Monday morning I woke up hungry. Eggs and hash browns at the Cozy Diner had pushed their way into my pre-awakening dreams. I knocked on my kid’s door. “Hey, let’s go get something to eat before I drop you off at school,” I said. OK. I knew that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was stopping by the diner on a last-minute campaign sweep to try to save his political career. I knew there would be a lot of people there, too—pro-Arnold, anti-Arnold, working-for-Arnold. And I thought, my kid can be late for school, can’t he? He’s going to learn a lesson about how things really work.
We got to the diner at about 7:55, about an hour before the gov was set to arrive. People were waiting for tables. We figured we’d grab a seat at the counter, but it, too, was full. State Democratic Party adviser Bob Mulholland was one of those counter-sitters. He’d arrived about 20 minutes earlier. Outside, firefighters, nurses and teachers held signs and shouted slogans criticizing the governor and his ballot-measure war against them. Arnold supporters hoisted signs and shouted slogans, too. While waiting for a seat, I saw David Reade, Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa’s chief of staff, and he introduced me to the gov’s press person, whose name was Jim, I think. The well-heeled supporters—or those with connections—got invited inside the restaurant. I know because when I asked the diner’s manager if I could get a seat for breakfast, he said, “Only those with invitations.” I asked if he sent the invitations. He laughed and said, “No, they did,” referring to the many young men running around the restaurant in sports coats, carrying clipboards and talking urgently on cell phones. “Oh,” I said. “I guess that means we won’t be getting any breakfast this morning.” My kid shook his head at the utter futility of his old man. We headed outside to stand with the protestors, supporters and media—local and traveling—in the parking lot. Reade stood at the front door, opening it for selected guests and locking it behind them to keep out the disconnected.
Press-guy “Jim” gathered the media together and told them they could wait inside, but they would have to be orderly and cooperate and maybe, just maybe, the gov would grant them a “Q and A.” He opened the side door to usher us in. He asked for my media credentials. I told him I had a degree in journalism from Chico State University. He said nothing. He had no time for funny business. I pulled out my wallet and showed him my two-year expired California Highway Patrol-issued press pass. He looked at my kid. “He has to stay outside,” Jim said. “I just want a photo, that’s all,” I told him. Jim said OK, that his boss would be arriving shortly and that I would be able to get a photo from where I stood. So we waited some more and watched as the cops made light-hearted banter with the protestors. “Hey, you should be against this governor,” one protestor told a CHP officer. “I gotta stay neutral here while I’m on duty,” the officer replied, throwing up his hands in mock frustration. I took photos. The local TV news people filmed and interviewed a little girl named Jessica who held a sign that said, “I like your ideas Arnold, Keep it up.”
Suddenly there was a wave of reaction in the line of protestors; Arnold’s procession of black, tinted-windowed SUVs had arrived. They pulled into the back of the diner and Arnold entered by way of the rear door. My plans for an entrance photo were dashed. The outside Arnold supporters pressed their faces to the windows and squealed, “There he is!” At least, that is, until the blinds were lowered. Protestors shouted, “Go home, Arnold!” My son and I walked around back and stood by the grease vat so that we might snap an exit photo. We watched as Max Del Real, former Willows High School newspaper adviser and good-hearted lefty from Berkeley, was hustled out of the restaurant. Like a stowaway on a cruise ship he’d somehow remained inside with the connected. “I approached Arnold,” he said in an e-mail. “This was not allowed. He quickly turned his back on me. I told him to leave the good teachers of California alone. And stop propagating lies. I think I even called him a bum. But it is difficult to recall dialogue when two CHP officers (from Sacramento I am told) have you, as a free citizen, in a restraining hold.” Soon after, Arnold emerged, ran to the crowd and then jumped into his black Ford Excursion. By then, the batteries in my camera were exhausted.