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all photos by Jim Martin The Rick Perry campaign bus Not Even a Back Sea BY EILEEN WELSOME ALE ONE ov. Rick Perry’s campaign bus looked , like a gigantic Fourth. of July firecracker as it motored into Dripping Springs. Painted a brilliant white and plastered with red and blue campaign stickers, it rolled to a stop in front of Orgeron’s Restaurant, and the doors wheezed open. Everyone in the parking lot craned their necks, expecting the governor to appear, but the only passengers who disembarked were a few overweight politicos and a couple of members of Perry’s campaign team. “What they hell are they doing in there? Straightening his tie?” muttered an old geezer standing next to me. He confided he was a registered Democrat, but had .been voting Republican for years. “You know how that is,” he added mysteriously. Dripping Springs was the first stop in the governor’s first re-election campaign bus tour. After Perry’s speech there, the entourage was going to Johnson City, Fredericksburg, Boerne, and Bandera. Though the humidity was already high, I was looking forward to the day’s events. As a new reporter at The Texas Observer, I had drawn the short straw in what was shaping up to be a four-way governor’s race. My candidate? Perry. No big deal, I thought, figuring a guy who had held public office for nearly two decades would be easy to talk to. But the assignment had turned into a vexing ordeal. The first week on the job, I had called the governor’s campaign ‘spokesman, Robert Black, and inquired about the possibility of an interview. Not a chance, Black responded cheerfully, explaining the governor was booked for the next 77 days. Subsequent calls.went unanswered. Ditto the e-mail messages. A month went by. One afternoon, I spotted the information about the bus tour on a Web site and went over to Perry’s campaign headquarters to book ‘a seat. Black was just escorting someone to the door, and I inquired about getting on the bus. Sorry, he responded in the same cheery voice, explaining that the seats were reserved for “local media.” Desperate to get a look at the fleshand-blood candidate, who seemed pleasant enough on television despite his lackluster ratings, I decided to follow the bus in my car. _Filling the gas tank the night before, I thought about scraping the “Get Out And Beat The Bushes” bumper sticker off the rear of my car, but figured what the, . heck. 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 6, 2006