A White House meeting and a Black circus

by Rob Tiller

On Friday I flew to DC for a meeting at the White House. I joined top lawyers from three other technology companies to speak with four of the President’s top advisors on economics and technology about patent reform. Addressing the serious damage invalid patents are doing to innovation is a cause near and dear to my heart, and the chance to discuss it directly with Administration officials was one of the high points of my career.

My cab ride from Washington National (or Reagan, as some call it) was driven by an older African American with a mellifluous voice. I asked him about the weather so I could listen to his lovely baritone, and he answered with enthusiasm. Then he began reciting poetry. The poem concerned how each minute of life is valuable. In response, I recited Rudyard Kipling’s If, which builds toward the idea of filling “each minute / with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” My cabbie was delighted, and asked me to read along to check his accuracy as he recited a poem by Maya Angelou. He was nearly perfect. I suggested that he get a copy of Harold Bloom’s The Best Poems of the English Language, and he asked me to write the title down. At the end of the ride, he said he was so glad I got into his cab, and I told him, with feeling, it was a great pleasure.

I was really looking forward to looking inside the White House. It turned out the meeting was in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, but I guess a meeting with White House personnel qualifies as a White House meeting. The meeting room reminded somewhat of my days as a clerk at the Supreme Court, where the inner sanctums have a similar old-fashioned clubby opulence. Everyone there was surprisingly young and incredibly smart. We covered several big ideas very quickly. It was invigorating. And the officials seemed to appreciate that we have a big problem with patents that hinder innovation. It gave me hope for the future.

Back in Raleigh that evening, Sally and I went to the UniverSoul Circus. It’s basically a an old-fashioned, under the big top, African-American circus. Lots of the performers, and practically all of the audience, were Black. The music was urban accented (lots of hip hop) and very loud. I enjoyed, among other acts, the African-American tight rope walkers, the Chinese girl trick bicyclists, the Trinidadian stilt boys, the Columbian motorcyclists in the globe of death, and the African female contortionist, who appeared (I’m still unable to believe this is possible) to set on her own head and also (I’m less certain of this) to rotate her hips 180 degrees.

But I also really enjoyed the audience. They actively participated in the show, singing, dancing, and shouting their approval. Being in a racial minority for a couple of hours was bracing, and being with these folks was really fun. I couldn’t stop smiling.