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James Tarr

Have you ever been armed and within twenty yards of the President and the Vice-President of the United States?  Unintentionally?

Check that off the bucket list, I guess.

In 1996 Bill Clinton was running for reelection, and he and his Vice President Al Gore were touring certain areas of the country on a train.  At the time I was working as a private investigator in the Detroit area, and relatively new to the job after deciding working as a cop wasn’t for me.

One afternoon I was breaking off from a surveillance somewhere in the downriver area.  This is the name given to the suburbs south of Detroit (down the Detroit River)—Melvindale, River Rouge, Allen Park, Lincoln Park, Ecorse, etc.  These are mostly lower income neighborhoods, and the closer you get to the Detroit River, the fewer houses and the more industrial the area becomes.

Multiple railroad tracks head north and northeast into Detroit through these small cities, and to this day I can clearly see the tall grass in the vacant lots to either side of the narrow blacktopped road where I sat in my car as the railroad lights flashed.  I was the only car stopped at the tracks in either direction, and my bumper had to be ten yards from the tracks, if that.

Soon enough a train went rolling by, heading north.  A passenger train, with passenger cars, although I couldn’t see anything through the windows.  It wasn’t a long train, and suddenly the last car went sliding by.  And on the platform at the rear of the last car (does that technically make it the caboose?  I honestly don’t know) were two men, talking.

I looked, then did a double-take.  Because the two men were Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Twenty yards distant, but heading away from me at forty miles an hour or so.  As I watched the two of them headed back inside.  I wonder if they weren’t just talking but sneaking a cigarette.  Then again, no matter who you are, standing at the back of a moving train has got to be a neat experience.

Just to make sure I wasn’t crazy I listened to the news on the drive home, and they did confirm that the President and Vice-President had ridden a train up from Toledo and were making an appearance in Detroit.

Just as surprising to me as the unexpected appearance of Clinton and Gore was the fact that at the time I found myself twenty yards from them I was very well armed.  I had a custom 1911 on my right hip and two spare magazines on my left hip, with no police or Secret Serviceman to be seen.  I mean, seriously, what are the chances?

I of course had no intention of doing anything, but it reminds you of how the vagaries of fate affect all our lives.  World War I was started by one guy with a small handgun who happened to be in just the right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your perspective).  For the Secret Service, they have to be right every single time, whereas the bad guys only have to be right once.