It was a day to remember, no doubt about that, from staring down the barrel of a state trooper’s handgun to having a steak with man destined for prison.
Okay. I know. You are wondering what kind of goofy story is this guy writing about. Well, what follows is a real “this happened to me” right here in North Dakota. Not on a dark and stormy night either. It was late afternoon in sweltering heat.
I was driving from Minot to Bismarck where I was scheduled to do a portrayal of Lt. Col. George Custer for a most prestigious group – the attorneys general from all 50 states. That is, is they all showed up. Their staff and assistants too.
While driving on the river road not far from Bismarck I was pulled over by the Highway Patrol. I was clocked at seven miles per hour over the speed limit in a restricted zone. Guilty.
The patrolman asked for my driver’s license and returned to his patrol vehicle to run a check on me. Checking the time, I realized I might be late for my appearance with the attorneys general and thought I could save some time by getting into my 1870s apparel.
I got out of my pickup, opened the topper, and let down the tailgate. Because it was so darn hot out, I had left town wearing gym shorts and tennis shoes. It was much more comfortable than wool pants, shirt, and the buckskin jacket in which I was now getting dressed in order to save a few minutes.
There I was, seated on the tailgate, pulling on high top boots, smiling, and thinking how much time I was saving. With the boots on I stood up, reached into the back of the pickup and grabbed my holster and cartridge belt. Uh-oh. I’d forgotten about the state trooper.
I looked up just as he was calling for backup. He was crouched behind an open driver’s door with his pistol leveled at me. I was still buckling my belt when he instructed, loud and firmly, “Don’t move!”
I froze, realizing how dumb I was to strap on a holster in the midst of a traffic stop. I had some explaining to do and got to it. Fortunately, the trooper believed my “reenactor” story, especially after seeing that my flap holster was empty. I apologized, we both relaxed, and he sent me on my way with just a speeding ticket.
Anyway, I was now fully dressed for my appearance at Fort Abraham Lincoln and back on schedule. Knowing I could never be too prepared for such a well-educated group, I was still rehearsing some lines for my presentation when I arrived at the fort.
My talk, which was focused on the history of Fort Lincoln and the Bismarck area, was to precede a pitchfork fondue steak dinner on the parade ground. I stepped out of character for a few minutes to tell the AG’s about my state trooper encounter. They had a good laugh.
When my presentation was complete and food was being placed on the tables, I was approached by a tall fellow with a distinct southern drawl. He said, most pleasantly, “Mr. Custer, you come sit with us.”
I happily obliged. A few moments later I felt like a guest of honor of sorts, eating steak with the attorney general of Louisiana and his rather large staff. At some point the man who invited me to join them leaned over and said, “We’re on the first floor. Next year, when he’s governor, we’ll be on the third floor.”
Wow. Interesting. I was in the company of the next governor of Louisiana. He had an election to win, but the confidence in the outcome radiated from that table. I was even invited to Louisiana for the victory party.
Curious, I asked the man who extended my invitation what it was that he did for the attorney general. His reply was a classic. “I don’t have no job. I’m a government official. I just make people feel good. Next week we’re going to Hawaii.”
That, in a nutshell, was my introduction to Southern politics, at least in Louisiana several years ago. That attorney general was later criminally charged with a felony and was facing prison time. He was never elected governor of Louisiana.
Quite a day.