My friend is filling a ball washer with soapy water. He's 72 now, a volunteer on the maintenance crew here at Cheyenne Shadows Golf Course. He was 38 when he flew President Reagan to the World's Fair.
My friend nods toward a yardage marker, saying it needs a good weed whacking. He trimmed the marker last week, and once flew Muhammad Ali to Africa. My friend flew the Shah of Iran to his cancer treatment, Walter Mondale to a papal coronation in Rome, the chief justice to swear in President Ford.
We're teeing off on No. 8, a short par 4. My friend is Parker Rosenquist. He's driving the golf cart as he tells a story about Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was the secretary of state when Parker flew him on a "training flight," code for a flight nobody should know about. And Kissinger had a thing for McDonald's hamburgers.
"Loved McDonald's," my friend says.
Kissinger loved McDonald's enough that the flight crew would go to McDonald's, swipe a bunch of hamburger wrappers, and wrap the secretary of state's burgers in McDonald's wrappers. "We've all got our vices," Parker says with a laugh.
Parker has lived in the area since he moved to Monument in 1982, but who would know? He spends his free time volunteering at a golf course on a military base.
"Sometimes people ask what I did," he says. "Not that often, though."
I met Parker while he filled a ball washer with soapy water, before he volunteers at the "Drive, Chip, Putt" event for kids. He left out the part about flying Air Force One. Come to find out, Parker flew American dignitaries over four presidential administrations - Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
And he's an 18 handicap who's hustling me on the golf course.
President Reagan had a thing for Jelly Bellys. He loved those delicious candies like Kissinger loved McDonald's. After Carter had removed all the fun stuff from Air Force One — booze, candy, etc. — Reagan returned the Jelly Bellys.
"Complete with the presidential seal," Parker says.
He served 20 years in the Air Force, roughly a decade of those with the 89th Airlift Wing, otherwise known as the operation that flies the president, vice president or their cabinet members wherever they need to go. Parker Rosenquist mostly wrote evaluations on Air Force pilots or flew cabinet members on congressional trips, with the occasional venture on Air Force One.
"If one of the (four) pilots assigned to the president was unavailable, they would come down to my office," he says.
The 89th Wing confirmed Parker's status. What I should have confirmed was his USGA handicap, and right now he doesn't look like an 18. He's even after two.
But the stories, not the golf shots, are why he's piloting our cart down the third fairway at Cheyenne Shadows.
"I bought my wife's engagement ring on a congressional trip," he says. "It was 11 p.m. We were in Beirut."
Parker and Suzie Rosenquist met on his sailboat in Dana Point, Calif. (Figures they'd have a cool story like that.) They've been married 41 years. On the rare times Parker drew a classified mission — like the one with Kissinger — he could tell his wife only that it was a "close hold," more jargon for keep your mouth shut.
"Then she'd say, 'That's OK. I'll just read about it in The Washington Post tomorrow.' And she was usually right."
Enough with the close hold, Major. Spill the (jelly) beans.
James Schlesinger was an avid birdwatcher, Parker says, and the secretary of state would exit the plane wearing hiking boots and tan garb fit for a safari.
"Like he was going on a deer hunt," Parker says.
He first met Bush 41 on an envoy to China. In '74 or '75, Parker says. The flight crews rarely packed golf clubs, except to England, but they did take tennis rackets, and Bush offered up a private tennis court at his residence in China.
"So we played a couple times," Parker says. "Stretching our legs."
He missed Nixon's peace signs. How did a military man miss Nixon's peace signs? "I was sleeping, because I had just flown Chief Justice Burger back from Norway" to swear in president Ford, he says.
Parker played basketball and baseball at Millikin University in Illinois. He planned to work for Marathon Oil, with whom he had a job offer, but the Air Force found him. Soon he was on one of his first assignments, delivering supplies on twin-engine C-7As to Special Forces in Vietnam. The troops had no refrigeration, he says, so the cows and chickens were kept alive.
"What our guys in Vietnam went through is hard to comprehend," he says.
Parker once told an Air Force recruiter he'd never even flown commercial. Down the line, President Reagan approached the flight deck and knew his name.
"He'd ask someone for our names before coming up to say hello," Parker says. "I think he just wanted to avoid all the people in the back."
One day in 1974, around noon, when Parker was told he must be ready for a 5 p.m. departure. The flight traveled from Andrews to Boston to Madrid to Crete, then Crete to Beirut to Madrid and back to Andrews, he says. Ford and Kissinger were waiting on the tarmac for the casket. It held the body of Rodger Davies, the U.S. ambassador to Cyprus, who had been assassinated.
"There's a pretty good-sized nest of snakes down there," Parker says on the No. 5 tee box. At first I figure he's talking about Washington D.C., but he's not. He's talking about the foursome ahead of us, slapping at the native grasses in search of a wayward Titleist. "It's usually better just to grab another ball."
My friend says there's never an announcement on Air Force One to return tables to their upright and locked positions. The stewards — an all-male staff at the time — never grocery shopped at the same market twice in a row. "To avoid contamination," he says. He landed in every major city on every civilized continent, but one stood above the rest.
"Hong Kong, under British rule," Parker says. "The epitome of service, style and beauty."
As Kissinger's "training flight" prepared to exit the runway, the secretary of state wondered aloud why they hadn't bypassed the other airplanes for a quick exit.
"Mr. Kissinger, you're not on this flight," he was told.
Parker experienced a private tour of the Kremlin, a three-week safari in Africa, a hair-raising flight with Andrew Young, the ambassador to the United Nations. Short on fuel, that flight buzzed Waikiki Beach before an emergency landing in Honolulu.
"We didn't tell him about the fuel, just that we encountered stronger headwinds than expected."
He experienced the vacuum that was Ford's handshake.
"I really enjoyed vice president Ford, very down-to-earth," Parker says. "And the biggest hands you've ever seen, like shaking hands with a gorilla."
His favorite passenger was a Second Lady.
"Barbara Bush. I think she became the finest First Lady we've ever had," Parker says. "She was so real. Coming on and off the plane, she would be sincerely appreciative of everything. What a wonderful woman."
Parker works on the maintenance crew every other week. He and Suzie live in an HOA community, so there's no weed whacking to be done at home.
"My dad told me if you sit too long," he says, "Someday you won't get up."
Carter always carried his own suit bag, Parker says, and Reagan loved to chat. We pass the first tee box, where my friend is the volunteer starter on Friday.