Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Commuting to DC

Before you watch tonight's speech to the Democratic convention from Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden, and certainly before you vote in November, please read this story in today's Washington Post about how Biden commutes home by train to Delaware every night. I think it speaks to just how much of a regular guy the Senate's poorest member is, and to how little Washington has changed him.

Joe came in here with a motorcade," says Daniel Thorpe, 44, a cab driver at the Amtrak station. A motorcade? For ol' Joe? Everybody here is used to seeing Joe Biden by himself, on his way to and from the train -- used to being able to go up and shake Joe's hand, talk about the grandkids.

Anyway, on Monday there he was. Big photo-op and a huge crush of press and Secret Service all around. Joe won't be taking the 7:35 a.m. Acela to Washington for a good long while, so he wanted to drop in and say goodbye...

"Some mornings he would ride down on the train and literally buy the entire car and conductors coffee," says Claire DeMatteis, who worked for Biden for 10 years and sometimes rode the train with him. He'd get up and say, " 'Anybody want coffee?' And anybody who wanted got coffee."

He talks to passengers. He talks to the folks who take his tickets. He talks policy and family and everything in between. If he's waiting for a train, he talks to the folks at the ticket counter and to the shoeshine guy and the redcap guy and to Johnson, the newsstand cashier -- which is why, when Johnson found out Joe was joining Obama's ticket, she called her mother to brag about "my friend."

He throws parties for retiring conductors, and once had a crewman serenaded by bagpipes. For Biden's first day back at work following two operations for brain aneurysms in 1988, he took the train, naturally. "The engineer saluted him with a longer-than-usual toot of the train's whistle," UPI reported at the time.

"He used to have a picnic at his house for the train crews," says Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), another frequent Amtraker.

I am leaving DC on Sunday, and while I am not a city person and am very much looking forward to getting out of Dodge, I will say that Amtrak is near the top of the short list of things I will miss. Its lack of funding and the fact that it has to share tracks with freight trains is a huge pain in the neck, but business class is cheaper and comfier than air travel and the staff is usually great, easy to banter with and almost as gracious as Biden himself.

Oh, and about Hillary's speech last night - First Read says,

As some Hillary watchers told us, it was her finest speech. It was an impressive balance of anti-McCain sound bites and the case for the Democratic way of governing. She really did strike a Goldilocks balance of preserving her own political future and being for Obama.

Told ya so.

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