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EXECUTIVE ROAD TRIP: MY NIGHT WITH BILL GATES

SatireWire’s Andy Marlatt Tours the Capital with The Man (or Boy?) from Redmond

WASHINGTON, D.C. (SatireWire.com) – Bill Gates and I drive along E Street in my rented Corolla, past renovated apartment buildings and upscale shops sandwiched between old government buildings. I am here, in the U.S. capital, to interview him, but so far, things aren’t going as planned. Instead, Bill Gates has his mind set on doing something, and I don’t know what it is.

It is midnight now. He missed our initial meeting this afternoon, and actually called my hotel room at 11 p.m. “Come pick me up,” he had said. “We’ll go for a ride.” No apology, no explanation. When he got in the car, I didn’t want to waste time, so I began peppering him with questions; questions about the next generation of Windows software, about the anti-trust case, about anything. But he’s not answering questions. He’s only giving directions. Turn here. Straight here. Now left.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

Yummy doughnuts

“You’ll see,” is all he says. By the light of the dashboard, I can see he is excited, or maybe agitated. He is also absently fiddling with his silver belt buckle. The wide leather belt with cowboy buckle isn’t the only odd thing about his appearance tonight. He has his trademark glasses, his ever-tousled hair, but he is wearing a lime green, short-sleeved Polo shirt, khaki pants, creme loafers, and no socks. I am surprised, not because I expected a suit and tie, but because it is January.

I make one last turn, and on the right is what I presume to be an apartment complex. Brick and stone, it has clearly been renovated from something, perhaps an old department store. Suddenly Bill slaps the dashboard. “That’s the place!” he says. “Okay, slow down… slow down.”

He rolls down his window. Cold air streams in. “Now, park here, and when I tell you, honk the horn, and keep honking till I tell you to stop.”

“But, I don’t…”

He glares at me, and I am overcome by the palpable, intoxicating presence of power. “Just do it, all right? Now hold these.”

He hands me his glasses. They’re cold, smooth, lifeless, much like my first impression of Bill (but how wrong first impressions can be!). He swivels in his seat and gets up on his knees, facing me. He takes out an electronic device – Palm Pilot? – and places it on the console between our seats. But I am not paying attention, for at that moment I lose all sense of time and place. Instead, I am thinking, “I have his glasses. Here, in my hand, is the eyewear that perches atop the nose of the richest man on the planet.” I fight back to urge to smell them, to rub them against my cheek and savor the moment. So I lick them instead.

Bill swears

“Fuck are you doin’?” he snaps, and I’m jolted back to the present, back to the numbingly cold maroon interior of my rented Toyota Corolla, where Bill Gates, hunched over sideways in my passenger seat, his belt unbuckled and his back to the open window, suddenly yells, “Now!”

Without thought, without feeling, I lay on the car horn, hard.

“Don’t stop!” he yells over the blare. I am shocked to see what he is doing. He is shoving his rear end out the passenger side window, his thumbs looped into his pants’ pockets. His rapid breaths quickly fog the inside of the windshield.

“Can you see her?” he shouts. “Do you see her?”

I reach up to clear the windshield with my coat sleeve. “Who? See who?”

But he doesn’t need to answer. At just that moment, at one of the apartment windows, a pair of curtains is manfully thrown open. Even though she is only in silhouette, even though she must be 50 meters away, I know exactly who “she” is.

“Yes, she’s there,” I say. Bill whips down his pants.

And suddenly, I am back in high school. It is night. I am driving my father’s Ford Granada, and my friend Paul is with me. We sit, the engine idling, across the street from the school parking lot, watching the team buses pull in. The last bus, the one carrying the band and the cheerleaders, begins to make the turn. “OK, Now!” Paul yells, and, in every sense of the word “flash,” Paul’s pants and underwear are down around his knees. He moons the cheerleaders. The bus driver honks. The band attempts to play that striptease song, but doesn’t have time to get it right. The flag squad is cackling.

