Meeting Mr. President (Quincy)

Three days ago I never would have thought I’d see a president, let alone hear him say my name, put his hand on my shoulder, and look me in the eye to tell me “It’s better if you say cheese.” I lived a dream. Wish I could have pushed pause just a little bit longer.

Let’s rewind.

It started with a text message. An amazing childhood friend of Travis’ (who we owe BIG time) shot us a message on Sunday asking if we were interested in driving down to San Jose on Thursday/Friday to see “the O.” Travis and I paused for exactly 10 seconds and replied “Absolutely.” (Why the pause? We had just returned from the area for the wedding of our good friends Katie and Dylan, and the thought of driving ever again sounded like a bad idea. Unless, of course, something like this came up.)

The details started spilling in. We’d be driving in Obama’s motorcade for two days. We needed to dress very nicely. We needed to not bring any weapons or things to be autographed. We needed to be background checked beforehand. (Etc.)

What exactly is Obama’s motorcade? We looked it up (thanks Wikipedia):

The motorcade comprises twenty to thirty vehicles. It carries the president, and in addition may carry his spouse, members of the press, security, White House officials, and VIP guests. There are lots of armored vehicles, including a USSS Electronic Countermeasures Suburban, a counter-assault team, and Secret Service agents. 

Police are at beginning of the presidential motorcade. These cars and motorcycles usually drive ahead to clear the way and block traffic.

The second part is made up of vans (THAT’S US!) that transport White House staff members and selected members of the press.  In the rear  are more police and communications.

Fast-forward to Thursday.

We arrive at the Fairmont Hotel and San Jose, where Obama was to be staying. Travis’ friend met us and 6 other volunteers to pick up 4 big, white passenger vans to be in the motorcade and transport important people. I learned quickly that I would be a passenger in Travis’ van, which was perfect because that meant I was the only one who could take photos while the motorcade was moving.

After picking up the vans, we caravanned to Moffett Field. The scene was best described as secure. Simply put, I’ve never seen more guns, armored cars, and different uniforms in my life. While we waited for Obama to arrive, we were lucky enough to take photos on the tarmac with “the Beast” (aka Obama’s armored limo(s)), ask endless questions to Obama’s personal driver (who managed to avoid actually answering all of our questions, but was very nice about it), and check out some of the many defenses put in order for Obama’s arrival. We were prompted on how the motorcade works and memorized these simple rules:

1. Keep your keys in the ignition and at least one window open (to avoid locking your keys in the van).

2. Don’t stop moving when you are in the motorcade. You will be running red lights, stop signs, speeding, and tailgating the car in front of you. Just get used to it.

3. If you mess up, you’re fired.

(There were other rules, but you get the idea.)

Air Force One arrived, Obama stepped of the plane, and 30 seconds later, the motorcade was in motion.

We hopped onto a completely empty 101. The traffic in the opposite direction slowed as people were hanging out of their windows taking pictures. People were standing on overpasses and at the sides of the freeway waiving and cheering.

Whew! How do I explain it? Entirely exhilarating. Poor Travis. The entire time I was gripping the camera with one hand and my life with the other, barking “Brake, brake!” or “You’re too far behind, catch up!” Following the vehicle in front of you at a very close distance while speeding on an empty freeway, motorcycle cops speeding passed you and lights flashing everywhere requires focus, so I decided to shut up after the first 10 minutes and let Travis do his thing.

We arrived at our first destination: some rich dude’s house near Stanford. I don’t have a lot to say about this, but we did hear Obama open the fundraising party with a speech. We waited. Then we moved to the next rich dude’s house (which was much, much more impressive).

We drove on windy back rodes for about 30 minutes. Again, hundreds and hundreds of people were lining the street the entire way from location A to B. Mostly people cheering and waiving Obama signs (I pretended they were cheering for me – great self-esteem booster). Of course, some signs were negative “No-bama”…very clever, people. We arrived at a steep, windy driveway flanked by a man saluting us, and another Police vehicle (did I mention that on every overpass/freeway entrance, there was a CHP? I’ve never seen so much law enforcement in my life). This house was HUGE. It was surrounded by vineyards, a gorgeous pond, and featured an incredible indoor/outdoor infinity pool and guest house that was the size of our house. We followed the president’s limo up, and somehow managed to flip 30 or so vehicles around and line them up to be ready to exit in a very tight space. Meanwhile, Obama had slipped into this fundraising event, not looking twice at the sniper guards lining the property with binoculars and rifles.

