Caspar Weinberger died today. When we met it was a far different time in this country. 1985. December. I was about halfway through a solo train trip around the country. I’d come coach on Amtrak from L.A. through the southwest and Texas for a whirlwind overnight layover in New Orleans. Then it was into Alabama where I rented a car in Birmingham and drove up to Chattanooga for an extended visit with relatives in Tennessee. From there I picked up the train in Atlanta destined for Washington, D.C.
I arrived, caught a cab to my hotel, checked in and crashed the rest of the day away. Somewhere along the line I’d caught a cold and it was ravaging me but good. But I was in the nation’s capitol for the first (and so far only) time of my life and I wasn’t going to let any bug or the cold winter weather keep me from spending the next day wandering around and seeing the sites.
The next morning I woke up sick as a dog, but I popped some over-the-counter meds, bundled up and cabbed it first to Arlington National Cemetery to visit John F. Kennedy’s gravesite as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Back across the Potomac I came to the Lincoln and Vietnam war memorials and from there I made my way up the mall and through various museums and the Washington Monument and the White House all the way to the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court Building and then the Capitol Building where once inside I encountered Weinberger on a staircase.
That’s all. We passed each other. Him going down and me going up. But I’m pretty sure my jaw was agape as I recognized him as none other than the Secretary of Defense. Nevermind that I loathed him the same way I loathed pretty much everyone in the Reagan administration, for a split second I became a lame fanboy who froze on one of the marble steps and turned to watch him as he moved down the rest of the steps and out of view, somewhat in shock and awe at seeing someone of such prominence and distance who I only knew from pictures and video and soundbites suddenly become flesh and blood.
But certainly not larger than life. He was one tiny dude.
Anyway, I followed that up with a tour of the capitol and then walked aaaaaallllll the way back down the mall back to the other end to see the Vietnam and Lincoln memorials after dark when they’re illuminated and at their most illuminating.
Then it was a cab ride back to the hotel where I crashed again. The next day I was back on the train and headed for Chicago where my most memorable encounter wasn’t with any of Ronnie’s cabinet, but instead with two thugs who I faced down and scared away. But I’ll save that tale for another day.
Rest in peace, Caspar.