The two biggest attractions at the Twin Bridges Marriott yesterday were Gerald R. Ford and a truck.
But this was no ordinary truck.
Equipped with sheepskin seat covers, leather steering wheel, 42-inch mattress, vacuum cleaner, microwave oven, AM-FM Stereo-Digital clock, and color television, this truck was especially designed for the seventh annual convention of the Independent Truckers Association being held at the Arlington hotel. It is expected to cost around $70,000.
But for only $13,000 (his reported fee for the speech), the truckers got to hear former president Ford give what might loosely be described as a campaign speech.
A long time friend of the independent trucker because of his support for legislation to deregulate much of the trucking industry, Ford addressed the issues likely to concern the independent businessmen - truckers: deregulation, the Kemp-Roth bill, Proposition 13, Inflation.
So did the truck: Comfort on the long haul, a safe and quiet ride, room to stretch out in the back cab, sharp silver and blue color trim, and nice handling.
But while the men were checking out the truck in the parking lot, dozens of their bouffant-hairdoed ladies were sliding up past 500 lunchers to snap instamatic photos of the once-and-maybe-future president during his speech.
"We've had some good speakers at these conventions," said 79-year-old trucker Louis Lyons, who has been on the road since 1917, "but this is the first we've had of this presidential business."
"I haul fruit," Lyons said, . . ." right now I'm into watermelons. And I can tell you we need deregulation to compete with the big companies. Ford is a good man. And if you do something for a politican, he'll do something for you. Ford's only problem when he was president was that he was too quiet . . . he tried to get things done easily."
Calling inflation "Public Enemy Number One," Ford attacked the Carter administration, calling the real villian in the inflation problem the federal government."
"One million dollars in taxes now pays for 75 seconds of the operation of government," he said.
Standing behind several hundred Chrysanthemums shaped into the words "Free Enterprise," Ford called the Interstate Commerce Commission "one of the worst, if not the worst," regulatory agency imposing inflationary rules on industry.
Ford said he was enjoying his life in retirement, spending a considerable amount of time golfing and skiing. "Retirement isn't all that bad," he said. "I recommend it for President Carter as soon as he can."
"Don't count me out," Ford said of the possibility that he might run for the presidency. "Don't count me in. I'm healthy, I'll be around and I won't duck my responsibilities." The crowd applauded enthusiastically.
"He looked more able and fit than ever before," said Bill Scheffer, vice president of the ITA, which co-sponsored the convention along with Overdrive magazine. "He looks like he's ready to take on the whole world."
But there was some indication that the crowd didn't fully grasp the issues raised by Ford. In his closing remarks, in answer to a question from the floor, Ford said President Carter should "hold back the so-called National Health Insurance Programs, which is just another way of describing . . . uh . . . a federal health program."
The crowd applauded loudly, standing as Ford left the room.