With the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, the U.S. Senate is a poorer place and not in the financial sense. In a city where ego is rarely in short supply, Mr. Lautenberg stood out as truly gracious and a real gentlemen. He was also the last member of the “Greatest Generation” to walk the halls as a Member of the Senate.
If you spend enough time in Washington, you typically have some good stories about well-known people. Senator Lautenberg’s passing brings back a memorable anecdote from the winter of 1987-88. It was early evening — probably around 7 or 7:30 pm — when a young speechwriter to George H.W. Bush walked out of the Old Executive Office Building and began the walk up 17th Street to the Farragut North metro station. It was raining and the hapless speechwriter had naturally forgotten his umbrella.
As he was walking past the front door of the New Executive Office Building, a car pulled alongside. The front, passenger side window went down and the 60-something driver inside called out, “Is this how you get to The Mayflower?” It was and a short back-and-forth ensued about the best way to the hotel since road construction had made 17th Street a nightmare.
Finally, the driver asked, “Are you going that way?” Yes, sir, replied the twentysomething government worker in the dark (and increasingly wet) wool suit who still didn’t have any idea to whom he was talking. “Get in. I’ll give you a ride,” the driver snapped.
When we got to the hotel, I hopped out and thanked the driver for the lift. His reply: “You can tell your friends you got a ride from the Senator from New Jersey.”
In different circumstances, the logical rejoinder would involve a Soprano-esque snark about New Jersey and “going for a ride.” But not today. R.I.P., Mr. Lautenberg.