Lady Bird

Again, this is an OLD story that everyone has heard some version of, but remember guys you told me to practice – you all and your silly notions that I’ll get better with time.

Back in the day I worked for a PBS station in my home town. One of the joys of working in the non-profit world is attending non-profit events so you can kowtow to your social superiors in the desperate hopes they will rain money on your head. (See dictionary.com for other words I think suit those events when describing my job duties – words like “obsequious” and “servile”. The word “prostrate” also works well in getting to the root of how I conceptualize my function at the station.)

This particular event was in an older building that had been renovated into a downtown loft. One of the old offices in the building (I’m sure a 2 bedroom/1 bath affair now) had formerly been occupied by President Johnson. That meant for this event, it was best to have Lady Bird along to bless it along with a pack of old Texas political cronies.

I was loitering in the lobby like a good staff peon making small talk and throwing the occasional fake smile about when I was told “Beth, you’re going to be an elevator operator. The real operators are late.” My face twitched as if they’d told me I was going to scrub the floors with a toothbrush. So, off I go to the elevators wondering when exactly people forgot how to press buttons on their very own. Although, again we’re dealing with the rich and the rich don’t press things for fear of straining a tendon in their fingers. (Get the impression I have “rich people” issues, yet?) I’m manning my elevator when my first gang of button challenged people arrives. Of course, it’s Lady Bird Johnson. The first lady of Texas. Walking, talking, living history. With her was Jake Pickle (a well respected congressman from these parts who served in the House of Representatives for decades), Lucy (Lady Bird’s denture clucking HD/AD daughter) and a pack of Lady Bird wranglers. I press “9” for the floor that Lady Bird is supposed to greet people on and am making mental notes to share stories with everyone. I mean, it’s LADY BIRD on MY elevator!

The doors to the elevator closed… and didn’t reopen… and the thing didn’t move… Someone was having a bit of wicked fun with me that involved trapping me on the elevator with some very well respected and famous people so that when we all died, I’d be the footnote – the “oh, and at the bottom of the pile was some PBS nobody that was used as padding. We suspect cannibalism, but Lady Bird swears she gained weight BEFORE the trip”.

I’m panicked at this point and so was spastic Lucy who proceeds to press ALL THE BUTTONS – every single button from 1-9. Funny how under stress even the most well-to-do can figure out how to make an elevator work. Finally, after several long and agonizing minutes the elevator moves. (Nice job architects that restored this building – way to scrimp funds on the elevator. I’m sure Otis is proud.) On the 2nd floor, Lucy hurls herself out of the elevator and beckons for the others to follow with a demanding “come on, mama!!!!”. The thing is though that Lady Bird has seen one too many major events in her life to let a slow elevator rile her so she shakes her head at Lucy and insists on staying put. I’d like to think Lady Bird chose me over Lucy. Victory for me!

We stop on EVERY floor (thank you again, Lucy – I appreciate your button pushing skills) all the way up to the 9th, but the nicest thing about it was having Lady Bird along for the ride. She told stories about many of the floors and stories about LBJ. Again, she’s an amazing lady and I’m really glad I wasn’t a footnote in her obituary that day.

That’s not the end, however. I have to goof on Lori. Later that night Lori and I were doing something highly important – namely, finding the free volunteer food on the 7th floor since the elevator manning had been quite taxing; it leaves one a little peckish. We’re on the elevator and in rolls Liz Carpenter in her jogging suit and silver lamé sneakers. If you’re not familiar with Ms. Carpenter, she was the White House staff director and press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson. Liz is a smart woman but a loud woman and she’s mighty proud to be a Democrat. Liz’s destination was that same 9th floor I’d dropped Lady Bird off on earlier that day. My thinking as she rolled into the elevator thus blocking any conceivable way out was that we’d skip the 7th floor and just come back down after.

Unwittingly, Liz had something to say about that. Liz, with her captive audience, began to carry on about being a Democrat, about voting Democrat and I’m sure something about getting Democrat tattooed on your nose when Lori hit her “Democrat chat” limit. Remember, these elevators redefined the meaning of slow so this Democrat talk and gone on for quite some time and when I say “captive” audience, I’m serious. The elevator doors finally opened on the 7th floor and I’m still on the “we’ll wait plan” when Lori, who has these long legs, just steps over Liz from the back of the elevator. I’m sure the adrenaline driving Lori to get off the elevator at that moment made her legs stretch even longer, because I swear in one step she went from the back of the elevator, cleared Liz whose wheelchair took up at least 15 feet and was out of the door. Being a good friend, I couldn’t just let Lori hang out alone so I have to start pressing through with the “excuse me’s” “pardon me’s” “oh, I’m sorry’s”. We were at long last elevator free or at least free enough that there aren’t anymore elevator stories related to this event.

I have to confess that in a small way I do miss the PBS events like this. Lady Bird, or really anyone of her caliber, is highly unlikely to stroll through the doors at my lowly state offices. You just can’t top the stories that came from working at PBS nor those brushes with fame and with living history.

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