Fast Talk: Alexandra Pelosi
Alexandra Pelosi is the last person you would expect to find making a movie about a Republican president—she's a hard-core Democrat; her mother is Democratic House minority whip Nancy Pelosi. But when NBC asked her to become part of the press corps and follow George W. Bush on his presidential campaign, she jumped at the chance. Little did she know that a home movie she was making to help her remember her time in the press corps would result in a candid behind-the-scenes portrayal of the next president of the United States. Travel + Leisure caught up with Pelosi as she was leaving for Europe to publicize her documentary Journeys with George. We wanted to find out what life was like on the road with G.W., why she loves Austin, Texas, and why she thinks a presidential campaign is a mix between a rock 'n' roll tour and the movie Groundhog Day.
1) Where are you now?Why are you there?Anywhere else you would rather be?
Right now I am sitting on my purple couch in Greenwich Village, New York City. I am home to unpack and repack for my next tour. If you had spent a year and a half in dirty hotel rooms, you would understand that the whole idea of sleeping in my own bed is sacred to me now. Tonight, there is no place I would rather sleep.
2) How do you pack for an 18-month trip around the United States as part of the press corps following George W. Bush?Did you wish you had brought something that you had forgotten?Is there one item you never travel without?
All I packed was a carry-on. I bought clean clothes along the way. My secret to survival on the campaign trail was the WalMart fashion department. In the summer of 1999, NBC gave me one week's notice to get to Austin, Texas, to cover the Bush campaign. My assignment was to stay on the road as long as Bush stayed in the race. No one knew it would turn out to be an 18-month assignment.
I wish I had brought along some photos of my friends and family. I had no idea that I was going to miss Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, etc. I was afraid I would not recognize them when I returned home.
I never travel without my video camera.
3) How did your journey with the future commander-in-chief change your views about him?And how did the trip change you?
I was indoctrinated in the Democratic Party at an early age, so it was hard for me to think of George Bush as a human being. Over the course of my journey with George, he appeared to be human to me.
All the romantic notions I had about being a political reporter died on the campaign trail.
4) Tell us a little bit about what it was like to be part of the press corps and fly around the country alongside the future president. Did George W. Bush's personality change when he visited different states?Would he approach different crowds differently or did he tend to stick to the same speech, mannerisms, etc., for every stop along the way?
It's a lot like being on a rock n' roll tour. You live on the bus and eat nothing but junk food, get no sleep, and take very few showers. You go from town to town seeing the same show night after night; the only difference is that everyone is taking notes instead of drugs.
Covering the campaign was like the movie Groundhog Day. Every day was a repeat of the day before. He gave the same speech in every town. Eventually all the towns started to blend together.
5) How did you come up with the idea of making a "home movie" while trailing George W. Bush on the campaign trail?
I brought my camcorder along on the campaign trail, just as anyone would bring a camera along on a family vacation. I was shooting video to show my friends back home what it was like to cover a presidential campaign. I was shooting interviews with my seatmate and videoing all the turkey sandwiches I ate. Then one day Bush asked me, "What is the name of this movie you are filming?" And I said, "I don't know. What do you think it should be called?" and he said, Journeys with George. From that minute on, I knew we were making a movie.
6) In your travels on the campaign trail, what was the most interesting thing that happened along the way?
One summer afternoon we flew from Austin to New York City. Bush spoke at a radio talk-show convention and I took a cab to my apartment to get new clothes. Bush finished his speech early and the motorcade left midtown without me. I was stuck in traffic on the West Side Highway and Bush's plane was leaving JFK in 15 minutes. I pulled over, ran up the highway, jumped in a helicopter, and asked the pilot to fly to JFK. The airspace around Bush's plane was closed and the Secret Service was on the ground waving at us to fly away. The pilot told me he was being warned not to land. But I ordered him to land anyway and—I have no idea why he listened to me—but we landed just in time and I made the flight.
7) What was your favorite moment on the campaign trail?
All the time we got to spend in Austin, Texas was great. My favorite moments were going for a run around Town Lake, skinny-dipping at Barton Springs, hanging out at Jo's Coffee, going to see Don Walser at the Broken Spoke and a punk rock band at the Continental Club. Austin is the best town on earth. It has the best live music, great margaritas, cool coffeehouses, and the coolest people in America. If you haven't been to Austin, you've got to go check it out. And while you're waiting to see the bats, look up: they have the best clouds I have ever seen.
8) What was it like to have an all-access pass to the goings-on behind the scenes, on the bus, on the plane, in convention halls, etc.?
A presidential campaign is all great theater. It is made for TV. But at some point when you are living on junk food, you crave a real meal. In the movie, I read excerpts from my diary that reveal how I feel about the whole show. This one answers your question: "From a distance everything looks bold and stately, but when you get close up it's as light as whipped cream."
9) What did you learn from this experience about the campaign trail and the way politicians live on the road?Anything you have been able to apply to your own travels, or to your own life since then?
If you want to run for president, you have to leave the comfort of your home, swallow your pride, and endure an excruciatingly painful road trip through the bowels and armpits of America with a busful of grouchy reporters following you every waking moment. The funny thing about covering a presidential campaign is that you spend all your time talking about whether or not this man is going to become one of the most important people on the planet while you are watching him ride a snowmobile, go bowling, flip pancakes, kiss a lot of babies, and sign a ton of autographs. There is a real disconnect between the job description and what it takes to get the job.
I can now walk into any fast-food chain in America and show you where the bathroom is. They all have the same layout.
10) If there is one thing you know now, that you wished you knew then, what is it?
If I had known that George Bush was going to be the star of my home movie, I would have brought a real microphone.
Interviewed by Robert Maniaci