Vulnerable on the Avenue
"Why don't they just bury him in some abandoned salt mine in
Utah? the exasperated cabbie said.
"Who are you talking about?" I asked, trying to recall the
people who had lately rattled his cage. "Timothy McVeigh! Alfonse
D'Amato! Marion Barry?
"I'm talking about President Clinton," the cabbie said. "Well,
really I'm talking about the idiots who want to close off
Pennsylvania Avenue in order to protect President Clinton.
It's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of.
So that was it. Pennsylvania Avenue is one of the cabbie's
favorite routes to Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and several popular
tourist attractions. Closing it down would be somewhat
inconvenient for him. But surely, I told him, his inconvenience
has to be secondary to the president's security.
"Look, this isn't about me," the cabbie said. "I'm a Clinton
man--at least some of the time--and I'm all for the president's
safety. My point is, they're overdoing it. They've got that iron
fence, video cameras, all those Secret Service people. Now they
want to close down the Avenue, It's just too much. When Truman
was in the White House . . .
You know the syndrome. People start reminiscing about the good
old days when things were so much simpler, then they imagine that
if we'd just behave as we did in the old days, those simple times
"It's a charming sentiment," I told the cabbie, "but the people
responsible for the president's safety can't afford to share it.
That's why that advisory committee has recommended closing
Pennsylvania Avenue to automobiles. And these are no scaredy
cats, either. I'm talking about people Wte former FBI director
William Webster and William Coleman, one of the smartest lawyers
this town ever had."
"And they don't ever want it said that a president got shot
because their recommendations didn't go far enough," the cabbie
said. "Especially not after Oklahoma City."
I explained that even before Oklahoma City, members of the
advisory committee had considered the fact that a truck bomb
detonated on Pennsylvania Avenue--the side closest to the White
House--was capable of doing fatal damage to people inside the
"You just have to get used to the fact that the world isn't as
safe a place as it used to be, I told him. Yt was just last
October when that guy Francisco Duran was arrested for firing
an automatic weapon at the White House."
"From a car? the cabbie said.
"Well," I admitted, "it happened that this guy was walking, but
the security problem is the same. Remember the man who crashed
the plane into the White House?"
"And closing Pennsylvania Avenue would have prevented that?"
"Presidents do get shot," I said, close to losing my patience.
"Do the names Jack Kennedy and Ronald Reagan ring a bell!"
"Sure," he said. "Let's see, they were gunned down from a
bomb-loaded truck on Pennsylvania Avenue. Boy, if only the Secret
Service had been smart enough to close off the Avenue, old Abe
Lincoln might still be around."
I thanked him to keep his sarcasm to himself.
"Look, buddy," he said, serious again, "all I'm saying is you
can't make anybody totally safe. You know how many
Washington-area cabdrivers have been shot? Five hackers were
killed in their cabs just last year. Did I get out of the
business? Have I gone into hiding? Am I driving a tank? No, I
take ordinary precautions--even some extra precautions, like
watching who I pick up--and then I do my job. That's what I
recommend for the president."
"And just let some deranged idiot take a potshot at him?" I
"You can't stop it." the cabbie said. "You think a determined
assassin will give up just because they close a street? Next,
they'll be saying the president can't leave the White House
without an escort of armored personnel carriers.
"It's like Howard Hughes. Guarding against germs and infections
is sensible. But Hughes got to the point where he wouldn't let
his employees touch him--even when they were wearing the cotton
gloves he ordered them to wear. He had his people put masking
tape around the doors and windows of his limo and his house,
trying to keep out germs. You know what? He died anyway. Sooner
or ]ater, something gets us all."
I didn't particularly like the thought. "Where'd you say that
salt mine is?" I asked.
Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park