The Job Interview
ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS/LOS ANGELES (CNN) - The Elvis impersonator on the flight out here was not in uniform, which was at first confusing.
He was Vegas Elvis– I’d say circa 1970: modified muttonchops, clear eyes, chiseled jaw– and in a white jumpsuit he’d have had some context. But this was a travel day for him, and on United Airlines’ flight 111 from Chicago to Los Angeles he was in street clothes, topped by a mid-length black leather-like coat.
He had an entourage - three people shadowing his steps, conferring quietly with him - and whatever business was bringing him out here, they were taking care of it. Like everyone else boarding the flight at O’Hare yesterday he was getting out of town early, trying to beat the blizzard; by the time we got to baggage claim at LAX I had lost him.
The country is wide, and everyone moves through it at his or her own pace, with his or her own aspirations. There was a time when the idea of having lunch in Illinois a little before noon and strolling the streets of southern California the same day well before the sun has begun to set would have been a concept so bizarre as to qualify as science fiction. Yet we do it now with little more than a yawn– the miles mean nothing.
And everything. The people I had come to see had crossed the country, too, to be here for a joint job interview. They sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the stage at the Kodak Theatre, facing a personnel department whose faces they could not make out. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama were being evaluated by potential employers they would never meet, whose names they would never know. This, too, inconceivable in a past America not all that distant - the idea of staring into the lenses of machines that will transport your image and your voice instantly to every corner of the nation, every cranny of the globe, and then going to bed having no real idea of what the strangers on the receiving end have thought of you - has by now become simply the customary way of doing presidential campaign business.
Which makes it no less Jules-Verne-like. The cameras carried the pleas of the two jobseekers - the candidates for the opening - to the people who will ultimately decide how to fill the position. The Elvis who had crossed the continent with me earlier in the day might have dreams for himself not quite as lofty as the dreams of the two on the stage, but then, there are said to be thousands of men who try to make their livings asking people to believe they are the King, and fewer than half-a-hundred people, in all our history, who have asked to make their livings as our president, and who have been told: yes.
To join that group you first have to make it past the hiring committee, many millions strong, that gazes at you through sheets of glass while, with the lights in your eyes, you see mostly disorienting glare. A person can cross the nation in a handful of hours, high above the clouds, and notice nothing on the ground below; right now I’m setting out to see it block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, in a television studio on wheels that rolls at eye level through the country. Science fiction indeed. Come November, someone will have the job.
Bob Greene is an award winning journalist and best-selling author.