A while back I asked about your quirkiest boss. Now I ask that you think about the most unforgettable character you encountered in your government career. In my book, Confessions of a Government Man, I discuss many that I met many in my career. “Large Lewis” Levine was in a class by himself. He was a senior technician when I was a trainee. He had his own style, exempt from logic and most rules and regulations. Although Lewis was honest and hard working, in today’s climate he would be a full time project for the inspector general. Here is another book excerpt, cleaned up for family viewing.
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Lew had a lot of idiosyncrasies, including an aversion to flying. That was not good because he did a lot of leasing work in the Buffalo area, which had a heavy federal presence. The drive from Long Island to Buffalo could not have been fun.
I was scheduled to accompany him to Buffalo for training purposes and meetings with potential lessors to the government. As I was to find out later, Lewis had already made his selection, hinted to the prospective bidders as to what their final offers should be and already set up a construction schedule from the expected date of award. Little wonder that we had a concentration of leases from one property owner, a prominent Niagara Falls undertaker.
Lew was burdened with a neophyte (me) on this trip but he was not about to go out of his way. He commanded that we would drive to Buffalo and still arrive in time for a 10:30 AM Monday meeting. I was to meet him at the off ramp at the Cross Bay Parkway exit of the Belt Parkway in Queens, not all that far from JFK Airport. The rendezvous time was two o’clock in the morning. “Be there or I’ll go without you.”
I took a taxi from Forest Hills to the intersection of Cross Bay Parkway and the Belt and instructed the driver to let me out near the off ramp. He shook his head as I paid him and with my suitcase, walked a few feet into the off ramp as if I was going to the highway to hitchhike. It was mid-February so I wouldn’t have lasted long.
At precisely 2:00 AM a government vehicle sped up the off ramp and screeched to a halt. “Get in!”
We then got back on the highway. Lew drove non-stop for the next three hours with a heavy foot until we were outside Albany, New York. At 5:00 AM Lew decided, “Let’s take a look at the Federal Highway Administration space. It’s right off the exit.” In the darkness of night, Lew aimed our headlights into the windows of an almost completed new building to do our version of a construction progress inspection.
By 5:02 AM we were surrounded by state troopers who had pulled up with their sirens blasting.
No harm done. We explained our mission as super dedicated servants of the people and we were on our way. Lew consented to let me drive for a while. He napped from Albany to Troy, about twenty minutes, and then read the morning paper we picked up at a rest stop. By Utica he was back at the wheel and we were in Buffalo by ten.
Two quick meetings in Buffalo with property owners and then off to Niagara Falls for another meeting with his favorite lessor, which included a proper lunch overlooking the American side of the Falls. This was followed by a tour of potential sites for a new branch office for the Social Security Administration, which was academic because Lew had already decided on which site he would recommend.
By four in the afternoon we were back in Buffalo for a meeting with the GSA area manager, which was less of a meeting and more of a social call to catch up about family, friends, former associates and that year’s COLA..
At 5:30 PM we finally arrived at our downtown hotel. Rest at last.
Not so soon. “Meet me in the lobby in twenty minutes,” Lew ordered.
When the clock struck six we were in the car again. This time we drove east on the New York State Thruway to Batavia, New York, home of Batavia Downs trotting track. To my surprise, there were our Niagara Falls potential landlords, greeting us in the track’s restaurant. We had another proper meal, with suitable beverages, and enjoyed ten races.
Back in the car and back to Buffalo. By 1:00 AM we were in the hotel. I was exhausted. This 300 pound hulk of a man had been up for more than twenty-four hours, save for the Albany catnap; he had driven about five hundred miles; ate like he had multiple colons and was still ready to go. I went upstairs and fell on the bed in a heap, fully clothed. The next thing I remember was being awakened by the phone at 7:00 AM. “Where are you? We’ve got work to do.”
The second day of this excellent adventure was not quite as taxing. In the morning we visited some government leases on Delaware Avenue just to review compliance with maintenance clauses in the contract. In the afternoon we did a little exploring on the main streets of downtown Buffalo to try to find a new storefront location for the consolidated military recruitment offices.
After a few passes up Main Street and along Delaware Avenue Lew stopped in front of an obviously familiar location. He gazed up the block, said “Ah, there’s no space here. Let’s go shoot pool.”
We went upstairs and that’s what we did for the rest of the afternoon.
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An apt description of what politicians denigrate when they criticize government employees. Is ther any wonder the public mistrusts us?