It must have been weird for Vice President Al Gore to walk into this hotel late last night. The mighty Arkansas Excelsior Hotel, at Three Statehouse Plaza, on the banks of the Arkansas River, home to so many conflicting memories.
Did Gore toss and turn last night? Could he sleep at all?
It was in a private suite here where Gore first met then-Gov. Bill Clinton, in 1987. Gore asked for Clinton's endorsement for Gore's first presidential run. He did not get it.
It was at the Excelsior, on July 15 of that year, where Clinton told a packed ballroom of friends and supporters that he would not run for president. The personal peccadilloes of then-Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., had been picked apart, and Clinton wanted no part of that. Not yet, at any rate.
"I need some family time," Clinton said. "I need some personal time. Politicians are people too."
On May 8, 1991, during an official conference held at the Excelsior, Clinton spotted a young woman named Paula Jones. A state trooper named Danny Ferguson talked with Jones and before long she was in a business suite alone with the governor, and something sure as hell went down in there.
"Lots of people ask for Bill and Paula's room," an Excelsior front desk employee says.
Long before anyone had heard of Jones, however, the world was learning of a cabaret singer named Gennifer Flowers, who -- for money, and in the midst of Clinton's presidential run in 1992 -- told the world of their alleged 12-year affair.
Flowers claimed she had met Clinton at the Excelsior "in 1979 or 1980." But Clinton and his minions know the Excelsior like no one else. How could she have met him there? they asked reporters. The Excelsior didn't even open until November 1982! (However, the Hotel Marion was in the same spot as the Excelsior, from 1907 until 1980. Flowers might have simply gotten the name wrong.)
Ah, the Excelsior! Such a magnificent name. EXCELsior. Home to both the best and the worst that is in Clinton.
"We cater to the discriminating traveler who is looking for more than just a place to spend the night," the Excelsior Hotel's automated phone system announces.
EXCELSIOR! Home to the President Bill Clinton Suite (a romantic one bedroom, $580 a night). Home to the Vice President Al Gore Suite (three bedrooms -- family size -- at $620 a night).
For whatever reason, the Arkansas Excelsior also has a greater selection of porn than any other hotel on the Campaign 2000 tour. (Or so I am told.) An impressive 27 dirty movies are available for your viewing pleasure. (Note to POTUS: the October Hot Pick is "Sexaholics.")
Of course, there is more than tawdriness in the air. There's hope. And promise. Just as there is here in general; not far from the hotel is the site of the $125 million William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library. Within a mile of there, the Arkansas Bar's Committee on Professional Conduct is making its case to take away Clinton's law license for lying under oath.
Hope and Hot Springs. It was at the Excelsior's ballroom where President-elect Clinton and Vice President-elect Gore greeted their supporters on Election Night 1992, so many, many years ago, back when the country wouldn't stop thinkin' about tomorrow.
"We won together a great victory for the American people tonight, and you were part of it, and I appreciate it," Clinton rasped that night in the Excelsior's ballroom, his voice worn and barely audible.
"I can't talk much, so I want to say just this. Beginning tomorrow, Hillary and I and Al and Tipper and all the people who have worked so hard will do everything we can to make you always and forever proud of this night, as proud tomorrow and in the years ahead as you are tonight."
Gushed Gore: "It doesn't get any better than this ... We all have to join hands now in helping Bill Clinton be the best president this nation ever had."
Almost eight years later, Gore goes through three presidential debates without mentioning Clinton by name even once.
I get my key -- old-school metal, no high-tech plastic cards here. I go up to my room on the 11th floor. Secret Service agents are buzzing about, patrolling with canines, talking into their wrists. The 17th, 18th and 19th floors have been sealed.
Down the hall to room 1130 I proceed. I turn the key, but the door won't fully open. It's chained from the inside.
"Hello?" a panicked woman asks.
"Hello?" asks her male companion.
I go back downstairs to the front desk and ask for another room. There's already a couple in mine, I say.
Whoops! She's not supposed to be there, they say. I get a new room.