We waited. It’s a different kind of waiting, though. It’s not boring like standing in line to pick up your prescription. It’s wondering what’s coming next, what’s going on in that multi-multi million dollar house that you are dying to see inside, it’s knowing that 100 ft away, the leader of the free world is going through the motions to guarantee a better future for everyone.

When we left and drove back to the hotel, it was too dark to take great photos, but the reception at the hotel was thrilling. Again, hundreds lining the street to catch a glimpse of Obama’s famous limo, 5 cars ahead of us.

Day 2.

When I woke up, the first thought that ran through my head was “I’m meeting the president today.” What a feeling.

We arrived at his hotel. Walking in, a woman from some news station asked if we were White House staff. Travis replied “no” and I turned to him and said “savor those words…we will probably never hear that again” – ha!

Travis’ friend took us and the other volunteers up to a more secure area to wait to meet the president. My heart was beating so hard and it’s embarrassing to admit, but I started feeling really emotional. If Obama had walked out at that moment, I probably would have balled. In hindsight, I applaud myself for actually being there, in that moment, rather than being numb to it. Luckily for me though, we waited for about 40 minutes while my heart decelerated to a normal beat. We were brought into a small room, where Obama was to address the nation right after our meet-and-greet. There were two flags flanking a velvet backdrop. Travis and me and the other volunteers lined up in front of it and waited. And waited. And waited. The photographer’s lights were shining in our eyes, so Obama was more like a silhouette walking in, but I knew it was him when he said (in his voice): “These are the best drivers in California!” Travis and I chuckled a little, because apparently, he says this to every volunteer driving crew. I don’t care. I’m putting that on my resume.

He walked over and started going down the line of 8 of us, shaking each of our hands and asking our names. When he got to me, I said “Good morning Mr. President. I’m Quincy.” I had planned to say this before.  I really wanted to address Obama “Mr. President” because who ever gets to do that?! He responded “Hello, Quincy, thank you for being here” (or something like that – mind went blank). Travis was next. Travis said “Hi, I’m Travis Storm, so nice to meet you.” Mr. O. replied similarly. When he shakes your hand, he looks you straight in the eye and you’re suddenly not intimidated. This probably has to do with your senses going numb out of disbelief.  He has a very warm confidence that makes you feel at ease, and above that, makes you feel loved.

He positioned himself directly in between Travis and I, placed his hands on both of our shoulders (from here on out, Travis refers to his right shoulder as his “Obama shoulder” and I refer to my left as the same). One photo was taken when Obama said “say cheese!” – he probably sensed that we all had a deer-in-headlights look of disbelief on our faces and was trying to loosen us up). He then turned to me, looked me in the eye (his face 4 inches from my face – ah!) and lowered his voice “It’s much better when you say cheese.” To which I replied “yes, it is” or something stupid like that. I don’t know. My mind was numb.

(PHOTO TO COME IN 4 WEEKS)

After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only two minutes, we exited the room. Travis stalled to say thank you one last time to Mr. President (thataboy)!

We motorcaded Obama after his bit back to Moffett Field, where Air Force One was waiting. Before we could even park our van, he was running up the stairs of the giant and I tried to snap some photos out my window. We had an amazing photo opp as the plane departed. AF1 was so close, that we had to cover our eyes as it turned to taxi because the dust was shooting up from the ground. And then it was gone.

To sum it up, Travis and I will be sharing this memory together for the rest of our lives. It was truly incredible!

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~ by stormcellar on June 9, 2013.

2 Responses to “Meeting Mr. President (Quincy)”

  1. And I am proud to say that I touched the shoulders that Obama touched!
    Love you! Mom

  2. So cool, Quincy!

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