I have a long-time friend, Peter Carlisle, who I've briefly mentioned here and written about elsewhere. We go back to UCLA grad school, where he went to law school, and I got my Masters degree in screenwriting. Following graduation, we took a camping trip together up the Pacific Coast to Vancouver and then back -- after which I headed to the Land o' Hollywood and he flew to Honolulu to join the Prosecutor's Office.
Peter worked there for quite a few years before the Chief Prosecutor left -- basically their name for District Attorney -- and with the position now open he ran for the job. And he won, becoming only the third elected Chief Prosecutor in Honolulu history. (For many years, it had been appointed.) He did a good enough job to not only get re-elected three times, but for all three re-election campaigns he ran un-opposed, which would seem to be a really good way to run. And then he decided to run for mayor of Honolulu. And was elected.
We don't have the same political views, but though he's a Republican he's from New Jersey, and is much more an East Coast Republican. (If he lived in the Bible Belt, they might even consider him a damn liberal, though he's not, even remotely.) We agree on quite a bit, though, and the reason he lost his re-election bid shows a lot about why that was and who he is as a person. He pretty much lost for two reasons. One is that he had two deeply formidable opponents -- a former mayor of Honolulu, and a former governor of Hawaii. (The former governor won.) And the other reason is because of a local issue. Traffic in Honolulu had become extremely bad, and a rail system was needed. A full plan had been put together, which Peter supported -- even though it would cost a lot of money and mean raising taxes. He knew it risked being unpopular to support the rail system, most especially for a Republican, but he also knew it was necessary and knew it was coming -- if not now, eventually. And he lost. It's worth noting that the rail system is, in fact, still moving ahead, land is being bought for it, and it is on track (no pun intended) to be built, just as he said would be the case.
Since leaving office he's been been in private law practice as partner in a Honolulu law firm. We don't see each other often, usually whenever he's had to come to the Los Angeles area on business. We'd talk on the phone on rare occasion and periodic emails, but we've always stayed in touch. A fond memory is going to a University of Hawaii football with Peter and his wife Judy, which by itself isn't that notable but what stands out is that it was on their wedding night -- Peter in his tux and Judy still in her white, flowing wedding gown. (They had season tickets, and loved the games, so they weren't going to miss it. And fortunately had an extra ticket. And so, having gotten invited to join in, we all left the wedding party early. I'll tell the full story another time.)
Peter is a hugely outgoing, friendly, goofy, nice, very smart, highly-industrious piece of work. Even though much more laid-back than you'd think a mayor and four-time Chief Prosecutor of a city with nearly a million residents would be (hey, this is Hawaii, after all), he's still very driven and an exhausting person to be around for more than, oh, 30 minutes. He was always that way. And he was in Los Angeles not for 30 minutes, but two days. Alone, with only me, no Judy as a buffer. It was a great time, and utterly draining.
(They'd just had their first grandkid, and had gone to be with the new parents. But after a while Peter was politely told to leave, he wasn't needed any more, go away. Judy stayed to help out. To be clear, this was planned. It wasn't like he suddenly made himself a nuisance and was ejected. They just all knew beforehand that there was a limit to how long he should be around before getting in the way. And rather than putter at home alone, and have to make-do there on his own, he was granted full dispensation to take an extended trip back to his old stomping ground of Los Angeles.)
To repeat, it was a great time, and utterly draining.
In fact, it was draining before it even started. No, really, that's not hyperbole. If you believe anything I write here, it must be that Peter Carlisle is a Force of Nature and exhausting.
