When Chris DePino was the Republican state chairman in 1996, he donned his train conductor's hat and played the harmonica at the Republican National Convention in San Diego.
Since then, the former state legislator from New Haven has taken his act on the road and across the ocean. On Monday, DePino played at the presidential palace in Prague for the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus.
"It's my sixth tour here,'' DePino told Capitol Watch in a telephone interview from a taxi on his way to the palace. "I'm popular here.''
DePino played for Klaus, the country's president since 2003, and a large crowd that had gathered at the palace.
Klaus, 70, has been called "the Margaret Thatcher of Central Europe,'' and he has American ties from studying briefly at Cornell University in upstate New York.
In San Diego in August 1996, DePino's brief speech and harmonica performance was nationally televised during C-SPAN's coverage of the convention.
``The Dole express is ready to leave for the White House. All aboard!'' DePino shouted at the convention before launching into a riff that he later called an original train song.
DePino 's speech set off howls of applause in the Connecticut delegation and prompted the delegates to blow on wooden train whistles. The whistles, about 8 inches long, were handed out at the San Diego hotel where the delegation had been staying.
After the speech, DePino came back to the delegation like a returning hero and gave a high-five to state House Republican leader Robert M. Ward of North Branford, who is now one of two state auditors.
Greenwich delegate Scott Fossel, a member of the Republican Eagles because of his large contributions to the party, thrust a whistle toward DePino and asked him to autograph it.
``There's nothing like a showman,'' said Sidney J. Holbrook, then-commissioner of environmental protection, who formerly served in the state House with DePino.
``I had a few butterflies going out,'' DePino said at the time. "Once I hit the stage, I was there. I got a chance to meet [preceeding speaker] Ben Night-horse Campbell, so I told him how to pronounce my name. He was as nervous as I was. Once I got up on stage, it was a piece of cake. The TelePrompTers are right there.''