Yesterday's edition of the "Lake Wobegon Herald-Star" noted its best-known native son, Garrison Keillor, was visiting the halls of Congress:
"Mr. and Mrs. Keillor's son Gary visited Washington, D.C., this week. He is the one employed in the radio station business. Today he had lunch with some politicians. They had rolled-up chicken and apple pie. There were a lot of speeches, handshakes and flashbulbs going off. Our Own Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery store is having a special to commemorate this. There is a sale on Washington cherries and baloney. The baloney is extra cheap."
As Rep. Bruce Vento (D-Minn.) read the "report" in a dining room of the Rayburn House Office Building yesterday, the celebrity made the rounds of Capitol Hill, life imitating art.
Keillor, creator of "A Prairie Home Companion," the whimsical weekly radio serial about life in small-town Minnesota, was the guest yesterday of the Congressional Arts Caucus.
He posed for pictures with House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) (whom Keillor said was not a listener), signed copies of the Atlantic magazine excerpt from his upcoming book "Lake Wobegon Days" and talked to fans.
When the lunch, actually fruit cup, salad, rolled chicken and apple pie, was served, Keillor deadpanned: "Congressman Gerald Sikorski's office told me five times in the last two weeks I wouldn't have to speak. I began to resent it."
Keillor then urged continued federal support of the arts, a submission of his trip to the Hill. Minnesota Public Radio, producer of the Peabody Award-winning show distributed by American Public Radio, has asked the Commerce Department for a grant of $283,185 to purchase equipment for the production.
Vento said the outlook for the grant was "mixed," due to decreasing federal support for public radio and widespread public ignorance about the uniqueness of some of its programming.
"Keillor's appearance will probably get a lot more congressmen's attention. I hope it will make the difference," said Vento.
After Keillor made his plea, he sat down and everyone waited. For some news of Bertha's Kitty Boutique. The latest score of the Whippets baseball team. Other nuggets beloved by his 2 million listeners.
Sensing the disappointment, Rep. Thomas Downey (D-N.Y.), chairman of the caucus, said, "Here we do stand by the five-minute rule." Then Keillor spoke again, ripping into the All-Star Baseball Game played earlier this week in Minnesota.
"When I was a younger man I believed in radical change. But seeing . . . great bratwurst that used to be cooked over coals, beer poured from bottles . . . become bratwurst warmed over rollers and beer long dead before it gets to you, you begin to doubt change," he said. He also bemoaned the Minneapolis domed stadium and artificial grass.
Before they let Keillor sit down again, the congressmen asked some questions. Sikorski asked if there was a hazardous waste site near Lake Wobegon. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) said he had been driving last Saturday from the Korn & Klover Festival in Hinckley, Minn., to Karl Oskar Days in Lindstrom, and he had thought Keillor's story about Babe Ruth wandered a bit.
"If you are questioning the fact that Babe could have hit a home run off a small-town pitcher, I ask you to go back and examine the Babe's record," said Keillor.
Two weeks ago, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and his wife Ruth appeared on "PHC" for their 17th anniversary. "I have missed very few shows since 1976. Those I can't hear at first I tape for my car cassette player. When I am listening I am transported back to my hometown of Cumming, Iowa, population 189," said Harkin.