Gov. Easley, I tried.
I combed restaurant Web sites all over Europe, looking for that $60 combo platter you mentioned in your press conference the other day. Remember that? You were trying to explain how you and your wife, Mary, helped run up a tab of $170,000 on a business-recruiting trip to Italy back in April – and how Mrs. Easley was part of trips to France and Estonia that cost N.C. taxpayers another $109,000.
Here's what you said: “I wish it didn't cost that much, but you know, let's be honest about it. A cheeseburger and onion rings is $60 over there.”
Well, OK, if you want to be honest about it…
I spent some time on zagat.com, home of the famous restaurant guides. If there's a $60 cheeseburger anywhere in Europe, they'd know. But when I set my search for Italy and typed in “cheeseburger,” this message came back:
Sorry, we could not find any restaurants in Italy with “cheeseburger” as a keyword.
No wonder more people don't go to Italy. It's like all they have over there is pasta and stuff.
I got the same message when I searched for cheeseburgers in France. Everybody who saw “Pulp Fiction” knows they have McDonald's in France, but somehow the Royale with Cheese didn't make Zagat's cut.
Sadly, the Zagat survey has yet to cover Estonia. But I did have some luck through Google – the “reputedly best cheeseburger in Estonia” is served at a place called Angel, which is also known in the capital city of Tallinn as the “most happening and popular gay bar” in town.
I checked the price. Sorry, governor. The best cheeseburger in Estonia costs less than $10.
Then I typed in the search “Estonia onion rings.” I think I actually heard Google laugh.
I thought about checking around to see if it would be possible to rent a couple of cars and drivers for less than $50,000 – what taxpayers paid for two chauffeured Mercedes sedans on the Italy trip. My guess is that you could buy two late-model Mercedes sedans in Italy for less than $50,000.
But to check that out would just be piling on.
Speaking of piling on, it's nice to see that N.C. State University does such a good job of rewarding its employees. The very same Mary Easley who did such a good job representing our state in Europe has come back home to find that her salary as a senior lecturer and executive-in-residence has nearly doubled – from $90,000 to $170,000.
That's a lot of cheeseburgers, even at $60 a pop. So, as the governor says, let's be honest about it.
The clock is running out on the Easleys' lease at the governor's mansion – by January, they'll be out of there. There isn't much time left to take trips on the taxpayers' dime.
And governors don't get paid a whole lot, so N.C. State has given the Easleys a soft transition to private life. Sort of like Mom and Dad writing you a check when you go off to college.
Sure, we could figure out other things to do with that money, such as building more roads or helping poor families, or – here's a crazy thought – lowering our taxes.
But instead, let's just think of this as an extended going-away party for North Carolina's first family.
Just don't choke on your cheeseburger when you look at the bill.