Driving Mrs. Shriver

During the short, intense political campaign of Sarge Shriver, who was running as the vice presidential candidate in ’72 with George McGovern, I was – for one day – Eunice Shriver’s designated driver.
I was in Philadelphia and volunteered to help Harris Wofford; he had once been Shriver’s Peace Corps co-founder and now was his campaign advisor. I was assigned to be Eunice’s driver. She had a series of campaign appearances scheduled that day, mostly at colleges and universities. I was to meet her early in the morning at the famous Rittenhouse Hotel on Rittenhouse Square. I was on time, parking illegally while the Shriver Campaign Advance Man for Philly rushed into the hotel to call up to her room and tell her we had arrived.
Minutes, then more minutes passed. I kept the car motor running until a beefy Irish cop got on me for parking in the hotel’s no parking zone. Having never talked back to a police officer in my life, but feeling a lot more afraid of Mrs. Shriver than of this cop, I told him that I was waiting for Mrs. Kennedy Shriver. She was staying at the hotel and was expected momentarily. And then I added, in a moment of pure blarney, perhaps Kennedy inspired,  “She’s late to see the mayor.”
The cop nodded a silent okay and melted away, leaving me parked in my illegal spot. Maybe  it was my Irish face, but more likely, it was the Kennedy name in the city of brotherly love.
A short while later Mrs. Shriver arrived with the Advance Man, and we sped out of the Square. I had to 1) make it out of the downtown; 2) then to her first appearance at Villanova University on Lancaster Avenue, way out of town, up on the Main Line.
Needless to say, there is no easy way to traverse Philly. Unlike the sensible east coast cities of Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston, there is no convenient Beltway or West Side Highway to get from A to B, or from Rittenhouse Square to anywhere.
But that wasn’t my immediate problem. My immediate problem was that Mrs. Shriver wanted gum. Chewing gum. “Yes,” she said from the back seat, “could we stop and buy some gum?”
It was as if I was traveling with a teenager.
In search of a gum shop, I circled the square and headed into downtown Philly, a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys left over from Ben Franklin’s days. 
At the height of morning rush hour, we found a place and the Advance Man and Mrs. Shriver both jumped from the car while I kept it idling in front of a fire hydrant while watching for cops.
Moments later, Mrs. Kennedy appeared, gumless. From my driver’s seat, I could see her scanning the nearby store windows. She disappeared again in the maze of pedestrian traffic and out of the first store popped the Advance Men. He looked frantic, having lost the Vice Presidential Candidate’s wife. I signaled him where Eunice had gone, while checking my rear mirror. A cop approaching on horseback!
Horseback? Of course, what else could go wrong? But, inexplicably, he just rode past me.
Mrs. Kennedy reappeared, gum in hand. Intent on ripping the plastic off the pack, she was totally obviously to the rush of pedestrians. The Advance Man steered her to the car and we were off, only several furlongs ahead of the mounted officer.
Luckily the Advance Man was a native son of Philly and a genius at negotiating the downtown traffic. With his deft directions, and my heavy foot putting the pedal to the metal, we cleared the city and headed for the leafy Main Line.
We were late, of course, dangerously so, and while I knew Harris Wofford  had gone ahead to make final arrangements with the university, and to prep the audience waiting for Mrs. Shriver, late was one thing. Really late was another.
I took on red lights with abandon, hoping that that my passenger would be my “get out of jail card” for any Philly cop. Arriving at Villanova University, we were greeted with signs and banners and welcoming words for Mrs. Shriver. I deposited her and the Advance Man at the front door of the auditorium, parked illegally (I was getting into this campaign mode) and followed them into the packed hall where Harris was in full roar, telling Shriver stories, and thrilling the crowd of excited undergraduates.
Afterwards, when I apologized for arriving so late to Mrs. Shriver’s first appearance, Harris brushed it off, and said he was having a great time entertaining the faculty and students. He could have used more time, he said.
But what had taken so long, he wondered.
Gum, I said. Chewing gum. He nodded knowingly.
Apparently, all the Kennedy women were famous for their addiction to chewing sum. 
And we just lost the last one of that generation. The Kennedys had their goals, big and small, and they didn’t let smaller concerns get in the way of them.


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