Road Kill Day One – May 5th – Washington, DC Started out the early morning hours with tornados hitting all over Tennessee. I finally went to sleep at 4 am only to get up at 6 am to go to the gym. I don’t like to fly in beautiful weather, so I was glued to the weather channel all morning. This afternoon, I flew to Washington, DC (Baltimore, actually) as Chely Wright’s guest. She is being presented the Kansan of the Year Award on Wednesday night. I set up a visit to the again to the Army War Room in the Pentagon, visits with patients injured in Iraq at Bethesda and Walter Reed and finally an after-hours tour of the White House. Busy day set for Tuesday. The plane took off on time even though there was lightning on the ground. My FAVORITE thing to do. It was turbulent but not unbearable. We landed in Baltimore and were walking through the airport to baggage claim. This really, really large obese lady literally ran over Chely’s tour manager with her rolling luggage. No sooner did we recover from that surprise when someone grabbed Chely’s purse. But, it was her sister – there to surprise her. Chely was surprised and her sister almost got a REAL surprise. Her road manager and I were ready to tackle her for snatching the purse! Chely’s guitar player has only flown twice before today. So, he was pretty much in “awe” of everything. We had a limo waiting for us at the airport and I think he drank half the colas and ate all the nuts on the ride in to the hotel. I called my daughter and was asking her about the weather back in Tennessee. I knew he was from Pegram, TN, and knew he was listening to what I was saying. So, I said, “so it’s still really bad, huh? Pegram, yeah, I know where that is. It’s GONE? Really?” Scared him to death. Now he’s thinking of a payback. Our hotel was changed at the very last minute. I was telling the story in the limo of how I got in a taxi during the inauguration a few years ago and the taxi driver handed me a book of maps and asked me to give him directions to where I wanted to go. Of course, I jinxed our trip. The limo driver got lost and he informed us that he was “keeping the maps in the front seat with him”. We definitely took a “scenic route” into the city. Went out to eat at a great Italian restaurant. How wonderful to be in a city where nice restaurants are open after 9 am. Big day tomorrow. Off to bed.
ROAD KILL – DAY TWO – MAY 6TH Up at 6 am to jog. It was only 52 degrees and light rain. Of course, I brought shorts and a cut off tee to jog in. I got directions from the doorman to the “best place” to run. Once I jogged a couple of blocks and came to the area he described, I realized it was Rock Creek Park! (where they found the body of Chandra Levy!). Needless to say I was a little nervous jogging alone. I tried to fall in behind another girl but she was slower than me so I soon passed her. Then I tried to stay on the path near the traffic but again, it wound into the park and I lost sight of the cars for a while. Obviously, nothing happened to me and it was a beautiful run. I cannot even begin to describe the day that we had. We started out with the Metro USO picking us up for the trip to the Pentagon. We were already running late because our hotel was changed at the last minute and we didn’t realize that we needed to depart earlier. Then, we got a few blocks from the hotel and a couple of the people realized they had left their ID’s in their rooms. Finally arrived at the Pentagon and went straight to the briefing in the Army War Room. I had just participated in this a few weeks ago with Darryl Worley (we were in the Army War Room the day that Baghdad fell!) and it is an incredible experience. They gave everyone a certificate of authenticity and a piece of limestone from the portion of the Pentagon that was hit by the plane on 9/11. I know it sounds strange, but holding the piece of limestone in your hands gives off such an “energy”. We all went down into the control room and Chely signed autographs and took photos for over an hour. Then it was upstairs to see the Secretary General of the Army (Mr. White… I think, too many names to remember!). He’s the one that just got fired by Donald Rumsfeld. His last day is Friday and what a wonderful person he is. Next was lunch in a private room at the Pentagon with the wife and daughter of the Commander of the Marine Corps – General Hagee. His wife is German and a lovely person as is his daughter. After lunch we went to visit with General Hagee. He’s in incredible physical condition. His daughter says he still has a “six-pack”. Gives me hope…. Then, the emotional part of our day began. We went to Walter Reed to visit with the patients who have been injured in Iraq. The first young man we met was missing a leg from a land mine. I can’t even begin to describe what we experienced there. The men who were injured from land mines, from RPG (rocket propelled grenades as Chely was quick to explain), from tanks and humvees rolling over them. Chely was absolutely incredible with each one of them. She chatted with them, had a photo made, and sang one song for them. I, on the other hand, stood there choking back tears and finding it difficult to say the right words. We talked with men for the 101st who were in the grenade attack at Camp Pennsylvania. We saw their “Purple Hearts” and listened to their stories. We visited patients in intensive care – one who was on a respirator and could not talk – only nod his head to our questions. We watched a soldier talk about his injury and reach down to touch a leg that was no longer there. Chely sang a Garth Brooks song for one young man from Oklahoma who doesn’t listen to country music, but knew Garth’s music. I held his hand while she sang and when a tear rolled down his cheek, Chely whipped it away with her hand and kept singing to him. We gave them flowers, calendars and t-shirts and she told each and every one of them how proud all of America is of them and that they are all “heroes”. Without fail, they all assured us that they are not “heroes”. That they were just doing their jobs. All of them were worried about their buddies that they had left behind to finish the job. Not one of them questioned what had happened to them or WHY we fought this war. They all knew the job they had signed up for and were proud to serve their country. No one wants a war but when you can speak personally with the people who have been on the front lines and have them tell you that they knew what they were fighting for and proud to serve, then it gives a much different perspective on the reasons for our actions. When we went to Bethesda Hospital, General Hagee’s wife joined us and visited with each patient as well. An amazing thing happened near the end of this visit. We were advised that Chely would be speaking with a young man