No, it wasn't Britney Spears. And sadly, most of my friends don't have a clue who he is. But I -- I -- am still in disbelief.
That's General Ray Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army. Do you have any idea how amazing he is? AH-MAY-ZEENG.
Part of living in DC for four years (exactly four years this month!) is being starstruck by our own brand of celebrity. For many of my fellow Washingtonians, meeting President Obama would be top notch. I sat in a room at the White House with the President. It was really, really cool. Really cool. But this far and away tops it.
I knew he was coming over and I would have to tell him about the piece of the exhibit I was manning. (Oh yeah, I'm working a convention this week, which is why I've been MIA on the blog. After a mini-vacay at the end of this week I'll be back to normal, I promise.) I practiced what I was going to say on anyone who would humor me. I practiced my firm handshake. I even practiced not raising my eyebrows and making weird facial expressions. But I knew once I saw him coming toward me I was going to blank on everything. I also knew I would then pull it together miraculously.
I have to credit all my online dating with this skill -- going on a first date is terrifying, and the same thing happens to me every time I'm walking up to the restaurant to meet the person: my stomach flips, my palms start sweating, all thoughts of conversation starters escape my mind...and then I take a deep breath, blow it out all the way through my feet and dive right in. Then I either have a great conversation, feel too comfortable and talk too much, therefore blowing it; or I have a creepy/awkward/inappropriate conversation, feel completely annoyed and eat too much, therefore blowing it (but on purpose).
The moments between him turning to walk to me and reaching me seemed like time was standing still, and then all the sudden he was in front of me, extending his hand to shake mine. I noticed right before that my favorite CNN reporter, Barbara Starr, was with him and was walking over as well, which made me even more nervous. I looked at his hand, keenly aware of the reporters and spectators, camera flashes going off and an unspeakable energy buzzing all around me. This was it.
I tightened my wrist and thrust it forward, shaking his hand the manly way -- the way a woman must learn to shake if she wants to be taken seriously. I locked eyes with him, said, "Sir, it's an honor to meet you," and then every other person, sound and motion disappeared. "It's nice to meet you..." -- he looked at my name badge -- "Mary El." After that, saying my spiel was no problem.
And that is how I met the coolest general EVER.
But why oh why did that soldier have to get in the way of my photo op???!!!
(Follow him on Twitter at @GENRayOdierno and Facebook, because he's awesome.)