First thing I’m gonna do when I hit Lotto is to hire me one of them entourages, a whole slew of lackeys who will pop out of black Chevy Suburbans to make certain that my hands never touch a door handle. I desire not just a coterie of such sycophants but a full-fledged retinue.
Long have I longed for an entourage and recently my yearning was rekindled by the visit of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to inspect the flood damage in upstate New York. Vilsack had with him one of the finest entourages I have seen in years. It was not so much the size of Vilsack’s entourage: He had seven civil servants of various pay grades in tow. The president of the United States, after all, sometimes has to rent 600 hotel rooms on a major foreign trip. No, it was the manner in which the Vilsack entourage conducted itself that convinced us that the Secretary of Agriculture must be a pretty important person, which, after all, is the principal reason for having an entourage.
After arriving at the Albany Slightly-International Airport, the top farm guy in the nation was to appear on Channel 13’s 6 o’clock news to get that thing politicians crave: free publicity. Fully 45 minutes before air time, three members of Vilsack’s entourage came to the TV station in advance of their boss. And here’s where it gets good. This advance team wanted to be shown — and to walk — the exact route the secretary would take from parking lot to studio. We never did discover why they wanted to walk this walk; were they timing the trip, ingress to egress, or did they perceive peril along the way (I myself often feel uncomfortable in the hallway near the vending machines)?
This sort of thing — inspection and walking the exact route beforehand — is standard procedure for the Secret Service when the president is coming to a place and Vilsack did run for president for approximately 11 minutes back in 2008 (“Trivial Pursuit is on the line, Mr. Vilsack.”). So who knows? A few members of Vilsack’s entourage did give off the appearance of security; you know, the kind who always seem to be whispering into their shirtcuffs. But I do not believe that the Ag-Sec is entitled to Secret Service protection. And how much protection does a farm czar need?
Not that the top guy at Agriculture is anything to ker-choo at; he is in the line of succession to the presidency, but he’s ninth in line, behind Interior. I mean, Sarah Ferguson has about the same chance of succeeding to the throne of England. I’m thinking the biggest problem facing Vilsack’s entourage is that he could get lost in a cornfield, a sort of maize maze. Or that some farmer, disgruntled at getting bad soybean-planting advice from Cooperative Extension, tries to give him a wedgie in his blue coveralls. Incidentally, 20 minutes before Vilsack’s two-SUV caravan swooped down, the advance men went outside the station on the street where they anxiously watched down the road and furiously pecked away at their Blackberrys, assumedly giving/receiving information on the arrival of Godot or some other notable.
Whatever. We at Channel 13 were extremely impressed by the Vilsack entourage, especially when they pre-walked the route their boss would take to the studio.
Still, I have seen finer entourages. The one that readily comes to mind: Mike Tyson’s group of a dozen or so hangers-on back in September of ’96 when Kevin Rooney, his former trainer, sued for breach of contract. Tyson’s entourage looked like nothing if not the cast of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” impeccably attired in superb, pastel-hued suits,
some wearing bowlers, some two-toned wing-tips. They all acted very angry like Tyson had instructed them that showing a smile would be a sign of weakness. And each morning, an hour before court, four or five SUVs, including a Range Rover, would take up the best parking spaces outside U.S. District Court in downtown Albany. They would be on the radio, waiting for word that the champ was nearby. When Tyson’s brand-new, $300,000 turbo Bentley arrived, the Range Rover would pull out quickly and the silver Bentley coupe would glide into the spot, all with military precision. Ah, but that’s an entourage tale for another day!