I had asked Peter to let me know his flight plans, so I could pick him up at LAX. I waited and waited, and the day before he was due in, still no call. I thought about checking with him, but figured he's a big boy and knew he was coming in and would contact me. And on the day he was due, indeed he did call. The problem is that the phone rang AT 5:45 IN THE MORNING! "Hey, Bobbo! Carlisle. How's it going?!" Just so you know, this isn't the first time he's done this. He finds the three-hour time difference with Hawaii hilarious, and likes to occasionally take advantage of it for fun. (Sorry, I mean, for "fun." It's adorable, but only in concept.) Anyway, I got his flight info and asked where he was staying, so I could check the map beforehand and figure out how best to get there. He didn't know -- how on earth could a person not know what hotel he was staying at?? (I found out later how on earth that could be. More on that later.) But I told him to be sure to find out and call before I left to pick him up. Okay, fine. I joked with him a bit about the hour of the call, but said that I cut him some slack since 5:45 AM is still very early in Honolulu -- 2:45 AM. At that point, he corrected me. "Oh, no, I'm not in Honolulu. I'm at O'Hare. I was in Kentucky with Judy and the kids, but flew here after." Oh. So, it's normal time where you are, I said. Oh, sure, he burst out with a laugh. After a slight pause, I replied, "You just blew your airport pick-up."
I did pick him up, of course. And no, he hadn't called with his hotel information before I left for the airport. As he got in the car, though, I asked where his hotel was since I had maps and also a GPS to figure things out. But he still didn't know. It was in his suitcase, we could get it later after stopping for lunch. Fine. So, we went to lunch. I knew he'd said a few weeks earlier that he wanted to stay in West L.A., where I had just come from, and we drove back there. After lunch, we checked his suitcase -- and it turned out his hotel was...back at the airport!! And so, we drove back there again, because he needed to check in and rest up a bit. And I drove back, again, to West L.A. And then drove back to the airport during rush hour to get him for dinner. And he said he wanted to go to Santa Monica to see the ocean. ("Oh," I said, "gee, if only you lived on an island surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, what an interesting choice of places to visit that would be." His explanation was that he wanted to see the ocean from a different direction. And it was a different color.) Whatever the reason, we headed back to West L.A. Again. And then back to the airport for his hotel at the end of the evening. After which, of course, back to West L.A. for me to go home. Four round-trips to the airport in about nine hours.
Little did I know that this would be a sort of running theme during his stay. It turns out that although he is a man of a great many skills, traveling on his own is not one of them. And it was actually sort of amusing.
For instance, when we returned back to the hotel in the evening, and got on the elevator to go up to his room, I asked for his floor -- and he wasn't sure. Mind you, this shouldn't have been a particular challenge since there were only four to choose from. (Actually, just three since we were in the lobby...) Eventually, he remembered that it was the third floor. Huzzah.
Fine. But when we got off the elevator, he started wandering around and checking each hallway corner, trying to figure out which was the correct way to go. "I think it's this way..." And then some more uncertain checking. "Okay, wait, I think...hmm, it's...." -- and finally, after a few tentative turns, we did make it to the right direction.
Until he had to figure out his room. He checked his key card...but of course those don't have room numbers on them, for security. A concept Peter seemingly hadn't grasped after more than a decade. But at least he came to his destination, "I think this is it," and put his card in the slot -- but no, it was wrong. He thought a moment, looked around and then realized it was probably the room next door. Maybe. "This is it, I'm pretty sure," and again inserted his card -- but...yes, this was wrong, too.
As he moved down the hall, uncertain where his room was -- again, remember, this is the former mayor of Honolulu and four-time Chief Prosecuting Attorney, a man who personally tried the most high-profile risky cases himself and put numerous truly-vicious killers behind bars, I backed off in the opposite direction. When he asked where I was going, I explained to him, "If you're wrong with the next room, too, I don't want to be standing in front of the door when the guest there comes barreling out in raging anger." Happily, the third time was the charm, and his room was found!
