What I did on my humble-brag trip to Western Maryland

For reasons too improbable and esoteric to explain, I was recently invited to a small coterie of vacation shacks in Thurmont, north of the city of Frederick in Western Maryland.  Franklin Roosevelt christened the joint as Shangri-La — in honor of his “Lost Horizon” reference following the Doolittle Raid against Tokyo — and that name stuck until Eisenhower renamed it for his grandson, Daniel or Douglas or whatever.

Anyhow, the rule is that what happens at Camp Daniel stays at Camp Daniel.  When you get an invite, they don’t want you to describe the place on social media, or to relate the goings-on. And the Marines at the gate hold your cameras and smart phones so there’s nothing visual I could or should post here.

It will have to suffice as humble-brag to say that I drank a couple shots of presidential Jose Cuervo and I played a game of presidential darts and tilted a presidential pinball machine in the game room. Then I threw a couple jumpshots into the hole on either end of the presidential ball court, then powered my way down the lane past an imaginary presidential defender for a graceful lay-up. For a finale, I put on a pair of presidential bowling shoes and rolled a game in one of the presidential lanes.  I did not use the presidential ball, which was clearly labeled atop the rack.  They told me that was a definite no-go, and, well, Guantanamo.

All in all, I was feeling pretty damn special — 118 ain’t shabby when you haven’t bowled in a few years — until I look up on the wall of the lanes and there is a photograph of President Obama, the slightest suggestion of a smile on his face, pointing wryly upward at the tabulated bowling score on the overhead projection.


In between every other mess with which he’s contending, Barack Obama came here to the presidential retreat one day and rolled a 213.

Two thirteen! The man is a beast.

Me, I’ve never been more ashamed of a 118 in my entire gutter-ball-rolling life. And now that weak-ass score, with my name affixed to it, is winding its way to the National Archives or some other federal drain-swirl of historical ignominy.

Anyway, I’m guessing that’s about as far as I can go in terms of discussing my day in the hills of Frederick County. I don’t wanna break the rules. But a cabinet secretary later told me that considering my negligible background and general reputation, everyone thought I behaved myself and my little talk on public housing policy went swell.

Armed with such assurance, I promptly went back to the bar and stuffed the small item you see below into my sweater and made good my escape.  The Marines at the gate probably assumed my conquest to be a gift-shop purchase or some such. Hah! What rubes. As if any chump of a visitor can pull out a credit card at the Shangri-La bar and waltz away from the place with $32 worth of presidential bar gear. As if.

My late father-in-law, Ted Lippman, who specialized in presidential politics for The Baltimore Sun for much of his long career, would have been so damn proud to down a martini from this bad boy. After all, who knows which historical lips savored its chemistry: Ike, or Truman, or Jackie Kennedy; Brezhnev or Sadat or Begin.

And, too, Ted would have been especially proud once I explained to him that they had renamed the entire camp in honor of my visit.

So that’s where it stands, Mr. President. You want this martini shaker back, you’re gonna roll me ten frames for it, double or nothing.  And, to keep it fair, I’ll need a 70-pin spot.

It followed me home.

It followed me home.


  • This story reminds me of the great Dan Reese, Assistant Business Editor at The Sun who died at 33 in 1997. He had a summer job at Graceland. The ritual for teenaged summer employees was to steal a small item from The King’s home as a memento – an ashtray, a drink coaster. Not Dan. He took scissors and cut a few shreds of carpet from the bathroom where Elvis died.
    (He also told me a drunk guy once drove up to the gates, spilled out of the car and yelled: “Get outta my daddy’s house!” But I don’t recommend that approach at Camp David.)

    • Hey Victor. I didn’t actually take anything. As indicated in the essay, the shaker was for sale at the gift shop.

      • That was clear. I just wanted an excuse to tell my Dan Reese story. He was a good guy.
        – Victor

  • That’s a cocktail shaker. Martini’s are stirred regardless of whatever horseshit you’ve picked up from a Bond movie. You monster.

      • Thank you. It does make sense to me in my (admittedly limited) political knowledge and calculations but I wonder how the Clintons will take to the rising start of the democratic party on the ticket potentially overshadowing Hillary. Plus he probably has ambitions of his own for the Presidential nomination in the not too distant future and a Vice Presidential role and association with the Clinton political machine is something he may not quite desire. Or maybe the immediate need of the Clintons to win costs trumps that. In any case I’m thinking out loud and things are likely more complicated than what I can see and comprehend. Thanks again for replying to my query.

  • 213 is really impressive, especially when on the campaign trail one time, I think he bowled like a 24 or something.

  • Too totally cool. Thank you for posting. Great choice of memorabilia. Happy to learn you were there and for what purpose. We do exit through the gift shop as good Americans.

  • Great post, even funnier that people instantly thought you were talking with Obama and that you actually pilfered that. I have enough of a hard time getting ramekins from work. I would think a gift shop almost diminishes the place a tiny bit with such rich history, but it is in our essence as Americans to turn everything into a Cracker Barrel at least a little.

    Glad you’re being heard by the administration with your work and your rhetoric. Its actually one of the redeeming factors of this presidency.

  • In light of your day spent with the HUD Secretary, I was wondering what you thought of the Hogan/Rawlings-Blake plan to tear down vacants (and not so vacants) in B’More? Do you think this will help or hurt the lower income folks?

    • There are contracts to be let and money to be made tearing shit down. There’s even money to be made rebuilding stuff per government spec, which is of course, a better outcome than merely a brownfield. On the other hand, no contractor or developer gets paid on an initiative to reintegrate people, rather than structures, into the American economy and society. No one turns a profit. It’s just the right thing to do.

      That it doesn’t happen much goes without saying.

