Opinion

Non-political story: Joe Biden and I talked in a Cedar Rapids bar's parking lot

It's not malarkey. It happened.

Then-U. S. Sen. Joe Biden speaks with Dave O'Brien (left) of Cedar Rapids and Biden's sister, Valerie Biden Owens, durin
Then-U. S. Sen. Joe Biden speaks with Dave O’Brien (left) of Cedar Rapids and Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, during an event at Union Station Bar and Grill in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 22, 2006. (The Gazette)

On a hot summer late afternoon when you really needed sunglasses outdoors, I stood in the parking lot of a Cedar Rapids bar and had a one-on-one conversation with a future president of the United States.

I’m a really big deal, you know.

I’m kidding. About being a big deal, I mean. The thing I said in the first paragraph is for real.

A little back story: In 2006 I started toying with the idea of doing a blog for thegazette.com about the different and, yes, strange places presidential candidates would be holding campaign events in our midst.

The time seemed ripe because 2008 was going to be one of those rare election years when the nominees from both major parties would truly be up for grabs. A lot of people entered the race on both sides before it was whinnied down to Barack Obama and John McCain. Iowa was flooded in a different way than usual, with presidential candidates instead of high water. Remember Tommy Thompson? Dennis Kucinich? Sam Brownback?

So I did the blog in ‘07, though relatively few people saw it. Plus, I frankly got kind of sick of people coming up to me at campaign stops and saying “Is this a sporting event?” I’m a lot more tolerant now. In fact, I’m downright saintly.

You can’t find the stories anywhere because we changed servers or something, and

Anyhow, I went to a Cedar Rapids house party for Hillary Clinton. I rode in a service elevator with McCain in a Cedar Rapids hotel after he spoke in one of its ballrooms.

I was at Rube’s Steakhouse in small-town Montour with Mitt Romney. I was at a diner in Tipton with Mike Huckabee.

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I was at a Cedar Rapids bar called the Irish Democrat with Irish-American Democratic U.S. senator Chris Dodd. I was at a Hawkeye Downs gun show with U.S. congressman Tom Tancredo. I was in a large shed at a Cedar Rapids business called Rexco Equipment with Rudy Giuliani.

There were no intimate gatherings here with Obama. He always needed big rooms for his crowds. I saw him at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids the day he announced he was running.

I didn’t care a bit about the stump speeches or the politics. I was interested in the weirdness of it all, the nooks and crannies these candidates visited in Iowa, the people they attracted.

When I was kicking the idea around, I thought I’d go to Union Station Bar and Grill in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 22, 2006, because I’d heard Sen. Joe Biden was going to be there to stump for Democratic U.S. Congress candidate David Loebsack.

Either that would whet my appetite for going ahead with the blog, or I’d realize the concept was more fun to me than the reality of doing it.

So I went, watched Biden work the room a table at a time, then saw him give his more-formal remarks to the two dozen or so people who were there expressly for the event while others drank and did other bar things on the other side of the bar, many oblivious or apathetic to the fact a U.S. Senator was sharing space with them.

Biden was all over the map with his remarks, from being serious and forceful to having some laughs. It was clear he was going to run for president though he was over four months from announcing it.

After Biden shook the last hand and made his last greetings to people in the bar, I followed him out of the bar and into the parking lot and told him who I was and why I was there. I made sure he knew I wasn’t covering that event for anyone. He didn’t care.

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He stood in that parking lot on that hot day, and was what TV show “Seinfeld” referred to as a “close talker” who conversed with me for over 10 minutes. I wish I had a tape of it, because I have little memory of the subject matter. I just know he was genuinely friendly and fired up, going on and on with a total stranger in a most-unlikely place for the two of them to be having a discussion.

Biden ended up getting no traction in fundraising or getting people to his Iowa events, and finished fifth in the Iowa caucuses with a little under 1 percent of the vote. He withdrew from the race that night.

Seven months later, Obama made Biden his running mate. Twelve years later, Biden is the president-elect.

It maybe now that you’re wondering what the point was to this story. I’m not sure there is one. I But you made it to the end, so it’s all good.

I chose to stay in sports writing, by the way. The speeches coaches give are shorter.

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