Road Show

Want to know more about Jeb Bush? The machinations of Florida's Republican party? Vomiting? Get on the bus.

Earlier in the trip, Feeney had been on the cell phone trying to shore up support when the issue of gun control was raised. Did he endorse each American's constitutional right to bear arms? "I've got my concealed-weapon permit in my pocket right now," he had boasted to the person on the other end of the line.

"Are you packin' right now?" I asked when he hung up.
"No," he assured me. "It's just the principle of the thing." Later, though, he explained it's actually more than just principle. And in fact, with the campaign and the added notoriety, he said he planned to buy a gun very soon. I thanked him for the warning.

"This is going to be brutal," Bush says at the start of our last day. "I've got no more clean clothes. I've got no more undies. I've got no more socks. I've got no more shirts."

In perhaps the most amazing show of support to date, more than 120 people show up at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday and pay five dollars apiece to hear him speak at a diner in Port St. Lucie. Over the next twelve hours, we will attend, film crew in tow, two picnics -- one in Palm Beach and the other in Broward -- and tape one final radio program. Though the events are few, the week has taken its toll, and everyone is moving more slowly. Bush does get a boost in Palm Beach when a crowd of 400 supporters repeatedly interrupts his speech by bursting into chants of "Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!" (Cory Tilley later notes, "It's a good name to chant. Try chanting Law-ton, it's not as good.") But even that buzz wears off, so that by the time we reach Pompano Beach, and the rain begins to pour during the middle of his speech, Bush just keeps talking -- he's on autopilot, a windup doll who doesn't seem to know any better. A short time later, shivering under a blanket in the motor home, he appears ready to head home. But one last event remains.

From Pompano we backtrack north to Lighthouse Point for a 7:30 p.m. fundraiser at the home of Joe and Angela Saviano. Our numbers, however, have been steadily dwindling as the day has progressed. Big Feeney (Tom), Little Feeney (Andy), and Brainy Feeney (Ellen, who was late in joining the Bushcapade) split off from the group earlier in the day for a photo shoot in Miami.

Now there is considerable debate among the survivors on the motor home as to who really needs to accompany Jeb and Columba to this final cocktail party. Ellen Debenport, from the St. Petersburg Times, has the edgy feel of a woman who, if forced to hear Bush talk once more about looking into the future through the eyes of his children, might snap and gouge out Bush's own eyes with a shrimp fork. Linda Kleindienst, of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, appears to be approaching a state of exhaustion. Cory Tilley, having given up any hope of actually getting an ulcer on this particular road trip, also seems willing to call it quits.

But ever the vigilant gladiators, Tom DiNanno and Brett Doster argue about which of them gets to keep working. Eventually DiNanno loses the argument and agrees to go home early, after only a twelve-hour day. With that decided, the departees board the motor home for Miami, leaving behind the minivan for Bush, Columba, Doster, and, of course, me. Naked women couldn't drag me from Bush at this point. Having signed on for the whole twisted ride, I know that if it means subjecting myself to one more beautiful home, with splendid food and unlimited liquor, that is simply the price I'm going to have to pay for thoroughness.

The Saviano's Mediterranean-style villa sits on the Intracoastal, only a three-iron away from the ocean. This was scheduled as a small, private, $100-a-plate gathering of influential, financially comfortable people, and about 50 have turned out, not counting the servants or the bartender, who by now has poured me a tall glass of Chivas over ice. As I settle into a corner table on the back patio, Bush glides through the crowd, shaking hands and making small talk. Columba sits down beside me and says she's worried that her husband is going to catch cold. "He's like a little kid," she observes. "I'd like to take better care of him, but he's very, very stubborn.

You know that, don't you, that he's very stubborn."
"Like a mule," I respond. She nods in agreement.
When Bush works his way over to the buffet, his eyes light up. No more burgers, beans, and wieners. The spread includes veal with sauteed peppers, eggplant parmesan, yellow rice, potatoes, a magnificent bowl of antipasto, and a plate full of sliced red tomatoes topped with prosciutto and cheese. A far cry from Okeechobee swamp cabbage.

Though it's not that far in actual distance, we have traveled light years from that rural Grange hall in Okeechobee County. What bizarre coalitions politicians must build, especially those running for statewide office in Florida. It's a long way, in every respect, from Little Havana to Pensacola, but Bush seems to have that chameleonlike ability every politician needs -- he is as comfortable chewing the fat about water management districts over a plate of swamp cabbage as he is discussing business incentives between bites of veal, though his Texas drawl is decidedly less noticeable here than it was earlier in the week.

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