In a rare expression of humility, Peter explained a full self-awareness of his shortcoming. When traveling with his family for the past 30 years, his wife Judy is one of those massively-organized types who runs the household, "This is what we’re doing, this is how we’re doing it, go there," and on trips she handled everything and Peter just had to follow directions. And because of his job for around the past 25 years – when he was Chief Prosecuting Attorney of Honolulu, and then when he was Mayor -- he’s always had an executive assistant who was responsible for everything with his business life: where he was supposed to be, putting together his meetings, press conferences, public appearances, how he was supposed to get there, when he was supposed to have lunch, where to eat, managing his business trips, setting up transportation to the airport, everything. Absolutely everything. So, over time, between home and office, all this simply wasn’t a skill he needed, and so it withered on the vine and he lost this very basic ability, and he admitted being clueless about it. He could run a city, he could keep the public protected from crime, even heinous crime -- but he couldn't remember where his hotel was. Or his floor. Or room. It just wasn't something he'd had to do for a quarter century.
Since his wife was back visiting in Kentucky, and he was now in private practice, and he was on his own – no wife with him, no executive assistant – he was…basically lost. Which brings us back to the 5:45 AM phone call. He knew he had to call me, but the “when” didn’t matter. It was convenient for him to call, so he called.
Of course, Peter being Peter, he didn’t say any of this particularly self-effacingly (well, a little), or as him being “spoiled,” but more laughingly as matter-of-fact, that it's just the way my life has been, my schedule has been run for me and no reason for me to worry about the details, so I haven’t needed the skill. He worried about the Big Picture, the major problems, the planning, the way issues interconnected, and was meticulous and accomplished about them -- while on the small things, like "Where's my room?", everyone else pointed him in the right direction.
It was sort of charming. But exhausting. Especially when combined with Peter's natural larger-than-life personality. Along with his innate insistence on being right, even those times he's not -- it's an impressive political skill, learned over decades, and one it took a while for me to figure out. But once I did, everything fell into place. "So, in other words," I at last noted, after being blamed for another of his gaffes, "your position is basically, 'Why didn't you tell me not to run into traffic with my eyes closed, it's all your fault." Exactly!, he said, laughing. (The laughing was always there, it was never remotely over-bearing but good-natured -- yet, okay, you know the mantra now, exhausting.)
He wanted to go back to the UCLA campus which he hadn't seen in several decades, and we wandered around, and also visited our old dorm, Hershey Hall. But he wanted to see everything, and UCLA is a very big campus, so there was a lot of wandering. And, "No, Peter, this way." And of course, no, he had zero idea where the car was. "I hope you remembered where we parked." Not a problem, I did, but it was fun to watch him bewildered.
As for the car, Peter being Peter is...how shall I put it? -- a really horrific back-seat driver. He's been in charge for 25 years, why should that stop in a car? To be very clear, Peter never expects to be agreed with -- his whole life has been debating, and he loves and fully respects being contradicted. You just have to defend your position well, because he's fully prepared to challenge you back. What I suspect, however, is that what he's not used to is people telling him off. That probably hasn't happened much when you're Mayor and Chief Prosecuting Attorney. But when someone has been your friend for decades, titles don't matter. So, after one too many chidings about this and that and there's a red light and watch the turn, I finally let loose -- and I must admit it was quite a fine rant, one that repeatedly had the phrase, "Stop it already, just stop it, I've been driving you around for two days, including four trips to the airport, enough already, stop it," tossed in there quite a few times. At least, Peter burst into laughter. "So, you're basically saying if I don't shut up you'll throw me out of the car." Yes, I replied, that's it. He started laughing again, said, "Got it," and indeed stopped complaining.
To be clear, Peter is a joy. He's a profoundly decent guy, funny, extremely smart, dynamic, caring, outgoing, fair-minded, and a pleasure. And a force of nature who is exhausting. I don't agree with him on everything, but everything is a joy with him.
Honolulu was lucky to have him in charge of so many important parts of the city for about 25 years. And I was lucky to have him in town for two days, which is pretty much the limit when alone.
I look forward to his next visit, or me going back to Hawaii. And next time, I will absolutely make sure that his wife Judy is with him.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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