Raleigh | 26–30 May 1997
My service as a page for North Carolina’s governor was my first insight into how government really works.
I’ve always been fascinated with the inner workings of government. I spent untold hours poring over the text of the Constitution in a set of encyclopedias my family had when I was younger. But reading a constitution wasn’t enough—I wanted to write my own. I made my brother sit down with me during summer break in a constitutional convention for a country I made up. (He’s my younger brother, so I could boss him around and make him do stuff like that back then.) This happened at an age far older than I’m will to admit here.
Fast forward (a little) to my freshman year in high school, when I heard about the opportunity to be a page for the governor of my home state, North Carolina. I jumped at the chance and served for a week in May 1997 in the governor’s press office, right in the state capitol building. I mostly reviewed news clippings that mentioned the governor and ran errands to other state offices and agencies. So, yeah, I was basically a gofer. But it was still a cool experience, especially when I got to walk past the sign that read authorized personnel only on the way to the governor’s office.
It was my first experience working in an office environment, which meant it was my first experience with concepts such as a lunch break. I spent much of my lunch breaks wandering up and down the Fayetteville Street Mall, a 1970s-era open-air pedestrian mall that led south from the Capitol to the Memorial Auditorium. I felt so grown up and sophisticated and urban (though, in hindsight, I was none of those things).
It was on the Fayetteville Street Mall that I had one of my first experiences with crazy homeless people. While I was on a lunch break, a man walked up to me and offered his hand to shake mine. I wasn’t experienced enough to turn him down, so I obliged. I don’t remember what he said to me, but at the end of our exchange he took his left hand and moved it across my hand that was shaking his. It was then that I noticed a mysterious yellow packet in his left hand. I’ve always wondered what that was all about, but I haven’t gotten sick or died from it, so I guess it was harmless enough.
The director of the Governor’s Page Program arranged various government-related activities for us throughout the week. We toured government buildings, including the Supreme Court and the State Legislative Building, where North Carolina’s legislature, the General Assembly, meets (it moved out of the Capitol in 1963). On another occasion, the coordinator arranged for us to sit in the gallery in one of the chambers while it was in session. I was appalled to see that state legislators apparently spend most of their time wishing happy birthday to various family members who weren’t even in the room.
My one social activity that week was going to Crabtree Valley Mall with a few of the female pages one evening. That it was a 4 or 5:1 ratio of women to men—I was the only guy along on the outing—made me feel like I was quite the lady’s man (though, in hindsight, I certainly was not).
I stayed that week with the Joyners, who had volunteered to welcome pages into their home on a regular basis. They had pet ducks that had been given to them as a housewarming gift, which I thought was pretty cool. My first night in their home, they had guests over for dinner, including Mitchell Lewis, whom I recognized because he presented the news summary on North Carolina Now, a nightly newsmagazine on UNC-TV, North Carolina’s public-television network.
I was paid $100—my first paycheck ever—for my service as a page, which I promptly turned over to my mother to defray the $85 cost for staying in the Joyners’ home. Oh, and I got a certificate (see below), mostly notable for the fact that the governor’s name is bigger than mine—which, I suppose, is a good demonstration of how government really works.
The certificate I received recognizing my service as a page for North Carolina’s governor
This article appeared on pages 12–13 of Issue 10 | April 2013.