This week’s escape involved a wee bit of a story that centers around a mystical man. Our protagonist rises from relative Midwestern obscurity to become a mediocre sportscaster, an actor and then later (spoiler alert!) the 40th president of the United States of America. Yes, my salivating readers, I am referring to the one, the only, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
This past Thursday, I set out to satisfy a wee bit of a geek impulse: to finally set foot on Air Force One. Never mind that the plane I was seeking had not been used in about eight years, was about half the size of the current plane used by the president and was sitting inside a building on concrete pylons. It’s like my Pappy used to say, “Air Force One is still Air Force One, regardless of where it is.”
This time it was in the Reagan Library, the crown jewel of a collection that displays the late president’s life. The museum itself is expansive and, frankly, much cooler than the John F. Kennedy Library that I visited this summer. This was further solidified by the traveling exhibit space that featured the copy of the Magna Carta. With this unexpected encounter added to the list, the library became my equivalent of Happy Gilmore’s happy place.
Reagan is not one of my favorite presidents (yes, I have favorites) but I felt that because of the proximity of the library, it would be irresponsible for me to ignore the opportunity to check it out. Fortunately, I found that no excessive Reaganitis was necessary to enjoy the museum. Anybody who enjoys sports, war, love stories, planes, helicopters or near death experiences would find something of interest at the museum. The museum recounts the Gipper’s career in the entertainment industry, his role as our second-to-last Cold War president, as well as documentation of his love for Nancy, even featuring love letters and the very diner booth that he proposed to her in. In addition to his presidential plane, the museum features the presidential helicopter, a full motorcade, a piece of the Berlin Wall and an F-14 Tomcat fighter plane that shot down two Russian MiGs over Libya.
As I walked through the museum, I began to think about the sheer amount of stuff that leaves the White House with every president. The museum contained Reagan’s clothing, a bulletproof vest, a secret service Chevy Suburban and the table from the Situation Room (the lead-encased room where all matters of national security are discussed). The furniture costs alone for the White House at the end of an administration must be astronomical.
Frankly, most of you won’t visit the library because of the words I put onto paper. However, I want to encourage those of you who have vaguely considered the notion to act on it right away. The museum itself is not going to change much whether you go now or in 40 years, but the chance to see the Magna Carta is one that should not be missed. While I doubt that we would all be wallowing in serfdom without it, I feel this is the very best opportunity that most of us will have to check it out.
Even without being totally in love with Reagan, I feel like I came away from the experience with a little more respect and interest in the man who was living in the White House on the day that I was born. As a massive history dork and a closet watcher of “The West Wing,” I stood in the former presidential plane and in a replica Oval Office and found myself with goose bumps.