  • Congratulation on the opportunity to brief Secretary Castro. However, don’t the be in such awe of Obama’s bowling score. Obama probably bowls in the bowling alleys in the White House basement to relax. The pressures of the office may have improved his bowling game.

  • Splendifrous,Mos’Scocious!! My tax dollars at work.U.SO.,style.
    Right up there with Willie,and Jimmy Carter
    I absconded with Treme swag,why America is exceptional. It had to be a gas! Humble brag,not.
    Hell i recalled he snatched a fly during a interview,only thing left is to do Mahr.
    Barry won twice,One love!

  • There’s a presidential bowling ball? I am loving that.
    Great story. The visual of you skulking around with a martini shaker shoved in your sweater is highly amusing. I kind of wish you did it.
    Did they give you snacks? How was the food?

    • Lunch was fine. I fear that although I’ve only included enough detail to furnish my little “Baltimore rat-boy creeps into the seat of power” essay, it is approaching the limits of what is tolerable to the custodians of the presidential retreat. What happens there is supposed to stay there. I’ve kept it to a few personal recreational highlights, the fact that there is a bar and gift shop, and that I was there to do a talk for the HUD folks. Nuff said.

  • 213! After all the shit Obama caught for rolling a gutter ball during the campaign, he turns out to be a ringer!
    Next we’ll find out his top-of-the-key basketball swish was as fake as the moonlanding.

  • Is it “presidential” when the President is not on site? Kinda like Air Force One is known as “SAM###” when the big guy is not on board.

  • Loved reading this before delving into work this morning, However, I am going to have to call BS on your placement of Camp David in Western MD. It may be Fredneck, but everyone knows Western MD doesn’t start until Washington County!

    • Hah. I was the police reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

      For me, Western Maryland is the first line of trees on Forest Park Avenue.

      • Fair play. I am a native Carroll Countian (ouch, it hurts to admit that in writing) so I felt I had to pipe up.

        • Living in Baltimore City but having grown up in Allegany County, I am familiar with David’s type. Nothing exists west of Ellicott City until you hit Deep Creek Lake.

    • Mea gulpa. I must be getting old. I was reading too fast and missed the tongue in cheek. Now on re-reading, I see I was wrong and spoke in haste. I was wrong, David. I apologize for the gonif remark. I gotta slow down. Sorry. I ain’t easy being 67 and missing the cues …and clues. Loved the piece and take back my earlier two comments. But let them stand. I hereby eat crow. – dan

  • Do you mind if I insist that you stole it? I know it’s not true, I just really want it to be. Which, by the lights of current political thought, should make me the new GOP front-runner.

    • I wondered when I wrote it — even with all the embedded cues — if some Brietbart-brained motherfucker would run wild and I would end up swirling around the internet as a thieving lout. It would be a small taste of what Mencken enjoyed when he published the outrageous canard that Millard Fillmore had invented the bathtub and had the first one installed in the White House.

      Before he owned up to the falsehood, it was being published in history books, regardless of how many Roman and Greek baths had to that point been unearthed and chronicled by archeologists.

      What is that they say about a lie going around the world while the truth is still lacing up its boots?

  • How campy to get invited into a Presidential Time capsule. I remember when it became Camp David,named for Ike’s grandson David, who married Nixon’s daughter Julie. He was a Washington Senator fan! This has to be better then finding a roadside inn claiming George Washington Slept there. The closest I got to a historic presidential place of interest was when I past by L.B.J’s retreat in Johnson City Texas in 1964.

    I do not believe you are a gonif… just don’t put it on Ebay! Also, I believe there is still a bowling alley at the White House. So I’m not be surprised at President Obama’s 213… he must bowl everyday since he has had so much time on his hands since he has lived there. Did you have to rent the bowling shoes? If you are ever in Chicago, you have an invite to sleep on my couch,… and steel any of my memorabilia from my friendly confines just as long as you write them on your blog or be mentioned in your memoirs and sign my guest book.

  • David, followed you home? Come on! When poor people steal, it’s called stealing. When hip rich white people steal, it’s somehow cool and trendy? Shame on you. Return it.

    • Dan,

      Read carefully. They sell them at a gift shop. I claimed to nick it in the breath just before I claim they renamed the place for me.

      Tongue was wedged in cheek.

  • That sounds like it was a very, very fun time.

    Bowling. If only the enlightened who think that Dubya’s grades were better than his could see that. I would pay serious money to watch their heads explode as they saw what is so obvious to some of us–that he’s just a regular and really likable guy. Well, regular in the sense that he was the editor of the Law Review and now sits in the big chair at the head of the table.

    The truth that he’s just a very hard working guy who came from behind and is the ultimate telling of the American dream story is so much less interesting and less satisfying than the stories that inspire hatred. The sea of vitriol against that good man reminds me of a scene from Mississippi Burning where Gene Hackman describes his father’s hatred, which the father expressed as “if we’re not better than them”

    The thought of the two of you sharing a laugh brings a smile. I’m a big fan of both of yours. He changed the political landscape, broke new ground and has done a lot of good. You brought a lot of serious attention to urgent social issues. This President knows more about those issues first hand coming from our South side. He’s an impressive guy with the power to back it up, and you make serious issues entertaining and get them in front of millions of people in a way they never were.

    You also got me to New Orleans, which I likely never would have done otherwise. The life force that is in the air there is intoxicating. You and Mr. Obama, in your own ways, both create your own turbulence.

    Shaken, not stirred please. I’ve never wanted to say that before.

    238 am cst. Luckily, there is no law against having a few drinks and rambling.

    • To be clear, the president was not at Camp David. I was there at the invitation of HUD Secretary Castro.

      But I met him once and I agree he is a remarkable man.

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