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Ribs, Chocolate Cake and Happy Birthday in a Town Called Moose

August 19, 1995

MOOSE, Wyo. (AP) _ The wood smoke rose from under rows of black iron kettles brimming with barbecued ribs, the president of the United States helped himself, and the surrounding crowd burst into ``Happy Birthday.″

Joined by their 15-year-old daughter, Chelsea, on the eve of the president’s birthday, Bill and Hillary Clinton carried their heaping-full plates to a picnic table and enjoyed their food with a dead-on, open-air view of Grand Teton Mountain.

``It must be sort of a bummer to sit there and try to eat with all these people staring at you,″ a woman said from the crowd.

``What a media circus,″ added a man standing nearby, staring not at the president but at the glassy lenses of dozens of photographers’ cameras and the reaching boom mikes of the sound crews.

But most of the crowd ignored the hubbub and focused on the Clintons themselves, singing a chorus of ``Happy Birthday, Dear Bill,″ to the president who turns 49 today.

The outdoor establishment, Dornan’s Chuckwagon Dinners, has been an institution at the southern gate of Grand Teton National Park since 1948.

``We use lodge pole pines for the fire wood _ those are the tall skinny trees you see on the mountainsides,″ said Grant Dornan, one of the owners. ``We let the beef ribs go for five hours; We cook them real slow.″

The president and his daughter went back for seconds, then the Clintons and one of Chelsea’s girlfriends ended the meal by diving into chocolate cake piled on a single plate. Chelsea Clinton had been nature watching in Alaska and joined her parents on Friday.

After dinner, the president, wearing blue jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, rose, stretched, and circulated among the chuckwagon diners, answering questions with responses that sounded like snippets from his speeches.

He talked sewage disposal and shipyards to a family from San Diego.

And he told a knot of people: ``There’s nothing government can do more to raise peoples’ incomes than to invest in education.″

``We’ve got to balance the budget,″ he told another group.

Mrs. Clinton said she had spent most of the time since arriving in Jackson Hole on Tuesday working on her book about the world’s children entitled, ``It Takes a Village And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.″

``That’s all I’ve been doing,″ she said.

The president has been occupied by almost non-stop golf. On Friday he played another 18 holes at the Teton Pines golf course near Jackson, Wyo., shooting an 85, and described his game to the dinner crowd at Moose.

``It’s a hard course; it was cold and windy,″ he said. ``I double bogied the first two holes and I thought, `This is going to be a long day.′

``It was crazy though because I hit the ball a lot better today,″ he said, noting that he scored better the day before with an 81. ``It’s a funny game, a weird little game.″

Leaving the Chuckwagon, the Clintons took a brief hike through a field and woods, then reboarded the motorcade to drive near a herd of bison grazing in the falling light beneath the mountains.

And appropriately enough for a town called Moose, the Clintons caught a glimpse of a baby moose and what one onlooker called ``a very large Theodore Roosevelt-style bull moose″ standing near the banks of a river.

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