Bill Kirby

Online news editor for The Augusta Chronicle.

Reporting from the White House was surreal

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Since I came to the White House, I got two hearing aids, a colon operation, skin cancer, a prostate operation, and I was shot.

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-- Ronald Reagan

Like many of you, I enjoyed our coverage of Augusta State's golf team taking in the sights and thrills of a visit to White House. It wasn't the first time, however, this newspaper has sent someone to Washington to report White House achievements.

Thirty years ago, barbecue baron Larry Sconyers was summoned to the nation's capital to provide the grub for President Jimmy Carter , and the reporter The Chronicle sent to document the event was me.

It was a different time.

First of all, there was no charter. I took the cheapest flight out of Augusta -- leaving before the sun rose, and flying back after midnight. That way, I also avoided a hotel room.

I didn't have a tour guide or a bus. A taxi dropped me off at Congressman Doug Barnard 's office and I spent the morning sitting in his reception area reading old newspapers and enjoying free Coca-Colas.

Next, I walked over to the Senate office of old acquaintance Herman Talmadge . This was more fun.

He met up with South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond (his cousin) and soon the three of us were dashing down Capitol tunnels and hallways and talking about government. Well, they were talking; I was just listening.

You can imagine sharing two hours with Talmadge and Thurmond with the Senate in session. It was like a reality show civics lesson, made more challenging by the fact that both men spoke in Southern accents so thick, I had trouble understanding them. The time passed quickly and soon they were pointing me toward the White House, which was a lot easier to both find and get into in those pre-9/11 days.

Before you could say "peanut farmer," I was on the famous South Lawn hanging out with the Sconyers Barbecue crew. We were waiting for the president and first lady to lead the group through the serving line when one of the Secret Service guys saw my media badge and told me this was a meal and the press would not be allowed to ask the president any questions.

I gave him a politely passionate protest that the readers of The Augusta Chronicle had helped further the career of Mr. Carter (I might have exaggerated) and were gracious enough to share our best barbecue, and we would appreciate the courtesy of a comment.

Well, you know Secret Service. You can't talk them into anything.

So, I did what the late newspaperman Louis Harris would have done.

I slipped away from the other reporters in the media pool and got in with the kitchen help of the Sconyers serving line. Soon the president and Rosalynn Carter were leading the group past the food, and I was tracking them on the other side of the table as they filled their plates, slipping in questions as they went.

The president didn't seem to mind, but his wife and the Secret Service appeared a bit irritated.

When it was over I had both enough quotes for a story and a full plate of barbecue, and I thought it would be a good time to capture proof of my White House success. I handed my camera to someone and asked that she take my picture with the White House rising in the background.

She did, too.

Unfortunately, when I got home and developed the film, I saw she'd neglected to get my head in the photo. Cut me off right at the neck.

And for three decades now, I've had to rely on a framed copy of the article on the wall of Sconyers Barbecue to prove it really happened.

But it did.

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PUPPYMOMMA
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PUPPYMOMMA 09/19/10 - 08:37 pm
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Larry Sconyers still has the

Larry Sconyers still has the best barbecue. Love their potato salad.

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