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William F. Buckley Jr.

I originally wrote this the day I found out William F. Buckley Jr. died. I had the opportunity to meet Buckley back when I was working room service at the Radisson in Rochester, MN. Working at in room service at the Radisson was a great job, allowing me to meet a wide variety of neat people. Some of the neat people were regular common folk, some were from other countries, and a few were celebrities. Most of the celebrities I've ever met were pompous or clueless, Buckley was one of the exceptions. He was one of the nicest celebrities, and I knew he had a brilliant mind from interviews on TV.

While working a typical lunch afternoon, I got a lunch order for a sandwich and beverage. I punched the order into my computer and noticed the name attached to the room was William Buckley. I thought to myself, “He has the same name as the famous guy!”

I thought it couldn’t be the actual William F. Buckley Jr. because the hotel had a policy to send amenities to famous guests (typically a cheese or fruit plate), and there was none scheduled for that room. I quickly forgot about the similarity in name to the journalist I routinely saw on Tim Russert's Sunday morning Meet the Press show.

I ran the order up to the room and there was William F. Buckley Jr. standing in front of me. I greeted him,

“Good afternoon Mr. Buckley.”

He returned salutation cordially and invited me on in. I set the tray down on the desk and checked to see if everything was to his satisfaction, and if there was anything else I could get for him. I was only assigned to room service, but if I can get items from housekeeping or have maintenance bring up a fridge I would take care of it, like I would for anyone. After Buckley said everything was great, I told him it was m pleasure to meet him. I was still a little shocked he had checked in under his own name, and there was no amenity schedule to be delivered to his room.

Many celebrities expect amenities, even going so far as to specify what freebies they wanted. Everybody had heard about the famous Van Halen ordering M&Ms with all the green ones removed! Others would check in under false names, like when George Thorogood & the Destroyers played in Rochester, Thorogood used the pseudonym "Mr. Bones."

Back to Buckley - we talked for a few minutes. Knowing most people my age knew more about pop culture than politics and current events, and because he was able to check into the Radisson without being recognized - he asked how I knew him. I explained I had read articles of his in newspapers, I had seen him on Meet the Press with Tim Russert a few times, and I had recently read a book containing some of his work.

He was intrigued about what book of his I had recently read, so he listed off a few of his recent books. Buckley had 55 books to his credit by the time he expired yesterday. After telling him no, I hadn’t read any of the recent titles he threw at me, he asked exactly what I had read recently. I answered,

“The American Heritage Dictionary’s argument regarding the meaning of words changing with usage.”

The American Heritage Dictionary had a debate near the beginning of the book before the dictionary part started regarding how meanings of words change, or do not change over time - because of the way those words are used. Buckley’s argument was the negative one, stating meanings of words are static and should not change over time based on how they are used. His juxtaposition was that when words used are used wrong, they remain wrongly used.

He was surprised, and told me I was the first person to site that article to him. Remember the guy had a lot of books to his credit and I cited a relatively obscure argument published at the beginning of a dictionary. Who in the world reads the crap at the front of the dictionary? I did, maybe the bookstore wasn't open yet and I needed something to read. We talked for a few minutes. He asked, since I had read it recently, who I thought made the argument.

I thought about it for a minute, shrugged my shoulders, and told him,

“The other guy.”

He was a bit shocked that a mere room service waiter would tell him the other argument was better, but he also thanked me for not pandering. I think he was used to having yes men in similar situations, and appreciated my candor to disagree with his position. He asked me a few questions about the article and what I thought. I gave him my frank opinion and he thanked me.

We talked more about politics and current events. By the time I left the room, I had spent about 15 minutes up there – an eternity in room service time. I got down to my area and lunch orders were stacked up. I’d have to work my way back out of this logjam, but it was worth it.

The next morning the General Manager stopped to talk to me for a minute. He would grab a copy of the Wall Street Journal from my room service stack, and we would talk up a stock or two. I had had my eye on a long term option on Compaq Computer that ended up doing VERY well - too bad I didn't have an options account at the time.

I told him I delivered lunch to William F. Buckley Jr. the previous day, and how I was surprised there was no amenity for him. I was the guy who would run up all the morning amenities, so I would have known. The GM was the guy who placed all of those orders, so he would know as well. He said he caught the error, how Buckle was missed, at the front desk but by then it was too late to do anything. He was upset we missed out on an opportunity to impress a celebrity. He was a bit agitated that a guy of his caliber could check in under his own name, and nobody knew who he was.

That was when the GM gave me power to write up amenities myself, and charge them to his account. I would only abuse that ability on occasion...