Sandra Day O’Connor’s current book tour reminds me of my favorite D.C. celebrity sighting, now a short video-clip of a memory from a time before mobile phones, the Internet and Comedy Central.
Back in the mid- and late ’80s, when I was a young reporter covering the Hill, I spotted all manner of political muckety-mucks and highfalutin’ talking heads in ordinary places: George Will in a bookstore, Ted Koppel outside a theater (or was that George Will, too?), Iran-Contra figure Elliott Abrams in the airport, Michael Kinsley at the table next to me in a café.
Sure, I covered senators and other powerful folk as part of my job, but always got a nerdy thrill spotting political and Sunday-morning-talk-show celebrities out in the regular world.
The coolest sighting happened one day at the Chevy Chase Circle Safeway (not to be confused with other Washington, D.C., Safeways with nicknames like the Soviet Safeway and the Social Safeway).
There, on the pay phone just inside the entrance, was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the high court, and she was giving someone instructions: Put the chicken in the oven at such-and-such degrees.
Wow, I thought, Sandra Day O’Connor is calling home, telling someone to put the chicken in the oven, and how to cook the chicken in the oven.
It was so extraordinarily ordinary, so homemaker-like, something my own wonderful mom might have done. Could then-Chief Justice Rehnquist be seen calling home from a grocery store, telling someone to put the chicken in the oven? Could any of the other justices?
Here she was, one of the most powerful people in the land, deciding the most important issues of the day for the most powerful democracy on Earth — and, apparently, attending to the day-to-day management of her household.
As the now-retired justice makes the media rounds, visiting Charlie Rose, Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart, I wonder if her book, Out of Order, makes reference to O’Connor’s work-home balance, her juggling of constitutional analysis and culinary oversight.
At minimum, I appreciate the memory of my supermarket brush with history.