who had been badly injured but was expected to recover. His biggest problem was the fact that his best buddy was killed and he was having a had time with that – why did he live instead, the guilt of not being able to prevent his death, etc. Chely was talking to him and he showed her a photo of his friend. Only his last name was on the photo and Chely said, “Is this Pat Nixon?” The soldier and Chely were both speechless that it was someone she knew. Chely purchased a car last year from the marine’s father. It is such a small world. I know that her visit lifted the spirits of the patients. The majority of them were in incredibly good spirits already and it was such an honor to be able to meet them, chat with them, and thank them on behalf of everyone. The only humor of the day was the fact that the photographer we had with us said all the patients and staff thought I was the celebrity. Ready for this – they thought I was Celine Dion! I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not…. Anyway, the told the photographer that they were impressed that I was carrying my own backpack! We rushed back to the hotel to change for our after-hours White House tour. I got specific directions on where to be dropped off and of course, the taxi driver dropped us off a mile from where we were supposed to be. All the females had on very high heels, so we were limping along Pennsylvania Avenue trying to find the correct entrance. Finally arrived and some tall man with a Southern Accent much more pronounced than mine came out and started talking to us. He was like someone out of a movie. Very nice but ohhhh that Southern Charm! My friend who is a Secret Service Agent for President Bush met us and walked around with us. He’s such a great guy. Of course, we peppered him with questions that he wasn’t allowed to answer. Chely’s sister asked him if he was “packing” and proceeded to “pat him down”. We threatened to throw rocks at the upper windows and call George down. I’m sure we aged him 10 years. Country comes to town. It was a very cool tour. The Press Room was one of the highlights. We stood at the podium and had our photos made. I’ll have photos posted on my website next week. When we left the White House, the same charming Southern Attorney was leaving as well and comes running towards us saying, “Oh my little lost lambs!”. He was a real hoot and a highlight of the White House visit. I got his card for future reference 😉 Went back to the hotel to get out of the stilts we were hobbling around on. Since I hadn’t eaten since lunch, we went to a Thai restaurant to have sushi (go figure!). A dear friend of mine who was the “Wolf” at Kunsan AFB in Korea in 1998 when I was there with Danni Leigh was in town. He’s now a Brigadier General and stationed at Randolph AFB in San Antonio. He met us for dinner and drinks and he and Chely talked about their experiences flying F-16’s. We’re trying to talk him into coming to Korea with us for the 4th of July performance. The guy with the Army who had filmed us all day also joined us. It was a very late night – 2 am before I got in the room and 3 am before I got off email! I KNOW I have left out so many wonderful details but just can’t remember everything we experienced yesterday.
DAY THREE – MAY 7TH Woke up to the sound of my cell phone ringing. My daughter was calling to tell me a tornado was headed straight for my son’s house. Nice way to start the day. But, it didn’t touch down and other than losing a lot of baby goats in the flood, everyone was fine. Worked out at the hotel gym, which was expensive and just “okay”. Sitting in my room TRYING to catch up on business now. Forgot one of the best parts of the day yesterday. We got to go into the part of the Pentagon that was hit by the plane. They showed us exactly where the plane flew in and crashed through. There is a memorial and a beautiful little chapel on the site now. It was a very moving experience to sit in the chapel and think back over the events of 9/11. Worked on email all morning (imagine that!) then had lunch with Chely’s sister and aunt. Got in a brief spurt of power shopping (imagine that, too!) then back to the hotel to dress for tonight’s Awards Ceremony. The event was supposed to be held outdoors but the rain changed those plans. There was a beautiful view of the Capitol from the balcony and when we arrived for the reception an incredible rainbow was right over the Capitol. We all braved the rain and took photos. The dinner was really special – lots of Senators, Congressmen, and Kansas political VIPs in attendance. Chely made a beautiful speech about her experience visiting Walter Reed and Bethesda. I know that everyone from Kansas was already proud that she was receiving the award but after that speech there was absolutely no doubt that she was a truly deserving recipient. My friend – now considered as “our” friend – the “Wolf” was able to join us for the event. He is such a nice, special person and we’ve taken a vote that he needs to run for office. (Yes, Steve, we’ve planned your campaign strategy and guess who’s going to be spearheading your campaign???). Chely performed several songs after the presentation and I met a nice young man who turned out to be the nephew of Anita Hogan – Mark Wills and Darryl Worley’s co-manager! Such a small world. But Anita – HE WAS CLOGGING! Oh well, he’s from Texas so he can be forgiven. We all went back to the hotel and had a pizza party at 1 am. I was able to grill the Wolf on all the inside scoop while he was working at the White House. He’s much too professional to give us any confidential info but just little tidbits excite this group! Bed at 2 am, much earlier than I anticipated.
ROAD KILL – DAY 4 Up at 6 am for my last jog in Rock Creek Park. It was much less frightening this time because it wasn’t raining and there were lots more joggers out. We all departed for the airport in a huge stretch limo and had fun watching the people in the cars passing by staring at the limo and pointing. We know they think it was a extremely important person in our vehicle. If only they could have seen inside and heard our conversations. Remember that next time you’re stopped beside a limo – they can see you even though you can’t see them. Minnie Pearl’s advice would be “do not pick your nose”! Did I tell you what a special person Chely Wright is? She never failed to introduce me to everyone and recognize my efforts in bringing entertainment to the troops. I am definitely not accustomed to be singled out or even thanked for doing something that I feel is such a privilege and honor. I was very fortunate to meet some influential people last night who will ultimately be able to further my efforts with Stars for Stripes. Flight departed on time and we’re headed home. Photos on the website next week.