It was January 2008, and several Republican presidential nominees had converged on Myrtle Beach in the lead-up to a nationally televised debate. Candidates and their surrogates were speaking all over the area. Fred Thompson shook hands, and made Law & Order references. Rudy Giuliani spoke to the many older New Yorkers retirees that peppered the area.
You know, the normal politician stuff.
Except one man.
Mike Huckabee. The bass-playing, two-term Arkansas governor.
He had the one thing that no amount of politicking could overcome.
Maybe you have forgotten just how big of a deal Chuck Norris was in early 2008. For the previous year or so a series of yet to be disproved facts had been circulating around the tubes of the internet. T-shirts were made.
Forget Walker Texas Ranger days, Chuck Norris hadn’t been this hot since he brought about the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Huckabee/Norris caravan had several stops planned, but my insurmountable fear of rule-breaking prevented me from skipping school to make it to any of the events.
The debate, to which my US Government & Economics class had scored some tickets, was my last chance to catch a glimpse of the American hero.
I showed up early, and immediately began to scan the crowd for Chuck. There were no Communists lying in pain or any other obvious signs that he was near.
I walked closer to the entrance of the convention center, I noticed a tent surrounded by a group of loud young-ish people. Surely this was it. These guys looked exactly like the kinds of people who would love a good Chuck Norris joke.
A gentleman from this group saw my curiosity, and walked towards me with a pamphlet.
I was confused.
There picture of the old white guy on the handout matched the one on his shirt. It wasn’t the old white guy I was looking for. This geezer didn’t look like he could handle a single commie.
The pamphlet mentioned that he had delivered 4,000 babies over his career.
I tossed it in the trash on the way in. I couldn’t allow anything to distract me from today’s goal: find Chuck Norris.
Once inside a lot of things distracted me. Security. Crowds. Lines to get into the bathroom.
I found my seat, and tried to wrap my mind around the fact that for the next few hours I would be in the same room as Chuck Norris.
Six guys on stage argued whether a recession would or would not happen (oh those were the days), whether a man should be able to marry a man, and many other politic-y things.
Considering I this was happening forty days before I turned eighteen, and ten months before I would vote for president for the first time, you’d think that I would spend more time paying attention to what was being said.
But seriously, how do you concentrate on policy when CHUCK NORRIS IS IN THE SAME ROOM?
By the end of the debate, my Chuck-finding fervor had died down.
I was tired.
[insert joke about Republicans boring me to sleep]
We stood up, and gathered our things. The candidates stayed on stage to shake each other’s hands and waive to the cameras. Little children were taken up to have their foreheads kissed.
Then he just walked out. Chuck Norris came from backstage and walked towards Mike Huckabee. I tried to move towards him, but the crowd was already too thick.
I couldn’t touch him, but I saw him.
I like to think that he saw me too.
Back outside that tent that was handing out pamphlets before the debate still had a big crowd. I walked over, and again some guy thrust some paper my way. I declined his offer, but stuck around a bit to listen to what the old guy from the shirts, who was now in the middle of the crowd.
Ron Paul wasn’t a dominating figure, but he commanded the crowd. They cheered. He spoke. They cheered. It was bizarre because I found his answers during the debate kind of boring.
I shrugged and went home.
I hate talking about my experience at the debate that night. I feel guilty. I had the opportunity to take part in something pretty special. I had a chance to listen to one of the candidates – one I’d grow more sympathetic towards as I grew older – speak to a small crowd of devoted supporters. But all I cared about was getting Chuck Norris’s autograph.
I let the draw of a larger-than-life celebrity distract me from the important conversations that were happening.
If you look at it like that, I guess I don’t have anything to be upset about.
I was just a few years ahead of the curve.