By Phineas J. Stone
The spotlight is a strange and temporary thing these days.
Today, so many people come in the spotlight from complete obscurity, and you hear about them continuously in a cyclical way for days, months or maybe even a year or two. Then, they just disappear.
I recently left good ol’ Boston and visited the Mark Twain Home in Hartford, which was quite an interesting take. Twain gradually entered the spotlight in his 30s and the spotlight never left him, even when he was down and out – too poor to even remain in his grand Hartford home. Even then, reporters and writers would flock to him, just to get a brief thought on any number of situations. It seems that even after his career had run its course, the spotlight still shone on him. In fact, I read that the nation followed his plight to get out of debt with careful attention in the daily newspapers.
It wouldn’t be like that now.
People rise to the top, and plummet to the bottom in the matter of a week. No one wants to follow the life of someone who is broke and/or damaged; even if they had an interest in him or her a short time before.
We move so fast.
I can recall some years back when I used to drive over to go fishing (yes, those in Mr. Boston’s ranks make a point of knowing how to fish) for flounder or Stripers over at Columbia Point early in the mornings. I typically would stop at a little breakfast place afterward in Savin Hill, which is in Dorchester.
There, I would often see Mayor Martin Walsh. Except he wasn’t the mayor then.
He was just one of many Boston state representatives. Some people knew who he was, but most didn’t, or if they did, they didn’t feel the need to introduce themselves or go up to him and interrupt.
He was just a guy sitting there eating like the rest of us.
Usually sitting alone, he would eat his bowl of oatmeal, or eggs and bacon and vegetables served in a bowl. He looked over paperwork; was very organized, but he wasn’t in the spotlight at all.
He had no idea he would be mayor back then, I bet. No one could have ever thought that guy sitting there would sit in Boston’s corner office. Had they known, everyone would have likely sat their breakfast aside to go meet the future mayor.
Nowadays, he’s in the spotlight all the time. Event after event and media briefing after media briefing. He makes announcements in front of crowds three or four times a day, then three or four times a day he takes questions from the media as they push their cameras and lights and microphones in his face to hear what the man in the spotlight will say about any number of things.
I doubt he ever gets any quiet moments over breakfast at that restaurant anymore. If he goes there, I’m sure he doesn’t sit alone, and I’m sure people bother him between every spoonful of oatmeal.
Someday those microphones and bright lights will be gone, and people will forget quickly.
I wonder if he’ll miss them? A part of him might, but I bet he won’t.
One person who definitely missed the bright lights is former Gov. Mitt Romney.
Last year, I happened to be in San Diego and saw the former presidential favorite at the airport.
I was waiting for my luggage and looking at the television screens showing flight information. I turned, and standing right next to me, was Romney. He was all alone looking at the big board, apparently picking someone up from the airport.
I greeted him warmly, but no one else really recognized him.
Gone were the constant television cameras from his year-long run for president or his term as governor of the Commonwealth – days when, hour by hour, the news cycle of the country and state hinged on what would come out of his mouth.
And there he was last April, standing there all alone at the San Diego airport, trying to figure out which flight his friend was arriving on. He had actually driven up in his own car, I gathered. How quickly it all changed. From personal drivers, an army of assistants, hordes of followers and scores of information gatherers a few years before to relative obscurity in an airport baggage claim amongst the “regular” folks. It was amazing to me how quickly someone can be at the top of the world, and then so quickly just be feeding amongst the rest of the farm animals.
Last week, there he was in the spotlight again, and many are wondering why he would insert himself once again in front of the bright lights and microphones.
I think of him at the airport, looking for a flight on the screen, having navigated the security and parking configurations – in a rush to pick up someone. I can pretty much figure he missed the spotlight. Last week, it was shining near him, and he was happy to step out of the regular line and back into the express check out.
The spotlight doesn’t focus long in Boston these days like it did in the times of Twain, and when its gone, you’re just another guy eating oatmeal or picking someone up at the airport.