I was in Plano, Texas earlier this month on business, scrambling to catch an earlier Friday flight home from DIA. Ahead of me in the ticketing line, I hear a guy arguing with the agent and getting pretty animated. As I approach the agent next to him, it hits me. The smug, superior white male boss demeanor, the oppressive negative energy. Standing right next to me is Senator Ted freakin’ Cruz, totally ruining someone’s day. Wow!
I picked up that he was heading home to what I assumed was Houston, and he didn’t get a flight to his liking. I booked mine back to Rhode Island (via D.C., no less) and found myself maybe ten paces on the concourse behind the Holy Cruzader, checking his phone, irritated. As I approach my gate, I watch him stomp into a Wolfgang Puck’s, dropping his jacket and bag by the bar.
I eyeball my gate – boarding in 3 hours. When will I ever get this chance?
Maybe five minutes pass. I thumb through his Wikipedia page while I sip an Amstel Light. Ted’s already in Cruz-Control, throwing back a second bourbon and soda. I prepare…
Into his phone, Ted says, “Don’t care. He’s a… look… okay, tell him he’s being a prick. Nothing happens on that ‘til I get back.” He tosses his phone onto the bar.
I lean over and break the ice. “Houston?”
“We have a problem,” says Ted, not looking at me.
“Are you heading to Houston? Or do you have a problem?”
“Both,” he says, emptying his glass. He looks at me. “Ah, fuck… So where are you headed?”
“Cancun,” I say, smiling.
Cruz’s practiced smile drops. “Okay, asshole, not a good time…”
“I’m Devin. And you’re… Ted Cruz. As I live and breathe.”
“Are you a registered voter in the state of Texas?” he asks.
“Does my answer determine whether or not you’ll talk to me?”
Before he can answer, an attractive brunette bartender with dark eyes and hoop earrings approaches. “Welcome back Senator. Your Friday usual?” she asks. Ted straightens maybe six inches in his seat, those lyin’ eyes pivot from his phone and me to the young lady, and I’m suddenly being introduced to Ted Schmooze.
“You bet.” A creepy sort of wink happens. “Hey, that’s a different look for you,” he says, suddenly turning to me like a wingman. “Love the bangs, don’t they look great?”
The brunette’s eyes go into a practiced, trancelike place, manicured hands moving menus toward us, already pouring the seditionist his third bourbon, selling us a forced half-smile.
“Bring this guy anything he wants,” I say. “I’ll have the bruschetta and another Amstel, please.” Half turning towards him, I make my move. “I’m buying. The senator’s gonna let me interview him.”
Cruz eyes his third drink of the still-morning, and I feel emboldened. My timing felt just right. “Oh, you are, are you?” he asks, reflexively checking his phone. “What party affiliation are you?”
“Registered independent. Not a member of either cult.” The senator eyes me suspiciously, but his supreme ego, fueled by idle time, bourbon, and an empty stomach appeared to affect his calculation.
“What the hell, Kevin. Bring it on. But let me see your phone.”
Funny that it hadn’t occurred to me to record our conversation, but it did occur to him that I might. The food runner brought him a pulled pork pizza, a pile of calamari, and several drinks while over the next 90 minutes he talked about his fancy Princeton and Harvard experiences and clerking for Reinquist, about Heidi and his daughters (who he obviously adored). We laughed about little Marco Rubio, and we cleared up the controversy about his dad being involved with a Cuban plot to kill JFK. He talked about what it was like to argue cases with the likes of RBG.
I let him get up a head of steam and lecture me about conservative values and sensible energy policy and health care and the republic our forefathers envisioned. In short, I let him spout off, with impeccable diction, even as his inebriated state persisted.
I finish my beer and interject, “Well, that was really, really interesting. I can’t thank you enough for taking all this time talking to me.” I nod to a new bartender, pointing to my watch.
Cruz checks his phone. “Another twenty minutes before first class boards. Yea… it feels good to talk about the things you believe in, you know? Kinda reminds us why we got into the business of politics. So, have I turned ya conservative, Kevin?” He laughs and pats me harder on the back than he intended, momentarily startling me.
“No, I can’t say that I’m buying what you’re selling, Ted.” The bartender delivers the little black bill folder. “But don’t feel bad. I’m not really in the market for what the other side is selling either.” I eyeball and quickly sign the bill. “Dude, eight bourbons. I guess it’s five o’clock somewhere. Here apparently.”
He smiles, ignoring my question, and asks, “S’what exactly do ya believe in?” Teddy Booze appeared truly unsteady for the first time, but his question seemed sincere. “Tell me.” His pupils struggle to focus on me as he suddenly longs for the sound of something other than his own voice.
“Ted, it’s been fun getting to know you in this short time, and you sure are an interesting human being, but I don’t see our world the way you do.”
“So tell me how you see it.”
“Okay, very high level… Our biggest problem is not healthcare or nuclear war or global warming or guns. Those are all problems, for sure, but they all start because of one very big root cause problem: human nature itself. We have so much collective intellect. Just look at you. You’re probably the smartest human I’ve ever actually met.” I lean in closer to Ted to avoid sounding mean-spirited. “And you use all of that powerful intellect to sell things that essentially try and keep things just as they once were. Wealth in oil and gas, with rifles to keep us all safe, the right people in charge and women and minorities marginalized, safe from the evil immigrants on the other side of a massive freaking wall. And ALL of this in the glorious name of JESUS.”
Cruz contorts his face, fighting to respond.
I put my hand on his. “Ted, let me finish. I let you go for hours. Let me finish my thought, then you can respond. Now, while I believe that you’re on the wrong side of just about everything, the other guys are about as screwed up. Like you guys, they don’t tell the truth, because everyone who aims for power can’t seem to bring themselves to trust the common person to be able to fully process the truth. So they go on and on manipulating the truth, to the point that no one can even recognize the truth any more.”
“So what is the truth, Mr. Truth-teller?”
“We’re a destructive species, Ted. We’re gonna destroy ourselves, and it’s gonna be pretty soon. That even plays into the biblical narrative your side always likes to point to. But the funny thing is that it doesn’t have to end that way.” I down what remains of my ice water. “When you droned on about all those issues you’re so passionate about, I didn’t see that twinkle in your eyes. The ONLY time you flashed that true passion is when you talked about Caroline and Catherine. I truly believe after talking to you that you would do anything in your power to give them the greatest life.”
He looks into his lap. “Damn right.”
“So do THAT. Harness the love you have for two very specific human beings and direct that Love towards the citizens of Texas and the citizens of this country you serve. Use it to figure out how to give those two kids, and every other kid in this country, a chance at a great life. And if that means things have to radically change, let the truth win out. Get the hell out of the way and let the younger people lead us toward a change your generation cannot bring, to solve the complex human problems that all the generations before you helped bring to bear.”
I suddenly feel the shadowy presence of two women in business suits moving right up behind my new best friend.
The first aide walks over. “Okay, senator. We found you. Time to get you on your plane. Amanda, get his bags. I’ll get him.”
Ted eases to his feet, completely relinquishing tactical control of the situation as he gingerly starts shuffling towards the restaurant’s exit.
The other aide turns to me, then assesses the senator and this situation. “Are we good here? Looks like we had quite the lunch today.”
“All good,” I say, covering our tracks.” The senator’s a terrific lunch date. I’ve learned so much.”
“I’ll bet,” she says. “Okay, I’ll need your email. His office will comp your lunch. We’ll send you over the NDA, and we appreciate your discretion.