The President's arrival time for my event is 10:15am; I'm there at 8am. The military folks are fun to talk with, especially the forensic anthropologist. He's been all over the world recovering remains, even North Korea. I wish I had more time to chat, but I need to walk through the advance team's prearranged press plan: up the stairs, down through the back, stand on point A on the step, move to point B where I'll hold a stantion to show the tv crews their boundary, then back to point A for an orderly exit out the side. Lighting is arranged along these lines. I've made signs and arrows, just in case we need to provide more direction. Security has cordoned off the premises, even to the point of having an attack dog on hand. Down the street, the North Korean embassy has put a dead pigeon out on the sidewalk.
The White House advance team arrives; the plan's been changed so that the writers will be joining the cameras. I'm not sure how they're going to all fit on the tiny step, but we'll manage. Also, no need to go up and down the stairs -- everyone can come in through the front. Fewer moving parts is good; signs won't be necessary. The President will enter first, then the press. All I need to do is hold open the stantion and direct people to the step.
The time comes, and I'm ready, standing with rope in hand. The President enters. President Bush strolls rather than walks, slightly swinging his arms in a comfortable, confident way. Catching my eye, he winks. I smile back. It was actually quite nice -- at that moment, it didn't matter that our politics rarely align, or that I was supposed to be in awe of him. I certainly didn't feel in awe of him. He didn't have that sort of aura; he was just a guy. Condoleezza Rice walked in behind him, seeming hesitant. She had an almost girlish affect, though somewhat withdrawn. They were just people. I'm not sure why I was expecting otherwise; perhaps it shows what a great job PD does, making them look bigger than life on camera. I spend a few indulgent moments reflecting on the way television has changed politics...
Then the press comes in.
Right, forget points A, B, and every other step inbetween. It's an absolute rush to get up to the President, and I find myself actually pushing people back as they try to squeeze past me. The stantion is stretched taut, so that I'm having to work to hold it. If only it were a little longer, I could be using the tail end as a whip. This is far beyond herding cats -- it's like December 24th, 1983 and President Bush is the last Cabbage Patch doll left on the shelf. It occurs to me that there's a reason reporters are referred to as 'The Press'; it also occurs to me that I've been flown 2000 miles to be (un)glorified crowd control. Just doing my part for America... Glancing back, I see that the anthropologist is finishing up his part of the presentation. "Mr. President, do you have any questions?" "No, not really." I hope that the JPAC team feels their two months of preparation was well spent. A signal from the advance team, and we rush the press out so the President can take official photos with the Detachment members. No time for goodbyes.
Riding in the motorcade back to the hotel is interesting. I listen to the press dissect the event. Outside, the streets are nearly empty. No one is waving.