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Democrats' national conclave : THE NORTH DAKOTAS /

Arlo Adds Some L.A. Stories to His Collection

August 17, 2000|Dana Parsons

So we're sitting in a Century City hotel lobby late Monday night, a couple hours after Bill Clinton finished speaking, and another L.A. high-speed chase is on TV.

"This reminds me of O.J.," 68-year-old Arlo Schmidt of North Dakota says, referring to the infamous Bronco chase involving Simpson and the police.

He chuckles, which back home in the state Legislature has come to mean: Look out, here comes another Arlo story.

"I was watching it at home and I couldn't believe it," Arlo says. "I said that's O.J. Simpson they're chasing, and my daughter says, 'Oh, dad, O.J.'s in the movies now, and they're making a movie.' . . . We got into a big argument over it, and she almost had me believing it was a movie. I couldn't believe that damn deal."

In the way that the rest of us breathe in and out, Arlo tells funny stories. Part scamp, part philosopher--but all country, courtesy of Maddock, N.D.

And now that he's in L.A. as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, it only means he has funny L.A. stories to add to his collection.

Didn't even take him a full day to get his first one.

We were at a Ralphs across from the hotel when he shows me a key the desk clerk had given him, with "Refreshment Center" embossed on it. Being that it was a hot day, Arlo thought a refreshment center sounded like a heck of a good idea, so he asked the clerk for directions.

Look under your TV, he was told. "I was wondering where the place was, and it was right in the damn room," Arlo says, chuckling again.

We parted company in the checkout line, which means I missed Story No. 2: Arlo, the nice LAPD cop and the jaywalking episode.

He was navigating Olympic Boulevard, coming back from Ralphs with a six-pack under his arm, and crossed in a place that would be perfectly logical for Maddock, N.D., but not Los Angeles, Calif.

Waiting on the other side was a cop. I could give you a ticket, he told Arlo. Could cost you $7.

Now, nobody who talks to Arlo for more than 30 seconds would think of giving him a ticket, and neither did the officer. Arlo thanked him, telling him as they parted, "Guess this means I owe you seven bucks!" Later, he sees the officer in the lobby and points him out to me: "There he is, one of the nicest fellows you'd want to meet."

With his penchant for getting into one darned deal after another, Arlo is the kind of small-town visitor city folks love to caricature. It fits neatly into our nearsighted image of farm states being full of rubes.

Having met the 30-some delegates, friends and spouses who came out here from North Dakota, I assure you: There's no one else in the group quite like Arlo.

It's true that with a background as a rodeo clown, racetrack announcer and auctioneer, Arlo isn't likely to be named ambassador to the U.N. But if he's a rube, let's import a few thousand more and sprinkle them around the city.

If only to make traffic jams more fun.

After Clinton's speech Monday, Arlo and a busload of delegates from North Dakota and other states were being returned to their hotels. Nobody was too happy about the delays.

At one point, Arlo yells to the driver: "If you wanted to give us a tour of L.A., why didn't you do it in the daytime?"

Big laughs on the bus.

Sometime later, someone mentions that UCLA is nearby.

"Let me off, so I can get an education," Arlo says.

Later, he sees a disabled car with its hood up.

"Stop the bus!" Arlo yells. "We're from North Dakota. We want to help."

While traveling the state a couple weeks ago, I was often asked: "Have you met Arlo yet? You're going to love him."

I know this: People laugh more when he's around.

"My dad used to say, 'When you die, make sure you don't have to hire any pallbearers,' " Arlo says.

Don't worry, Arlo, you won't.


Parsons writes a column for The Times' Orange County Edition.

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