Thursday, August 20, 2009
I like your ride, Mr. President!
I was escorting some friends around the East Wing of the White House on a public tour last month when serendipity hit us: the Director of the Visitors Center, a woman of salt and pepper hair and a commanding voice, greeted us from behind.
“Are you giving a tour today, sir?”
I thought that perhaps I was in trouble.
“Yes, ma’am.” I responded.
“Would you be interested in participating in a departure ceremony?” she asked.
Having visited the White House just a few times over my six years in DC, I’ve learned that when the President departs the White House for Camp David or any appointment via helicopter, a small group of people – usually close friends and special guests – are gathered on the south lawn to greet the president. Surely, this lady wasn’t asking us regular folks to join her in this special event?
“Yes, that would be nice.” I chirped back enthusiastically.
She then led us outside the hall, through a small garden and onto the circular driveway. There were a few dozen other guests waiting by the South Portico. To our left was the South Lawn and in the far distance, the Washington Monument. The weather was quite warm and humid—typical Washington DC summer weather.
After about 10 more minutes of waiting, the Presidential Helicopter arrived.
As it approached the landing area, it created a wind that pushed us back a few inches.
We were instructed not to yell anything to the President. However, waving was acceptable.
A few minutes later without much fanfare, the big “O” -- President Obama exited the White House and strolled along in his suit. He waved calmly at us and then strode onto the helicopter. His aides followed behind him, toting some bags.
After we left the White House, and reflected on this special experience over lunch, we thought how luck had played a large part in all of this: first, one lady in our group carried her purse, which was prohibited on all White House tours. I had to return to the hotel with the purse, causing at least a 10-minute delay.
Then, when we tried to enter the gate, the Secret Service man told me that the person who requested the tour had to be present; otherwise, we could not enter. Another 15 minute delay.
Finally, when we entered the White House, I gave our group a very extensive and detailed tour, trying to explain each and every photo on the wall. By the time we got to the White House bowling alley area, the director of the Visitors Center found us.