A Presidential Friendship

posted in: Columns by Mark Chester | 0

Yellow school buses edged their way into the fray of flashing red and blue police cars.

But it wasn’t kids who emerged. We were thirty adults from Falmouth brought to the Hynes Convention Center to see Governor Patrick and his good friend, Harvard classmate and Chicago neighbor, President Barack Obama.

But before going into the auditorium, our bus group waited in a holding area with twenty or so other groups from towns and cities across the state. Thousands of us strangers mingled biding time. We were a diverse group of all ages – white, brown, yellow, and red.

Asians, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, African-Americans, American Indians rubbed shoulders, united to rally Patrick’s re-election, and see his buddy the President of the United States.

A little girl riding her mother’s shoulders took photographs; a senior woman carted her Boston Terrier service dog; a group of Buddhist monks from Lowell sat stoic on the concrete floor; a hip-hopper danced for the crowd.

It was a scene out of central casting and Jessie Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.

I met an art consultant dressed in a colorful African print outfit from Springfield. She lives in the Classical High Condominiums, the same building I attended high school. It was converted to a residence in 1986, twenty-three years after my graduation in 1963.

Talking with Rosemary brought me back to my high school years. My closest friend, Mark Wayne, was president of our 1963 class.

Mark was smart, funny, and articulate. He enjoyed holding court, debating pros and cons of issues on a flip chart.  He’s still smart and a whiz. But these days he uses technology tools to make his point.

Not one to be in the lime-light, preferring a behind-the-scenes involvement, I became a member of his “cafeteria cabinet.”

After graduating, he went Ivy League. I took the low road to the Cactus Circuit. I chose the southwest looking for new adventures beyond our western New England roots.

Our paths took each of us through corporate positions, media posts, and non-governmental organizations; ultimately we each became a freelancer, marketing our respective skill sets we learned over the years.

We’ve remained in touch for the past fifty-plus years no matter where we hung our shingle.  At one time we both lived in California across the San Francisco Bay from each other.

He earned a Master’s Degree in Public Health at UC-Berkeley. He was hired by the United Nations posting him to third world countries. I took a journalism class and followed him to Nepal to photograph and write travel articles.

He married, once, twice, three times – who’s counting? I followed a single’s lifestyle, lusting for visas to new destinations, seeking human-interest stories. I traveled with a notebook and cameras as companions.

Eventually, he settled in Indonesia, living a happy lifestyle with Nicole, a psychotherapist; he’s now a certified Life Coach. I visited there, too and bounced around Bali.

I finally settled down on the Cape. I believe that we search half of our life for the ideal place to live the rest of our life.

Our friendship is still strong. We’re in touch through Skype and email. Mark’s last stateside visit was this year for his mother’s funeral. She was my second mother, a retired bookkeeper, bridge player, computer teacher to seniors, and was an active community volunteer through her nineties.  She felt living to be 96 was enough already. So she just closed her eyes. No pain, no suffering.

Finally our bus group was led up to the auditorium.
It felt like the penultimate class reunion with more than 8000 classmates, none of who looked familiar. We stood nearly three hours on the convention floor in our personal four-foot square spot waiting to see the Governor and President - two old friends - embrace and to hear their message.

James Taylor warmed up the already overcooked crowd. He sang, “You Have a Friend”, written by his friend, Carole King.

The lyrics brought me back again down memory lane. I reflected on Mark’s campaigning for class president. He had the makings to be The President up on that stage in front of me.

In seventh grade, we made the Bar Mitzvah rounds, proud to be a “fountain pen.”  (Fountain pens used to be the iconic gift of the bar mitzvah, a symbol of manhood handed down at this rite of passage from one generation to the next.) In our adolescence, we had hot parties and danced to 45 rpm hit tunes of the day.

Suddenly the crowd went wild.  President Obama walked on stage, embraced Patrick. Each waved to the wave of cell phone cameras.

Fifty years had just flashed in front of me. I saluted Mark and our long lasting friendship. And prayed for the years ahead for our re-elected Governor and his friend.