Mission accomplished, I speed off, embarrassed. Paul is beside himself with joy. I realize, too late, that no one knows who really hung that moon. They only know who’s car was used. By the next day, word is out all over school that I was the culprit. I try to explain that I cannot drive and moon at the same time, but minds are set.

I never did date a cheerleader.

Bill never got one

But what am I thinking? I am not in high school, this is not my father’s car, and this is not the post-pubescent Paul baring his bum for a busload of cheerleaders. This is our nation’s capital, and this is Bill Gates, and he is mooning Janet Reno.

Bill Gates is mooning the Attorney General of the United States. From my car.

“Does she see us? Be sure now, does she see us?!” I wonder why Bill is yelling, and it is then I notice I still have my hand pressed to the horn. I let off, wipe the windshield again and look up. The silhouette is making an obscene gesture with her fist.

“Yeah, she’s see you.”

“Exit!” he says, and I figure this is his DOS-addled way of saying ‘Hit the gas.’ So I do, rental tires squealing and kicking up grotty brown slush left over from last week’s snowfall.

Bill shimmies back into his khakis. He wears no underwear. I am driving erratically, slashing around corners. All the while, Bill is giggling uncontrollably. It is five minutes before he composes himself.

“Whew… lord,” he says, heaving a sigh, clutching his ribs. “That was great. I wish Ballmer was here. He loves that! Damn maniac gets out of the car, drops trou, and stands on the hood singing ‘Moon Over Miami’. Crazy bastard.”

And then, from somewhere, from nowhere, a voice: “You’re the crazy bastard, Gates.”

I slam on the brakes and we skid to a halt. Someone else is in the car with us. Fighting the seat belt, I wrench my body sideways to check the back seat. Empty.

“You get all that?” Bill asks, and I realize he is talking to the Palm Pilotish device sitting on the console between us.

“In living color,” says the thing, and I know that voice, too. It’s Ballmer. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO.

“Cool,” says Bill. “Burn that onto a disc and put it in the archive.” He folds up the device and returns it to his pocket. I don’t know what to say, and Bill senses it. “What? We do this five, six times a year.”

“But… the Attorney General?”

He brushes it off. “Don’t worry. She’s pretty much ex-Attorney General. And what’s she gonna do to us, anyway?”

Us?” I say, more indignant than I mean to be. “What’s with this ‘us’ stuff?”

“Me, us, whatever,” he says, reaching out his hand, a signal to return his glasses, which I do. “Let’s find a Starbucks. I’ll buy you a Krispy Kreme.”

Never at the Krispy Kremes

He is serious. He is totally serious. To him, this was just a lark, a stunt, a fraternity prank. Moments later, we stop at an intersection, and I glance at him, his ruddy complexion all the more ruddied by the crimson glow of the traffic light. For an instant, he turns to me, and he smiles; a small, self-satisfied, cherubic smile.

I know where I’ve seen that look before; in the face of my boyhood friend, Paul, as we sped away that night. And then, suddenly, I understand what Bill Gates is all about. I know what makes him tick. For all his wealth, his power, his intelligence, he really just wants to have a good time.

Bill Gates just wants to have fun.

In another place, at another time, this thought would please me. But now, here, I find no triumph in this revelation. On the contrary, it’s somehow disappointing. I had hoped there would be more to him. I decline the offer of a Krispy Kreme and instead drop him off at his hotel. When I reach out to shake hands, he yanks his hand back. “Too slow,” he says.

And like that, Bill is out the door. I watch him as he flips the doorman a $20 bill, points down to the man’s shoes, then chucks him under the chin. I drive away.

My mind is in a whirlwind. But I cannot help but obsess about the word ‘us.’ “Does she see us?” “What’s she going to do to us?” The FBI works for Janet Reno. They can trace this car, I know it. They’ll see it is in my name. They’ll find me. “Sir,” they’ll say. “Did you moon the attorney general of the United States last night?”

“No, it wasn’t me,” I’ll say. “It was… Bill Gates.”

Even as I hear myself think it, as I imagine myself saying it, I don’t believe it. That’s the hardest part. I was there, and even I don’t believe it.

Who would?


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