I run on the outside of political circles.
It's actually a great place to be.
Rather than meet politicians in their official donor wooing mode, all charming and baby kissing, I get to see them when no one is looking. I get to see how they treat people who aren't making donations. Or, because I'm active in the community, I get to know them before they are big names.
It can be eye opening.
During the 2016 elections, we were fairly involved. And because I have friends on the inside of the circle, I get to meet a lot of people. In that circle, they are always charming and kind.
On the outside of the circle, some, not so much.
When my friend who is an activist told me to be sure I showed up at the Clinton election office, I said "Is Joe going to be there?" She said it was going to be a surprise for the canvassers and not to tell anyone.
I picked up some donuts, granola bars and water for the canvassers and "happened" to show up when she said.
Secret Service hadn't arrived yet.
My very dear friend who I will call Liza also showed up. She had her 10 year old granddaughter with her who I will call Anna. She had custody of Anna because her daughter had passed away the year before. Anna's father wasn't able to care for her at the time, and Liza and her husband were her guardians.
Our family had gotten to know Anna over the year and we brought her into our clan- The Bean Team- during a holiday party when we were playing in a party game tournament and we all realized she was a viciously competitive as our family. She is a feisty, smart young girl and we love her.
She was having a bad day. It was just past the year anniversary of her mother's death- from cancer, a long, painful battle- and the social worker at her school had made a comment the day before about how she might not be able to stay with her grandparents because of some technicality. It was an offhanded comment not meant to upset her, but it did.
That morning she didn't want to leave my friend, her grandmother's side. So Liza brought to the event.
She was the only kid during the school day there.
She picked out her favorite donut and we all talked in the back during the training session for the canvassers.
Then, the Secret Service came in the room and let everyone know what was really going on. They had been invited there because the Vice President of the United States would be speaking.
The crowd of about 100 got really excited.
We told Anna to go grab a seat so she could have a better view.
The Secret Service was VERY clear, if you were next to the VP, you could
not take a selfie. They also said that Biden tended to get off
schedule, they had a very busy day so please, don't delay him.
They were not warm and friendly. They were serious. They wanted to stay on task.
Liza went to the side of the room to see our friend's newborn baby. I stood in the back of the room, letting the canvassers have the good seats.
Biden got up on the stage and gave a phenomenal speech. He was energetic. He was hopeful. He was gregarious. During the speech he started to talk about the vulgarity of the debates and stopped himself when he saw Anna in the room.
"See? We can't even talk about what Trump said because there's a child in the room!"
Anna immediately replied, "That's okay- I can't stand him."
And the crowd laughed, including Biden.
After about 30 minutes (?) of positive, energizing comments, he hopped off the stage and went around the room to pose for pictures and meet the canvassers.
Biden IMMEDIATELY went over to my friend with the baby and it was adorable. (We had teased her and said she brought the baby to lure in the politician for the photoshoot and she said "Darn right, I did!" )
I stayed in the back because I'm not all about the schmoozing. I was happy to hear his speech.
Then, he said:
"Hey, let's do a group selfie--- let me get to the back and you all crowd up in the front."
And about 10 seconds later, there I was- the woman in the back of the room, avoiding everyone, standing next to the Vice President of the United States.
And then it happened.
He grabbed me. He put his arm around me as if we were war buddies reunited 20 years later.
I'm sure the look on my face if anyone had snapped a picture at that moment would have been "WTF?"
It's not because it was sexual. It's because it was sudden. It was unexpected. It was firm. And I'm not a huggy touchy person.
He looked at me and with this big giant smile, I immediately relaxed- and then he said /yelled "Hey- let's get a future President in the picture" and he called Anna over.
My friend Liza, from across the room said "Hold on-- wait for Grandma!!" and ran across the room in her heels. It was hilarious.
Biden's arm was still around me and I have to say, I went from"WTF" to "Holy crap, the Vice President is standing next to me as if we are the best of friends... "
He put his arm around Liza as well.
We snapped the picture.
The Secret Service was trying to get him out the door.
Liza turned to him and said "Thank you for making what started as a terrible day, a wonderful day for my granddaughter. My daughter lost her battle with cancer about a year ago and it was one of those bad days for us..."
Then, what happened next, what I got to witness, was the single most impressive action I've ever seen from a politician in my lifetime.
Despite the Secret Service motioning him to go, Biden got down on his knee and starting talking with Anna. Everything stopped.
The only people who could hear or see him were me, the Secret Service agent (who had that "Here we go again" look on his face), Liza and our other friend I'll call Donna.
He started to talk with her about how hard it was on his son when his wife and children were killed in the car crash. How he never forgot the pain, but they got through it. How she would get through it and never forget it either. How lucky she was to have a grandma that loved her so much. And Anna, usually tough as nails, started crying. And all us of, except the Secret Service agent, started crying- ugly snot crying-- and he hugged Anna and held her, told her she would be okay and let her cry. Then he stood up, with tears in his eyes, looked at Liza and told her that losing his son was the hardest thing, how awful cancer was, and he knew how she felt. And they cried and they hugged.
And then Anna looked up at him and said "It's okay- you're going to be all right" - and that was it- full flood gates were opened-- snot was flowing and the Secret Service ushered him out the door as he wiped his eyes.
No one else saw it.
It was not for a public viewing. It was private. It was real. It wasn't a photo op (although I did take pictures in between the sniffles).
It was a man who has met with world leaders, who was in line for the presidency, who took 10 minutes of his very busy schedule to console a little girl he had just met who was mourning the loss of her mother.
So yes, Joe Biden grabbed me. Not just by the shoulder. He grabbed my soul.
He exuded a kindness that I haven't seen in many people.
Especially in local political circles where if there isn't a camera present, a very different person shows up.
And I'll leave that last comment there for the locals who know exactly what I mean.
As for personal space issues, that's an entirely different conversation that I've blogged on before.