Tuesday, January 19, 1999
"A day in the new life of Joe K., oil man"
by Peter Gelzinis
On a gray morning in the dead of January, Harry Boyden, who drives for Alliance Oil, found himself behind the wheel of the one delivery truck in New England that sparkled like a new limo.
Why? Because Joe Kennedy was riding Shotgun, that’s why.
Because halfway down Verona Street in Jamaica Plain, five television cameras, two still photographers, two newspaper scribes and one radio reporter were waiting. So was Carol Carreer, a 58-year-old retired nurse’s aide, whose oil tank had just about run dry.
All of us waiting as Joe K., the oil man, cometh.
“Where’s the fill pipe, Carol?” the ex-congressman bellowed, as he jumped down fro the passenger’s seat and into Carol’s embrace. His tan sort of clashed with Carol’s winter pallor. Nevertheless, on went the stylish -- but not overly ostentatious -- raincoat, along with a pair of oversized, florescent work gloves. In his black dress shoes, Joe tromped through the slush and snow, lugging the hose (with Harry’s help) to carol’s thirsty pipe. The photographers were delighted.
“Joe’s great that way,” one remarked. “Other pols -- Gawd, you’re lucky if you can get ’em to throw a ball. But not Joe.”
No indeed. On a Martin Luther King Monday, Joe Kennedy officially began a new chapter, by pumping 225.1 gallons of complimentary heating oil into Carol Carreer’s basement tank. (Future customers who qualify for a single delivery of Citizens’ Energy oil this winter will receive up to 150 gallons for half-price, or approximately 40 cents per gallon. But yesterday was Joe’s gift to Carol and her niece, Jean Hamilton, for providing the human backdrop for a vintage Kennedy Kodak moment.)
Sure, we’ve seen him in plenty of 30 second spots, lately. But this...this was Joe Kennedy outside a six-family house, where the symbolic rubber met the road, where promises were kept, where heating oil was pumped into a needy tank, where a political force of nature returned for a sense of balance.
Some 400 miles to the south, Bill Clinton continues treading water up to his growing nose in the politics of self-destruction. On Verona Street, yesterday, Joe Kennedy formally began his own personal and political journey of the three R’s -- redemption, restoration and rejuvenation.
In this surreal winder of our presidential impeachment, there were is no more important visual for Joe Kennedy than dragging a fuel line across the snow. When asked if he’d rather rehash the perils of Monica Lewinsky, or pump oil in Carol Carreer’s cellar, Kennedy replied, “it’s not even close.”
And it isn’t. Eve Joe’s wife, Beth, knew it. For she stood there in the snow of Carol Carreer’s backyard, yesterday, watching her husband deliver oil as proudly as if he were rattling the halls of Congress.
While it can certainly be seen as a prelude to another rock ’n’ roll run at the State House, or (someday) his uncle’s Senate chair, yesterday’s personal appearance in Jamaica Plain suggests that in his new incarnation as private Citizen Joe, he may come to exert far more influence on the local landscape that he did as Congressman Joe.
Who else can choreograph an “oil delivery” into a full-flown press event on a front porch? Who else can immerse himself in the details of Jean Hamilton’s life -- her Down syndrome, her position at Boston Market, the $65 dollars in overtime pay that pushes her outside the ABCD guidelines for fuel assistance -- while also pronouncing the Senate trial a “three-ring circus” in the making? Who else can have a star-struck oil delivery man hoping for an invite to the Kennedy compound?
“’You got it!’ he says to me,” a beaming Harry Boyden said.” “‘Geez,’ I says to him, ‘you’re just a regular guy, aren’t ya?’”
You betcha, Harry. And the next Alliance oil truck that will shine like a new diamond in the middle of winter will the be one they use in a Matt Damon movie about the oil man who gets pulled off his regular route one day, so he can drive Joe Kennedy down Verona Street on his way to a political rebirth as governor, or U.S. senator, or...
Because an oil man like Joe Kennedy doesn’t cometh every day.