Saturday, May 5, 2007

My Meeting with the Senator

A young man in a fairly sharp suit was already seated at the table when I came into the lobby of the Econolodge in Ortonville. In one hand he held a cup of coffee, in the other a single sheet of type-written paper, almost as if he were practicing a speech. We exchanged greetings and I went over to drop an English muffin into the toaster.

“Traveling on business?” I asked him idly when I’d returned to the table. He was. (Who wears a suit at a motel for any other reason?) After a moment of silence he courteously returned the inquiry.

“Oh, we’re just traveling around, exploring this part of the state.” My wife Hilary had come in by this time, and not long afterward a young woman in a brown suit entered and drifted past us toward the breakfast offerings. She looked very familiar to me, but I held my tongue. Everyone deserves a bit of privacy, and besides, you can’t be sure. And we were in Ortonville....

“We just drove for three hours to go to a one-hour meeting,” the man volunteered suddenly, seeming a little put out by the effort. “And where are you going next?”

I said something about doing some bird-watching at Big Stone Refuge, visiting Madison (Robert Bly’s home town), and Pipestone. I mentioned the windmills on Buffalo Ridge.

“We’ve seen the windmills,” the woman, whose back was turned, volunteered from across the room.

“What business are you in?” I finally asked the man. At that point the woman turned and said, “I’m US Senator Amy Klobuchar.”

“I thought you looked awfully familiar.” I said. “It’s a small world. I’m working with your dad on a book. There’s a story about your bike trip to the Tetons in it.”

“Yeah, and he won’t let me read it,” she said.

“It’s a very nice story. Nothing to worry about,” I replied. She asked which other stories were in the book, and I couldn’t help asking in turn what she was doing way out on the prairies. Meeting with some government honchos?

“No, we’re meeting with ordinary citizens, like we do in every part of the state. The big issue right now is the scarcity of honey bees.”

“It’s true the populations are declining, " I said. "I read about that somewhere. And do you know why?”

“That's what I want to find out.”

“Cell phones, " I said nonchalently. "The signals disrupt the bee’s navigation signals.”

“I see. So I’ll tell the farmers that cell-phones are disturbing the flight-plans of honey bees... and I’ll site you as a source. I can see the headlines now. Senator Claims Phones Kill Bees. I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you go give the speech, and I’ll go bird-watching.”

“You know, most honey bees aren’t even native to the Western Hemisphere,” I countered lamely.

“Oh, great. So you’re suggesting I tell the farmers to consider themselves lucky they had bees for a while, and simply go out of business?”

We agreed that this would not be a good plan of attack.

“One farmer recently bought $150,000 worth of bees from Australia. So I guess they’re not giving up hope,” the senator said.

While we chatted, it dawned on me that Amy was actually pumping this wild-haired, sun-burnt stranger in the lobby of the Econolodge for information. She certainly seemed to want to find out more, no matter what the source. I was very impressed by her concern, which was clearly personal rather than professional, and her utter lack of inhibition. In the end, the best I could do was: “Check the Conservation Volunteer. I think they had an article on the subject recently.”

As we finished our coffee Amy told us in some detail about her quest to win the "Golden Gavel," which made it necessary for her to fly back to Washington that very evening after meetings in five western farm towns.

And off they went to the Hilltop Cafe to meet the local folks, while we left town in the opposite direction to see about a flock of winnowing snipe.

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