With Donald Trump’s INAUGURATION less than two weeks away, the US is on TIM MAGEE’S mind …
Dear US presidential portrait, The first time I saw you, you were hanging in the immigration hall in JFK in 1988, an election year. I’d left home to move to your country to fly planes off boats. President Reagan, that year your VP, George HW Bush, would win. His presidential portrait was of a man who did actually fly planes off boats. The youngest naval pilot in World War II with a war record much more remarkable than anything he did in office, and his legacy turned out to be his son.
The notion of the US Navy didn’t work out for me. Too many flags and moustaches, and nobody who looked like Kelly McGillis. Instead I ended up putting up warehouses outside LA for my great-uncle Aloysius, living near Seal Beach, looking like a mash-up of a Miami Vice extra and a Bosco presenter.
The next guy in the immigration hall portrait – they’re always guys – was Bill Clinton, a smooth southerner about the same age as I am now. Gulp. He’d balance the budget, be part of delivering peace in the North and help make America great at imprisoning people. He was likeable, impressive and I’d get to meet him and, like the cliché, feel I was the only other person in the room.
During his tenure, I’d commute the Atlantic every few weeks in perpetual but first-class jetlag with a gaggle of consultants. I would get to know what things to do in Denver, nearly get killed white-water rafting in the Rockies, and hang out in Omaha looking for vintage furniture and clothes. Mostly I was freezing in South Sioux City, Iowa.
The pilot’s son, George W Bush, was the next guy into the frame. He looks happy, even benign – a picture doesn’t always tell a thousand words. When he was done we expected we’d never see another as misled or dangerous.
Then eight years ago this month, everything changed and you came along in the so-called election of a lifetime. (That seems quaint now.) President Obama, you look so young in your portrait. When you were elected I thought you could make the sun shine. Towards the end of your first term I was gutted – you hadn’t done half of what you’d promised. What I had missed was that you didn’t campaign on pulling America out of the Great Recession. Because no one knew. You did that, and then, despite having a hand tied behind your back, your middle and third act blew my socks off.
The campaign rhetoric and aspiration seemed petty compared to what you and your wife actually did. I’ll remember the words but mostly the temperament, attention to detail, and that bullet-proof moral compass that would surpass anyone in the portraits that went before you. And that comic timing. You could always get a start as a chat show host if you’re stuck for work at the end of this month.
The portrait that will be hung on January 20 in airports and embassies around the world is now probably being airbrushed in a fake gilded frame. Maybe there is a series of them: one donning a leopardskin hat, a Russian fur, a pointy Pickelhaube, maybe even a golden crown?
Some in the US want to leave, and I understand them. I’ve been told by friends and family that once this reign begins they’ll give your country a miss for the next four years.
I understand but I don’t agree. And I’m not boycotting travel to the US. This year I’m going back to 1988 and where it all started for me – California. I can fly direct to LA now, then drive south to San Diego, and Coronado. I’ll stay where FDR stayed, in that big Victorian beachside beauty, hotel del coronado. After some Pacific Ocean reconditioning, I’ll skip over the border into Tijuana, the gateway to the coolest wine region, Baja California – without the chintz of Napa, and better food at a tiny slice of the price. I will finish up in Ensenada, topping and tailing the days with clamatos and margaritas, dining in the brilliant Laja, the Baja dinner destination run by a loveable hilarious crew that need their own television show. www.hoteldel.com, www.lajamexico.com.
After the wine trip I will go back for some cheese, and do the Florida Keys. I’ll dive back into Netflix’s Bloodline and Key Largo on the way over to get into character. Getting
an overnighter in Miami Beach, in the cheap but classy The Hall or The Gale before picking up a convertible rental locally. Then that dinky drive through that
necklace of tropical islands that stretch out like a life-line to Cuba, across the skinny bridges, over turquoise shallows, before collapsing into those white sands after eating myself sleepy with shrimp, conch and stone crab. Then because of you, I can dump my car at Marathon Key and jump the CubaKat ferry for a dusk to dawn visit to Havana.
I’ve had the best New Year’s Eves of my life in Havana but I wouldn’t stay there this time. Just soak up the electricity of a reborn country via its music, rum, people and actual shabby chic for one long day before pelting back across the straits to arrive at dawn at Marathon and to the rest of the holiday in the majesty of Harry Truman’s old
haunt, Little Palm Island. www.jdvhotels.com/hotels/florida/south-beach-miami/the-hall/; www.galehotel.com; www.littlepalmisland.com.
This year though, my stateside priority is the 50th state. Despite reading your books, and checking in with you daily for nine years, I’m going to finish the presidential chapter of your life with a lei around my neck. It will help me figure out what influence this laidback tropical melting pot had on its most famous island boy, and well, you know,
it’s Hawaii. Your magnificent wife once said “You can’t really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii” – well, okay so.
After a post-flight decompression in the Modern Honolulu, I’ll skip your tradition of golf and dad jeans, and take surfing lessons in Waikiki. Then it is island life mode before checking in to Halekulani or checking out the blissful peace and quiet of the electronic free sanctuary of Travaasa Hana in Maui. www.halekulani.com; www.themodernhonolulu.com; www.travaasa.com/hana/hanaphotos
So portrait, I wonder what you will do next? Only two weeks left hanging on the walls of all of those changing immigration halls. I don’t see you returning to constitutional law or focusing on your presidential library. My guess is your plans changed a bit recently and it isn’t too audacious to hope that you won’t just retire to Hawaii. Whether you do or not, there is a useful word that you know that covers goodbye, hello again – and affection.
Aloha, Barack Hussein Obama.
Tim Magee @manandasuitcase
This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our February issue, out Thursday, February 2.
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