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WARREN, Ohio--I spent my birthday doing my job: traveling with Paul Ryan, who has been on a campaign swing through battleground states since Mitt Romney announced him as his running mate last weekend.
Ryan stopped at a hot dog shop for lunch on Thursday, after a campaign rally in North Canton, Ohio. Unbeknownst to me, Ryan's staff had told the congressman that the day was my birthday. They planned to surprise me by having him buy me lunch.
The motorcade rolled up to the small restaurant around noon. Inside, Ryan walked toward the counter.
"Hey, where's Chris Moody? Where's Chris Moody?" Ryan asked. "It's his birthday." Ryan looked across the room.
I was back in the bus finishing up a report. I heard all this later by listening to my colleagues' tape recordings.
"What should I get him?" Ryan asked. "Two dogs? Chili cheese?"
"He's more of a tofu guy," a cheeky reporter standing nearby told Ryan, who responded with a look that was later described to me as amused disappointment. Oh, one of those guys.
(For the record, I think hot dogs--and anything that includes meat--are delicious and essential to leading a life of fulfillment and happiness.)
I walked into the restaurant seconds later, and was startled to see Ryan directly in front of me. Several cameras surrounded him and were trained directly on us.
My initial reaction in situations like this is to get the hell out of my colleagues' camera shot, but Ryan pointed at me and said to step up to the counter with him.
"Moody!" he said. "Hey, what do you want?"
"Oh, that's OK," I said, headlines like REPORTER SWOONS FOR $3 HOT DOG flashing through my mind.
"You need a hot dog," he said.
One thing you should know about Paul Ryan: He worked as an Oscar Mayer salesman during college. He even drove the Wienermobile, once. The man knows how to push hot dogs.
"I'm a little embarrassed," I said, feeling my pockets. "I left my wallet in the bus."
"I gotcha, I gotcha," he insisted. "It's your birthday."
Ryan ordered two dogs with extra kraut and mustard. I had a chili dog. The total bill was $8.78 for two dogs with extra kraut and mustard, one chili dog, a basket of cheese fries, an iced tea and a Coke.
Not sure what to do next, I thanked him and insisted I would pay him back.
When I got my chili dog, I plopped into one of the booths next to two local residents and Ryan soon joined us, after making the rounds with voters.
Now, Ryan hasn't held even a single press conference with the traveling news media since he became Romney's running mate, though he did give interviews to Fox News hosts and a handful of local outlets. The traveling press has been starving for inside information.
When some reporters tried to ask him questions earlier this week at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, he brushed them off. "We can play Stump the VP later," he said.
Well, now seemed like a pretty good time to play.
(To be clear, it wasn't my intention to "stump" anyone, just pose a relevant question about the campaign.)
It may be a strange thing to discuss in a hot dog shop, but I asked Ryan why the Republican budget he proposed as chairman of the House Budget Committee included the same cuts to Medicare that he has lately been criticizing President Barack Obama for enacting. He gave me an answer that he described as "a little wonky."
"First of all, those are in the baseline, he put those cuts in," Ryan said, referring to Obama. "Second of all, we voted to repeal Obamacare repeatedly, including those cuts." You can read his full answer here.
When he finished his response, Ryan held up his dog.
"Cheers," he said, motioning it toward me as if proposing a toast.
We bumped dogs and chowed down.
And for the record, I just gave him three dollars.