It’s nearly “go” time for Terry Branstad to officially become Iowa’s 42nd Governor.
Old Governor Culver said a sweaty goodbye to the Iowa Legislature on Tuesday. Last second preparations are being made at St. Ambrose Cathedral, Hy-Vee Hall and Terrace Hill for new Governor Branstad’s inauguration festivities. He’ll be sworn in on Friday, and it’ll be smooth sledding from there.
Speaking of sledding, that reminds me of the day back on January 17th, 1993, when the Governor had his terrible sledding accident – almost 18 years ago today.
Speaking of accidents, that also reminds me of the day three years later when the Governor wasn’t sledding, but running, when he wiped out while trying to break a Pleasant Hill indoor human speed record that didn’t really exist.
Nobody but the select few who were there, know about this incident. Until today.
It was my fault.
Governor Branstad wasn’t running for re-election. (He’d just smoked Bonnie Campbell in the ’94 general race, and wouldn’t run in ’98.) Nobody was listening to my morning radio show on Young Country 98.3. (I’d once referred to the country music group Sawyer Brown as “that guy.”)
I asked Branstad’s press secretary if Terry would appear on my radio show which, I assured him, was “one of the highest rated morning radio shows in Des Moines,” which was true when I took it over (7.8 rating) but not true when I made the request (2.3). He said yes – and forever changed the course of radio station sprinting history.
98.3’s broadcast studio (along with KJJY, and others) was in Pleasant Hill at the time. The Governor showed up that morning with his press secretary and his bodyguard – an Iowa State Patrolman who was somewhat shorter than the somewhat diminutive Gov, and that included the state trooper’s hat.
Governor Branstad was warm and engaging, and handled the questions of a politically illiterate show host, with aplomb.
I only had the Governor for 10 minutes. I began to wrap up our conversation…then stopped.
A really stupid idea (from a seemingly bottomless reservoir) suddenly hit me: I wonder if I can get the Governor to run a lap inside the building.
All of the radio stations’ staff and sales offices emptied into a square-shaped hallway. Nobody would confuse it with the mondo turf and gently banking turns of Drake Stadium’s track, but…
“Governor Branstad,” I began, “there’s a long-standing tradition on this radio show of having our in-studio guests run around inside the building as fast as they can while we time their run, and then write it on the wall behind you.”
He turned around, glanced at the blank white wall behind him, and turned back.
“Where are all the times?” he asked.
“Uh…no one has actually done well enough to warrant having their time posted,” I replied. Great save!
“Should I take my shoes off?”
OMG – he was actually going to do it.
I hooked up a wireless mic during a commercial break.
When we were back on the air, I handed it to the Governor.
“Here,” I said. “This will give us a sense of being right alongside you as you run.”
He had a better idea. “My highway patrolman is always supposed to accompany me when I’m in public. Why don’t you give the mic to him, and he can run beside me, and do play-by-play?”
That’s when I fell for Terry Branstad.
He would soon return the favor.
Governor Branstad removed his shoes. The patrolman kept his on.
“Don’t slow me down,” the Governor warned him.
Following international track and field standards, the men prepared to run through the building in a counter-clockwise direction. The Governor stood in the outside right “lane” (appropriately), the patrolman to his left. Both stood behind the imaginary “start” line created by the edge of the doorway entrance to 98.3’s studio.
Employees gathered in the doorways of their offices, along the race route. You could feel the electricity – and I’m not just writing and italicizing the words for comedic effect.
“On your mark!” I shouted, watching the second hand on the clock on the wall make its way around towards the “12.”
Off they ran.
I was in the studio and couldn’t see anything. All I heard (along with 14 listeners) was the sound of the Governor’s rapid breathing, and the crowd exhorting him on. (The “play by play” man was apparently too lost in the moment to describe the action.)
4 seconds…5 seconds…it seemed like it was taking forever. I wondered if the Gov had signaled his patrolman to head out the front door, and into their waiting patrol car.
Then, the two men appeared, coming around the final turn like a slow-motion scene from Chariots Of Fire.
Except these two were hooking nut.
The “finish line” was the entrance to the 98.3 studio. Terry was running hard, and obviously serious about “breaking the tape” in “record time.”
There was a slight wooden lip at the base of the studio’s doorway entrance frame, a lip that I’d stumbled over several times – and that was while walking, and wearing shoes.
At the end, the Governor tried to pull up, but sort of slipped and tripped at the same time, going down hard on his back, rear-end over tea-kettle.
I thought he’d broken something.
The patrolman immediately reached down to help up the Governor, but he would have none of it. Brandstad bounced up like he was on a spring, brushed off his backside and said the obvious.
“The socks worked great, until I tried to stop.”
He turned towards the patrolman. “You were slowing me down.”
Governor Branstad’s time was 9.4 seconds. He wrote it on the Wall of Times, along with his signature.
Every in-studio guest from that point forward – from rodeo cowboys to recording stars – would make the run, and record their time.
Nobody ever beat Governor Branstad. There, or anywhere else.
Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.
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