Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

July 2003


Perhaps you read the article titled “Capitol Discovery” by Philip Kopper published in the June 2003 issue of Smithsonian. It tells the story of how U.S. Senate staffers were searching for the voting records of Senate candidate and former Vice President Walter Mondale for urgent use in last fall’s Minnesota election. Instead, they discovered a misfiled ledger titled “Senators Compensation and Milage” for the years 1790-1881. Among other things, it revealed, “Travel was reimbursed at 30 cents a mile for up to 20 miles a day, the federal government’s first per diem perk.”

Naturally, that reminded me of my first perks. As an internal auditor for National Dairy Products in 1962, I received $6 per day for food (equal to the maximum of 30 cents for 20 miles cited above). Because my hotel and airline tickets were charged to the company on my Air Travel Card and I received an additional 50 cents a day for shoe shines and newspapers, I was in the highest trough of hog heaven. My net pay of around $85 a week was deposited in my checking account, and I was able to live quite nicely on my expense account.

My assignments were usually six weeks in duration at some excellent cities, including Kansas City, Mo.; Birmingham, Ala.; Charlotte, N.C.; Norfolk, Va.; Wilmington, Del.; and the best of the best, New Orleans, La. In fact, New Orleans was the only stop during my brief career where I had to actually spend some of my own money to maintain the high life to which I was becoming accustomed. Needless to say, I haunted the French Quarter, learning song parodies at Pat O’Brien’s, listening to jazz at Preservation Hall and peeking into dark and noisy bars along Rampart Street. Weekends, I spent lounging by one of the pools at the hotel, occasionally hooking up with colleagues for a game of golf or a trip to horse races.

While I didn’t eat steak every night, I didn’t miss any meals and was especially fond of the cream of onion soup at the hotel’s restaurant, shrimp jambalya at the race track and Chinese food at a little restaurant close by the hotel.

I was so very continental and sophisticated.

I vividly remember my first visit to the Chinese restaurant. The waitress was a lovely, young, Asian woman about my age. To impress her with my savoir whatever, I ordered without looking at the menu, speaking my version of perfect Mandarin, “Moo Goo Gai Pan, Shrimp Egg Foo Yung and pork strips.”

To which she replied in her version of perfect English, “You-all want a Coke with that?”

John Adams and I sure could make six bucks go a long way, huh?