Posted Tuesday, June 14, 2011, at 12:02 PM
DERRY, N.H. -- He won the debate. What better way to follow that up than with a breakneck morning tour of diners and shops along I-93? A bit after 8:20 a.m., a jeans-and-checked-shirt-clad Mitt Romney strode into Blake's Restaurant in Manchester and started shaking hands. He'd zero in on a table with an empty seat or two. He'd settle in. He'd ask a few questions about voters' lives. He'd get up, go to another table, repeat. Reporters trailed him every inch of the way.
"What do you do?" asked Romney at the first table.
"I'm a postal worker," answered the first diner.
"Ah, terrific! That's why you've got a good tan. But you're not out there walking the streets, are you?"
"I walk all day long."
"Do you really? You don't get of those fancy trucks with the steering wheel on the wrong side?"
"No," said the postal worker. "That's why I look like this. Like you. In shape!"
Romney chuckled and pressed on.
"So, you're about 55 years old? Are you thinking about retiring?"
"Do I have to?"
"Hah!" laughed Romney. "No. Are you required, by the way? Is there a retirement age required?"
"No, we just had a guy retire aged 86."
"Wow! So why quit early?
"I don't know. Maybe it's life! I don't know."
Next table: Two African-American men, father and son. The father works for a university.
"Let's see," says Romney. "What's happened to your financials in the last couple of years? Is it getting tighter or is it getting looser?"
"Well, at the university it's going up. But the economy's bad and a lot of people are enrolling because they're worried about that."
"Young people coming out of college. Are they able to find jobs pretty easily, or is it pretty tough?"
"Well, I actually work in the graduate school."
This isn't going well, but then the voter, William Davis, tells Romney he used to live in Boston.
"I worked on the Boston Model Citizen project," he says.
"Is that right?" asks a beaming Romney. "And that was in the... 60s?"
"It was in the seventies," says Davis.
Romney's insistence in guessing the age of everyone he meets is, up close, totally charming. All of the voters who meet him report that they liked him -- Davis calls Romney "very impressive." There's really nothing you can do when faced with this much corniness. When he meets a diner who used to live in Michigan, Romney briefly bonds with her over how depressing it is to see what the state, and Detroit, have become. "When my father was governor," he says, "we had something called the golden jubilee." How times have changed.
On the way out, Romney meets the restaurant's owner, poses for a photo with her -- holding the restaurant's coffee mugs -- and tells her a joke.
"I saw a young man over there with the eggs benedict," says Romney. "He had the eggs benedict with a hollandaise sauce and the eggs, there. And I was going to suggest to you that you serve your eggs with hollandaise sauce and hubcaps. Because there's no plates like chrome for the hollandaise!"*
She laughs very politely.
"Sorry," says Romney.
Back on the road, down the highway, and Romney arrives at another diner in the town of Derry. Same format: More jokes about the media. "I was on TV last night, and these guys keep following me!"
He sits down briefly with Ashley DelPidio, a college student who'd just nailed down a job after putting her resume on CareerBuilder.
"How is it for other people in your class," asks Romney.
"Not everyone is lucky," she says.
After Romney leaves I check in with her; she, too was impressed. "I could see myself voting for him," she says. "Obama made a lot of promises and he hasn't kept all of them." What would she want President Romney to do that Obama hasn't? "The government needs to help people more when it comes to finding jobs. I think we could use more federal aid, or a federal program for people who are unemployed."
*Correction, June 14, 2011 : This post originally misquoted Romney as saying, "There's no place like chrome for the hollandaise."