He laughs, but when it comes time for “down time,” it’s music that calms his mind.
“I am very careful who rents space in my head,” he tells me as I ask whether all the criticism over this oil disaster in the Gulf gets to him.
Something else that doesn’t seem to bother him that much is his insane schedule. Believe me, it’s nothing like a real rock star - this man who is leading the response to the biggest oil disaster in history is a machine.
He wakes up at 4:30 a.m., and we caught up with him at 6:30. First line of business? Starbucks. His security detail knows where to find every coffee house in every state he’s traveling through. On Wednesday, it’s a café latte because he tells me he doesn’t get enough calcium.
Spike Lee enters the Starbucks and can’t wait to tell Allen about his latest movie on the oil spill. Allen turns to me and says, “only in NOLA.”
So that’s a little flavor, but listen to what happens in the next 32 minutes with Allen: He’s on his Blackberry, cell phone, wireless computer, reading report after report on the booming and oil flow.
He checks his iGoogle page, which has a leadership quote of the day, every Google news story with the key words, “oil spill” and “Thad Allen.”
He’s got sports scores, weather and even a Spanish word of the day. Tomar, “to take,” was on the screen today.
The admiral has been taking a lot this morning: calls from Cabinet secretaries, pleas for more resources from governors and many, many questions from the White House.
He’s already talked with energy and global warming czar Carol Browner three times and the head of the Army Corps of Engineers, Gen. Van Antwerp, about building barrier islands to protect the marshlands.
The admiral is constantly negotiating deals, and this is one he really wants - those barrier islands, which he says will protect the shrimp, oysters and other seafood that all of us enjoy.
The White House wants to know how his dinner last night with BP CEO Tony Hayward went, and he’s told he’ll be seeing Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA, in just a few hours.
Can I remind you? This happens all within 32 minutes. And, the rest of the day is just as vigorous.
We head to Houma, Louisiana, where one of the major arteries of the response is located. The Incident Command Post is where everyone from BP, U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, Fish and Wildlife, National Guard, EPA and OSHA sit side by side, battling oil when it hits the surface. All operations are carried out through this center, and people are exhausted.
The admiral gets on a conference call with his Cabinet secretaries and holds a news conference with dozens of reporters. Then, we board a Coast Guard search and rescue plane and fly over the marshlands, Chandeleur Islands and the spot where the oil rig exploded. The skimming efforts around that gushing well are enormous.
Once we touch down, the calls start coming in again - this time, the attorney general, congressmen, senators and, of course, the White House. The admiral has to not only work with BP to cap the gushing oil, but he has to also protect a possible crime scene. AG Eric Holder is not wavering for a moment on his investigation.
Next stop is a staging area in Cocodrie, Louisiana. Huge USCG cargo pallets of booms line the road leading to the water. There’s dozens of trailers to house the contractors working 12 hours on, 12 hours off. All of a sudden, EPA chief Lisa Jackson comes into the room and it’s a walk-and-talk about toxic dispersants, which the EPA wants BP to use less.
Bottom line: This day is about full transparency, and I have seen it.
In fact, President Obama just granted Allen that "deal" he's been working on all day: building barrier islands to protect the marshlands. One more victory for the man whose trying to please everyone.
Allen has taken on the biggest challenge of his career. A strange request for a man who actually retired just less than two weeks ago.