In 1994 I was living in DC and working as an admin for a government agency when my boss was called up to work at the White House. The Clinton administration was already in full swing at that point, so my boss and I were the only new faces to show up in the West Wing.
It was sort of like Bella in Twilight, transferring to a new high school in the middle of the year. Everyone knows everyone else (except you) and you don't know a soul. Friendships have already been made, cliques have been formed, and you're the new kid. *sigh*
I was overwhelmed with learning all of the new faces and names, new policies and procedures, and simple navigation around the White House grounds was mind-boggling (like where the heck do I park?).
Day Three and my head was about to explode. Mid-morning I ventured out of my office, turned right, and zipped to the tiny bathroom at the end of the hall next to the National Security Advisor's office. I had been in the middle of a project before nature called, so I was distracted when I left the restroom and made my way down the hall back to my office.
From the other end of the hallway a man on crutches approached, closely followed by two other men. I had been looking at my shoes as I was walking down the hall, and to be polite I glanced up and said, "Hey, how ya doin'?" to the man on crutches as he approached.
He skipped a beat as he swung by on his crutches, then smiled broadly as he replied, "Good, and how are you?".
I smiled back and kept walking, then nearly tripped and fell as I turned the corner into my office.
That wasn't just any guy that I just passed.
It was the Vice President. Those two guys following him? Secret Service agents. Should have been a clue that this was a "principal", not just any staffer hopping down the hall on crutches.
Did I make a good first impression on Mr. Gore my first week in the West Wing? Oh no. I said, "Hey, how ya doin'?" Meaning that I had absolutely no clue who he was, because if I had I would have said, "Good morning, Mr. Vice President" like all of the rest of the suits did. And his little pause and big grin? That meant that he knew exactly what had just happened and thought it was funny.
Completely mortified, I popped into my boss's office and told him what I had done. After he stopped laughing, he told me not to worry about it, that within a few weeks we'd be best friends.
"Best friends" was a gigantic stretch, but over the months that followed I got to know the Vice President a teeny bit better, usually from a distance. Eventually he knew who I was; I'd like to think that he might have even known my first name.
It's funny, but of all the people that I met in DC, I think that Al Gore might have been the least understood by the public. I was truly disappointed when he lost his bid for the Presidency. The man that I saw behind the scenes was humble, funny, compassionate, completely down-to-earth.
And not afraid to laugh at himself. More on that later.