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A Presidential Contingency Plan

THE evening news on our local TV had a curious sequence - a rehearsal for the surmised occasion when President Bush would be in Maine and would need hospital attention. A helicopter flew into the Portland airport, and everything from Girl Scouts to the city manager gave every care and attention to the gentleman playing the part of Mr. Bush. We were shown this stand-in as he was lifted on a stretcher from the helicopter. The sequence was a welcome change from the usual grim fare of murders, fires, and bankruptcy actions customary on the evening news, but it had a macabre tinge and I was wondering how much this was costing somebody.

The only relevancy is that President Bush does have his home at nearby Kennebunkport, and he does come there, and there could be a mishap. But why Portland? Why not Kennebunkport?

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My wonder was interrupted during the messages from Wheaties and the Credit Bank & Trust, and I have heard no report since on the condition of the patient.

Kennebunkport has had something of a rough time over Mr. Bush's visits. Every time he comes we hear a new beef about what it costs the little community to pay policemen and such, and how much business is lost when the Secret Service turns away tourists. The taxpayers of Kennebunkport feel they are abused somewhat in this connection, and see something of an unneeded expense in having a security officer under every rosebush.

So this may have persuaded the perpetrators of this exercise to do it at Portland. The Secret Service thus avoided a new squawk from Kennebunkport. You folks who see President Bush strolling pleasantly about Kennebunkport on your television screens don't realize that the soundtrack doesn't bring you the ding-ding of the town-office cash registers ringing up new taxes.

In wondering how Kennebunkport would have taken to this rehearsal, I thought of our friendly Friendship, and how we might handle this if Mr. Bush calls someday.

Our only real problem would be with the harbor loop. Harbor Street splits and goes both ways and then comes around again. One summer we got two Winnebago house trailers eyeball to eyeball and it took all afternoon to get them backed off and on their way.

Our own ambulance service, maintained and staffed by the fire-department ladies, is always ready, but except for a dog officer we have no police department to turn out. Without knocking Portland, I'd guess our ambulance crew would have given the Secret Service better advice.

Our hospital, a half-hour away, has a helicopter pad right by the emergency entrance. No need to turn the jets away and bring the Chief Executive to an airport. The Coast Guard uses this helicopter pad all the time. So do boys who practice their skate board maneuvers. It would take the TV cameramen a little longer time to get to our hospital, but it would spare Portland all that hullabaloo and expense, and I think Kennebunkport would be glad.

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The first time I was in London I dutifully attended the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, which in a way is not incomparable to this Portland incident now in context.

We were staying with friends in Regent's Park, so there was some readying to do, and we made a point of arriving early so we'd find a place to stand.

Our hostess had been living in London for some time, so she kept us advised and we were able to look in the right direction at the right time. It was certainly a magnificent display. There wasn't a thing from first to last that we didn't see, and even the most ardent Yankee Republican is obliged to choke a bit at the royal pomp of the ritualistic exercise. We were impressed.

Then, as the guard had been changed and the time came to move along, a gentleman in the crowd asked a question of nobody in particular, and I felt it was a dandy good question. He said, ``Is Her Majesty in residence?''

This, coming as it did at the conclusion of a magnificent spectacle, disturbed me.

Everybody within 10 feet of this gentleman heard him distinctly, and seemingly had about the same reaction that I did. Suddenly the ceremony needed support. A woman answered him. She said, ``No, she's in Scotland.''

So the whole show was just a show. Not too long ago all the town ambulances in our area joined in a practice disaster. A simulated school bus upset. All went well, except that a gentleman from Ohio passing through stopped in Thomaston to get a haircut, and by infernal mistake was hauled off with the sirens going.

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