3:36 pm
Tue July 20, 2004

Barney, Get Your Bullet

When you combine vacation, politics, security, and southeastern North Carolina what do you get? Not necessarily what you'd expect, at least not for Catherine.

Wilmington, NC – [Click LISTEN button to hear Catherine's commentary.]

Security is very much on peoples? minds these days so it was reassuring to read that our sheriff?s department is prepared to work extra duty to insure the safety of politicians vacationing at our beaches. With Senator John Edwards among the homeowners at Figure Eight Island, the local buzz is that our area may get frequent glimpses of John Kerry and company in their swim trunks?oh, my heart be still.

Our beloved Mayberry-esque town is already well versed in providing high level security with a low key attitude. Movie stars, yacht owners, visiting dignitaries?here in southeastern North Carolina, we?ve seen ?em all, and most of us have a few stories to tell.

When Al and Tipper Gore and their family arrived at the Wilmington International Airport on Air Force Two a few years ago, our police force was on sight and poised to exercise crowd control maneuvers. After about five minutes of wilting fanfare the Gores headed to the beach, which was presumably where most of the would-be crowd was already. It was summer and it was hot--way too hot to get worked up about much of anything, especially politics.

Local news reported that the Gores were spending time at a friend?s beach house on Figure Eight, the posh island accessible by private bridge only?if you?re in a car. The beaches in our fine state remain public property, though, so if you have a boat, kayak or canoe you can get to the island and walk the beach at Figure Eight with the big wigs.

On that scorcher Sunday afternoon we decided what the heck?we loaded our pups in the boat and powered north, hoping for an Al and Tipper sighting.

At first there was just the usual: beach houses and mansions sitting like plastic molds on a Monopoly board, no human life visible from a distance. Great white egrets clustered in the bare treetops. The summer marsh resembled the bright green of a baby chameleon?s back side. Some fishermen waved as we rode by but otherwise it was a typical Sunday afternoon on the water.

Just as we were ready to give up on our voyeuristic adventure we spotted a guy on a wave runner; it wasn?t Al but it had to be someone who knew his whereabouts.

This man stuck out as vividly as an Air Marshall on a Mardi Gras flight to New Orleans. His skin was a revealing pale, not even a farmer?s tan and his plain orange swim trunks still had the new creases in them. His life vest was snapped up so tight I wondered if he knew how to swim.

He wore reflector sunglasses and a haircut that was way too neat; his hair was conspicuously dry. Plus, he kept looking around, scouting out who?the egrets? Us? At that we started humming the 007 theme song, quietly of course, lest we actually get his attention or startle him into falling off.

The clincher that he was secret service was his driving. He wasn?t flying over our boat wake in normally reckless wave runner behavior. He was chugging along at a speed that was too slow to plane out but fast enough to create a rather large wake, which caused some of the fishermen to shake their heads. It also confirmed for everyone that he was, shall we say, new to the area.

In the spirit of safety and security we kept an eye on him for a while to make sure he didn?t accidentally rev the engine or take a wrong turn into the tricky currents of the inlet. When he eventually turned around and chugged away we felt our civic duty was complete. We never did see Al and Tipper that day.

But we did get reminded that security is serious business. Regardless of your political persuasion, we watch out for each other around here, and for our visitors, too?whether they know it or not.