Willie Nelson filled the car with his voice and I sat back to listen.
“I grew up dreaming
of being a cowboy,
and loving the cowboy’s way.
Pursuing the life
of my high-riding heroes,
I burned up my childhood days.”
I cracked a smile at the irony of the memories flooding my thoughts, I was in Cuba when I fell in love with the image of the American cowboy. I played, six shooters blazing, among majestic royal palms and tropical beaches in a land where everything American was officially hated. My little brother was the designated Indian, normally a fierce and proud Apache. There where only two guns and by sheer size advantage they where mine every time we played; little brother got the piece of branch with the string tied to the ends, sometimes I put a chicken feather on his head. I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me for that.
The traffic continued to crawl as Willie worked his magic on me.
There where six of us living in the two bedroom apartment in La Habana as I grew up, my grandparents having moved in with us after losing their small country store to the nationalization of Cuba’s private businesses. Every night, after dinner, we would settle into the living room furniture to enjoy one of the few luxuries available to us, a 1956 model Zenith black and white, still running strong in 1968. That was a really big deal, there hadn’t been a new TV set available since the Revolution and no parts to repair the existing ones.
The couch sat on the opposite wall from the console, under a large window. Dad always opened the curtains as we all sat, and soon we would hear the neighbor’s kids settle in on the low cement wall outside, the Gonzalez theater was open for business.
After all the propaganda and news shows ended, there was a movie, usually a pre-Castro Hollywood silver-screen classic. Cagney, Flynn, Bogart and Douglas Fairbanks molded my fantasies, but none with the impact of The Duke; the tall man with the soft Western drawl was the quintessential American. Eyes permanently squinting from the prairie sun and a tough as leather look, the swagger represented well the notion of a proud and free people. His unwavering bravery and strength in the face of every situation creating, in my mind, a picture of the United States I carry with me to this day.
I was startled into the realization that the light in front of me was green, I had the Convention Center dead in sight with no more cars ahead of me.
There was, as I had expected, no parking available at the Center so I made a quick left and drove half a mile to Monty’s Stone Crab. I found a spot near the edge of the marina and hurried to the event.
As I rushed a sense of dread began to take over, I was well over an hour late and surely missed the man I had come to see, and there where hundreds still trying to park and many more walking down Bayshore Drive. Parents and children, young people in jeans and Bush/Cheney t-shirts, older folks in suits and dresses all with the same look of urgency on their faces, we had to get there now.
I caught up with an older event participant, moving slowly and with some difficulty down the sidewalk. His shirt caught my eye and I smiled, I had not seen a Reagan/Bush election shirt in twenty years, time flies by so fast. I tapped the old warrior on the shoulder and smiled at him, he called out “Viva Bush!” and we give each other thumbs up.
The old man’s shirt reminded me of a similar event twenty some odd years ago, Ronald Reagan had made a stop in Orlando that campaign, and because of work and time constraints I missed him. That was my first major Presidential campaign, and with an awakening sense of conservatism, I was completely involved in the Great Motivator’s campaign; I was a hard-core Reagan Republican then, and I still am one today. Twenty some odd years later the missed oportunity still bothers me, so not this time, I refused to let it happen again.
The room was a madhouse as I made my way in,. Signs, cheers and lights where accompanied by the music of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. Yes sir, this was my kind of party! The place was rocking and people where dancing and waving Bush/Cheney 2000 signs everywhere; I was home.
I worked my way through the packed floor looking for the friends I was supossed to meet there, I knew basically where to look thanks to their cellular calls. I found them but could not get closer than four rows behind them, this would have to do.
From the stage, the familiar opening strains of “America the Beautiful” sounded as Willy Chirino took the microphone; in Miami, Willy is every bit the superstar that Gloria and Emilio Estefan are. Suddenly he broke into Spanish and the words penned by Jon Secada took my breath away as I heard, in my native tongue, a tribute to the greatest Country the world has ever seen, my home.
The speeches drew wild cheers from everyone. George P. in Spanish. Jeb, our Governor drew thunderous applause, Illeana and Lincoln Diaz-Balart stood on the stage. It was family night in Miami and everyone was there.
Finally the moment we had all been waiting for arrived as the man of the hour was introduced, and what I thought impossible happened. We got louder as the room went from a roar to the sound of thunder as George W. walked across the stage. Emotion overcame my normally stoic public face and I turned my head to wipe my eyes. I found myself staring into the face of an elderly and plainly Cuban-American woman standing next to me, she was openly weeping. We grinned like children at one another and I turned back to the stage.
It was over way too soon, we would have stood there for hours listening and cheering the message of the vision of an America that once was and would be again. But I had unfinished business to attend to. You see, I wasn’t there to listen to political speeches, I know what I’m doing come November, the same as I have done every November since I was able to vote. I was there to look at my candidate’s face. I was there looking for America.
Dubya approached the edge of the stage and shook hands with many, including one of my friends, some of the crowd began to leave and I was once again able to move forward, and that’s when it happened; for one incredible moment, Dubya looked up. Now, I don’t know if he was looking right at me or not, it really was of no consequence whatsoever because I saw what I wanted to see.
The eyes squinted under the glare of the stage lights, but the lines where well worn, a product of the great Texas sun. The face was rugged and honest, emanating self-assurance and quiet strength. This was the face of the America of my dreams and my memories. Randolph Scott, Gene Autry, Gary Cooper. I saw them all in that face. A face as rugged and honest as the wide open Texas plains, eyes as clear as the blue skies over the Lone Star State.
Governor George W. Bush walked off the stage like one of my heroes riding off into the sunset. As he turned for one last wave I saw them stand next to him, maybe it was my eyes, maybe it was the lights. But I swear he was flanked by The Duke and “Dutch”.
By God, I love this Country.
In the coming years many will question my support of George W. Bush, and I will enjoy seeing the expression on their faces as I answer their questions with some words from a Willie Nelson song.
“My heroes have always been cowboys,
and they still are it seems……………..”
Originally published September 24, 2000.