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A hail from the chief
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It wasn’t a phone call from the president. It was more like a phone call from someone who had just talked to the president. OK, it was exactly a phone call from someone who had just talked to the president.

A friend of mine was at a big fundraiser dinner in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night. Twenty-five hundred or 25,000 bucks a head, or some such ridiculous price tag. He had sent me a text message the week before, giving me three guesses as to whom he would be having dinner with. I shot back Jack Nicklaus, Steve Spurrier and Reese Witherspoon. So maybe he didn’t ask me whom I would want to have dinner with. So be it.

After telling me he was going to be in D.C., I had three more guesses — Eliot Spitzer’s, um, friend, W and Hillary. One of three was right, he said. I countered that I hoped Spitzer’s girlfriend wouldn’t charge by the hour for dinner, or his wife would get mad.

Now, I’ve never met the president. I have covered him twice. Once when he came to Fort Stewart and again at the G-8 summit in Savannah. I also covered President Bush the elder twice — once when he came to Fort Stewart and once again during a campaign stop on River Street in Savannah.

Two presidents, same name, twice on two different spots with the locales being a few hundred yards apart — Cottrell and Trent fields on Fort Stewart, and Hutchinson Island and River Street in Savannah.

The thing about covering a presidential speech is the press ordinarily gets the text of the speech ahead of time. That gives them time to check their phone for messages while he’s talking, or before cell phones were so prevalent, going over notes or just idly passing time. I noticed that during the first Bush’s visit to Fort Stewart, watching what the traveling White House correspondents were doing during the speech.

My friend once worked in a law firm where the senior partner was a big Democrat. And I mean huge. He was a big-time rainmaker, bringing in Ted Kennedy and John Edwards, et al, for fundraising dinners at his house in Atlanta.

So now here he was, calling me and telling me, “Forty-five seconds ago, I had my arm around our  commander-in-chief.”

For $25K, you got your picture taken with President Bush and a slew of other folks — in this case it was Saxby Chambliss, Johnny Isakson and Jack Kingston. I once finagled a picture with Gov. Sonny Perdue for a friend of mine for nothing. During the 48th Brigade’s farewell ceremony as they literally marched off the field at Fort Stewart and to Iraq, it was me, another friend of mine and the governor by ourselves in the middle of Cottrell.

My buddy takes pictures — a lot of them and all of them great — for a living and said, “Pat, man, I always take people’s picture with somebody famous, but I never get one. Can you take my picture with the governor?”

So I went up to the governor and asked, politely, mind you, if he could take a second to have a picture with my friend. His smile — my buddy’s, not necessarily Sonny’s — was priceless.

So Wednesday as it’s my attorney’s turn in line, he tells President Bush his name and says where he’s from.

“Hinesville?” President Bush shot back. “That’s Fort Stewart. That’s the first place I visited after I took office.”

Say what you want to about the current president and his deep thinking skills, but after a week or so in Europe, to be able to recall some small Southern town that you didn’t actually visit but were next to for a few hours is not a bad feat.

“That’s a great part of the country,” the president said.

Don’t know if I would have shelled out that kind of money to hear the president say that, but I think that’s one thing everyone can agree on.