The Tar Pit

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

President Reagan's Final Motorcade

Originally posted on June 12, 2004

Yesterday was a beautiful afternoon in Southern California.. I drove up the 101 toward Thousand Oaks a little after 2, not sure of where I'd end up viewing the motorcade bearing President Reagan back to the Reagan Library.

Then, as I made my way along the 23 toward Simi Valley, cars started to back up several exits before the exit for the library, so I got off the highway and asked for directions from a couple of policeman to a good spot to view the motorcade. They directed me toward Olsen Road, which has a lot of trees and shade. So, I drove along Olsen for a while, to get a look at the crowds as they were setting up along the way. There were good numbers of folks in patches, along with long empty stretches. Many children were out, with flags, and I saw some girls with red, white, and blue ribbons in their hair.

I drove past California Lutheran University and thought it looked picturesque, so I pulled off and parked at Thunderhead Road and walked back and set up my lawn chair. There were lots of people at the intersections at either end of CLU, so I decided to set up on a vacant stretch of sidewalk between them, to fill in a little.

I needn't have worried, because over the next few hours hundreds of people filled in around me, and the sidewalk was two and three deep. Folks were handing out American flags to those that didn't have any.

About 4 in the afternoon the Presidential jet bearing President Reagan flew into view over the bluff across the street from us, on its way to Pt. Mugu. The crowd stood to watch, in whispered excitement as the plane circled to its landing near the coast.

I had a little radio tuned to the Hugh Hewitt Show, and Hugh was playing clips and speeches from the Memorial yesterday morning in Washington. When Hugh replayed the speeches of President George HW Bush and Lady Thatcher, I turned up the little radio as loud as it would go and held it above my head. The crowd around me went silent and listened, still moved by what they'd heard earlier that morning.

I flicked the dial round to other stations periodically, to get updates on the progress of the motorcade. The John and Ken Show was providing the most information, so I settled there, and did my best to let those around me listen in. At the same time, they had a reporter at the Library with updates from there.

One particularly touching moment was when John and Ken described a scene from a video feed they were watching, as the motorcade made its way South on the 101. I held up the radio again, and again the crowd went silent, as we heard that cars were stopped along the median of the northbound 101, and that people had gotten out and were leaning on the concrete barrier to pay their respects to the motorcade as it passed on the other side of the highway. Only the far right lanes were moving at all.

One of the hosts quipped that "the people on the far right are the Democrats," to the great laughter of the crowd.

Democrats on the far right? I guess President Reagan had that effect.

By this time traffic had learned along Olsen Road, and I could see that some Secret Service men had discreetly placed themselves along our stretch of sidewalk. The local police made several sweeps, and then dozens of motorcycle cops pulled up and positioned themselves every forty yards or so along the crowd.

Then, President Reagan's final motorcade came over a little hill into view.

The crowd was silent, and people held their flags high.

I saluted. I don't know if that's appropriate, as I never served in the military, but it was all I could think of to do.

First the police, and the press car rolled past. Then a limo. Before I realized it, I was looking right in at Mrs. Reagan, Patti Davis, and Ron Reagan looking right out at us. Ron was furthest away, and silhouetted, but I could see that he was fixed on the crowd. Patti, pretty as ever, appeared both stunned and moved as she looked out at the well-wishers.

Mrs. Reagan held a sad, grateful smile as she waved at us gently. One couldn't help but feel privileged to be there, to offer her what small measure of consolation we could in this time of her great loss.

I let my gaze linger on their car as it passed, still saluting. I turned to the next family car, which I assume held Michael Reagan, though I'm not sure I could make him out. Someone in the far seat of that car leaned across the others as it passed and flashed us a huge "thumbs up" against the window to us.

A car or two later a blue Lincoln Town Car passed, and I saw an elderly, red-haired lady with her head bowed down in the back seat.

It was Lady Thatcher.

I couldn't tell if she was weeping, or weary, or both, but she was heroic in the frailty of that moment, having traveled so far at such great effort to her to honor her old friend an ally, President Reagan.

Eventually, as the sun settled toward sunset, the remainder of the motorcade passed, and the silent crowd stirred, and talked softly, and in awe, at the History, and the life, that had just passed before us.