Shouting For Votes at Mel's Diner
By Joel Achenbach
SARASOTA, Fla., 5:45 pm. -- The Naked Cowboy doesn't get an audience. He has been waiting for Rudy in the parking lot of Mel's Diner, wearing only Fruit-of-the-loom briefs, a cowboy hat and an acoustic guitar. The concept of the Naked Cowboy proves elusive in the haste and chaos of the candidate entering the crowded diner, but his friend, Fred Marks, explains that the cowboy, Robert John Burck, got his start in Times Square and just wanted to say hi to Rudy. Why does he run around in his briefs? It's about getting attention," Marks said. "He's made it his way of life," he says. Kind of like being a candidate, only chillier.
Giuliani is running close to two hours behind schedule. After Fort Myers he gave a stump speech in sleepy Punta Gorda in an open-air shopping arcade built in Key West style, or maybe you'd call it neo-Bahamian. He discarded the suit jacket and rolled his sleeves two notches to just below the elbow. Took off his glasses. The crowd had to stare into the blinding sun behind him, but no matter, it probably will look good in a TV commercial.
We're supposed to be in Clearwater at this hour, but Clearwater is a long haul from here, the other side of St. Pete. The candidate's agenda may simply be too ambitious for a sprawling state suffering demographic overload. Tamiami Trail has a stoplight every block from Tampa to Miami.
Another problem for any candidate in this state is that half the people you talk to aren't Floridians at all. They're just looky-loos, in Jan. 29 terms.
A more specific problem for Giuliani here at Mel's is that there's no sound system. So he's going around the room shouting. He's getting hoarse by the minute.
"I wanted to hear him speak, and there's no place here where you can hear him or see him," says a woman at the end of the counter, Claire Marlow, 67. She sells real estate on Siesta Key and wants to ask a question about taxes and insurance. She's waited three hours.
"I don't know that much about him. That's why I came. I wanted him to speak and maybe we could ask questions. But it's not going to happen."
But wait: Giuliani has just snuck through the kitchen (where he already has chef Steve Bakoglannis's vote -- "Of course. I'm from New York!"), and he has now mounted a booth just five feet from Marlow's perch. Standing on the seat cushion, Giuliani gives the blue-plate-special version of his stump speech, stripped down to the basics of security and economic growth.
"WHAT ABOUT IMMIGRATION?" someone shouts from the crowd.
"Yes, we have to end illegal immigration," he says.
The crowd roars.
Giuliani hits the economic growth note again - "The best days of America are ahead if we have growth policies in this country" - and then is gone.
"Well, at least he said SOMETHING," Marlow says.
Posted by: JakeD | January 14, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse
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