One year ago last night Gary Hart won the New Hampshire Democratic primary and became a Force to Be Reckoned With. Last night, he did what anyone who's been a temporary Force does one year after his anointment: he celebrates the anniversary.
"It seems either like 10 years ago or 10 minutes ago, I can't decide which," said the Colorado senator as he walked to his table at the National Press Foundation's annual awards dinner at the Sheraton Washington. "We're going from here to a party with the travel coordinators from the campaign. They were known as the Road Warriors."
"The New Hampshire and Iowa people are also getting together," said Lee Hart, Gary's wife.
"Then Saturday night I'm having a party for the people who flew with us on the campaign plane -- mostly press," said Hart. "A survivors party."
Award dinners always attract a variety of Forces -- past, present and future. A present Force and by far the most popular person there was Los Angeles Olympics chief, Time's Man of the Year and Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, a man so well groomed his tan seems to come from within. He got the one standing ovation of the night, and he wasn't even there to receive one of the four awards.
This is what he didn't want to talk about:
What it's like to be Man of the Year. ("I don't want to talk about that.")
Whether Washington will get its own baseball franchise. ("I've promised all the cities that are interested not to talk about expansion.")
This is what he did want to talk about:
The Olympics, and Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyre, who was there to get an award for his coverage of the games but wasn't nearly so tanned.
People like Ueberroth, Dwyre and "NBC Nightly News" commentator John Chancellor, another honoree, know by now what Forces do at events like this. When the cameras start clicking, they start smiling. When people praise them, they look honored.
Mark Trahant, the 27-year-old editor of Navajo Times Today, the only Indian daily paper, was a little less experienced. When the cameras started clicking, he looked startled. When people praised him, he laughed.
His paper, he said, is as "irreverent" as he is.
"Our editorial page has always been wild," he said. "The day after the election, we ran the editorial page rimmed in black, with the words 'Four More Years' very small against the white. That was all. Reagan did not carry one precinct in the Navajo reservation."
Some sort of history was made later when both Trahant and banker Leo Bernstein accepted their awards, for contributions to journalism, in under 1 1/2 minutes (Bernstein is a board member of the National Press Foundation, which provides funding for various journalistic programs). But just to ensure the evening didn't end before everyone finished the Mint Bombe's, the wonder of technology took over. Dwyre was saluted with a glossy slide show and Chancellor with a collection of film clips that included an interview during which he was asked what change he'd most like to see in television news.
"Well," he said, "I'd turn Dan Rather into a frog."
Which is just the kind of joke -- competitive yet whimsical, inside yet not too inside -- that goes over best at big, big dinners.
But even if you've made the right kind of joke, even if you've appeared in your own slide show, there are moments . . .
"Is this an annual event?" Dwyre asked during the reception before dinner. "I'm still a little confused about all of this."
L.A. Times associate sports editor Dave Moylan looked around at the 1,000 people holding 1,000 drinks, and voiced the great unspoken question that haunts such events.
"I just want to know," he said, "who all these people are."