• U.S.

WASHINGTON DIARY: AIRPORT, THE SEQUEL

3 minute read
Margaret Carlson

Unboarded from the 6:30 a.m. flight to New York City because the Manchester, New Hampshire, airport got fogged in, Peter Jennings hauled himself to the Hertz counter to rent a car. As he headed out to the parking lot, the man behind the counter talked into the intercom. “He’s on his way.” Pause. “Just give him the best thing we’ve got. He’s Platinum.”

The 50 fog-bound politicians and press people stuck in the terminal broke into two groups: those who believe movement of any sort is better than being at the mercy of forces beyond your control, and those willing to wait it out. After a week at the country’s most expensive sleep-away camp for the politically addicted, this mass of cell phones, dirty laundry and self-importance was frustrated. How could the world turn if they were grounded? Paula Zahn reported that her husband couldn’t see 41st Street from 42nd. “Let’s get a car,” she said to Morton Dean and two producers. “Five hours,” she muttered. “It’s a good thing I like you guys.”

New York magazine political columnist Jacob Weisberg formed the nucleus of the stay-put group. “We have warmth, coffee and the means of mass communication,” he explained. “I’m waiting.” His faction included humorist Dave Barry, who suspected a plot to keep the quadrennial revenue stream flowing one more day.

I was in the Weisberg-Barry group–mindless motion can land you on a Greyhound to Newark–and I ended up getting the last seat on a prop plane to Dulles Airport. Bay Buchanan was on the flight, a picture of peacefulness with eyes closed on lift-off, knowing that below her Bob Dole and Lamar Alexander were grounded. Pat, who took off the night before, was already in South Carolina fulminating about Beltway betrayals.

The New Yorker’s Washington luncheon to celebrate its women’s issue was more like a midday slumber party–a quite nice one, actually–than a power gathering. We might not have gone so squishy if Hillary Clinton had shown up. As it was, the highest-ranking woman may have been Sally Quinn, Clinton’s oft-quoted critic in the New Yorker article on the First Lady. Emcee Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who encouraged women to rise and bear witness to their troubles, broke the spell of sisterhood when she pointedly called on Quinn to explain why women participate in the trashing of Hillary. Quinn, stunned, gamely allowed as how Hillary may have finally found her niche pursuing children’s issues.

Others went on about getting your legs waxed while reading to your son (editor Tina Brown), James Carville dropping his soiled underwear in the dining room (his wife, TV talk host Mary Matalin) and the general conflicts besetting mother-magnates–until Eleanor Holmes Norton scolded the group, blessed with hot- and cold-running nannies, for whining. When Hunter-Gault applauded the lack of wonkiness, citing a discussion of male testicles at one table, Andrea Mitchell’s beeper went off, as if on cue.

Dirty laundry, beepers, whining–it was beginning to feel like the Manchester airport, only here all the participants were eager to demonstrate that they weren’t one-dimensional power mongers but soft under their designer suits. Maybe that’s why women can still joke about male body parts, while if men discoursed about hooters at the Gridiron Club, they’d be hung–in the anatomically correct way.

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