Close Encounters of the Presidential Kind
My stint in the “Freedom Corps”
When I first received Yale Scott's message from the White House on Wednesday, Oct. 27, I thought it was a prank call, but after verifying its legitimacy, I called him back. He seemed OK. He interviewed me about my experiences as a volunteer, then told me that I had been chosen as one of the many people to be considered for the opportunity to be in the "Freedom Corps"—really just a fancy term for "greeter"—and that I would find out by Friday whether or not I had been selected to greet President George W. Bush on Monday evening, Nov. 1, as he made the rounds on his final day of campaigning. Over the next two days, I get a series of phone calls from several people associated with Scott and the White House, all of whom seem to ask the same questions. I feel like I'm being interrogated. When Friday rolls around, I am told that I have been selected as a "Freedom Corps" representative. I will greet the president at Kirtland Air Force Base, ride in the presidential motorcade and sit on stage at Journal Pavilion while President Bush gives his address. Oh, what to wear?
It's Monday now—the Big Day. My guest during the event will be my father. We are supposed to arrive at Kirtland Air Force Base by 5 p.m. My dad shows up at my house at 4 p.m. I do not live an hour away from Kirtland. Whatever.
4:05 p.m.: My dad decides to drive and I laugh as he tries to cram his tall frame into my tiny car.
4:30 p.m.: My father and I arrive at Kirtland Air force Base and it seems Brian (our contact person who is also Secret Service) has forgotten to put my dad on the access list. We get to sit and wait while he comes to verify that we are both OK to go inside. While waiting, my dad mentions how the female Secret Service agent is "good looking." I say nothing.
4:45 p.m.: We are taken to Hangar 333, where we are directed to a "lounge" and told we will probably have a two-hour wait.
5 p.m.: We wait. We talk with some Secret Service guys and continue to wait.
5:30 p.m.: We become restless and start searching for places to get some good photos. We take notice of the presidential limo and ask if we can take some pictures. We snap some cool ones.
5:45 p.m.: We are briefed on when and where we are supposed to be. I am told I will be "placed" once we get "out there," which I assume is code for "the tarmac." I get the feeling I'm a pawn.
6:15 p.m.: We all finally file out onto the tarmac and wait to be turned into Popsicles.
6:25 p.m.: Air Force One finally arrives. I am taken aback by its size. A group of people file out and down a small flight of stairs at the back of the giant plane, the president's stairs are driven up to the plane on a truck. I am finally "placed."
6:30 p.m.: President Bush walks off the plane and greets the Air Force personnel before finally coming over to be greeted by me. As I shake his hand, we chit chat a little. I ask how his trip was (as if it could have been anything less then wonderful considering he has his own plane) and he thanks me for being a volunteer. We agree that it's cold outside. Then I am swept into one of the motorcade vehicles, a large, white SUV, where my father is waiting.
The rest happens so quickly, I lose track of time. We ride in the motorcade to the Journal Pavilion on a secret road near the Manzanos that, were we caught driving on it at any other time, could result in our getting shot. On the way, a motorcycle officer goes down on his bike. We keep driving. The Secret Service guys tell us that crashes like that happen "weekly."
The motorcade arrives at Journal Pavilion and I am pulled out of the car by a woman with a heavy New York accent and directed to the side-stage, where I am handed-off. The man I am passed to begins to lead me onto the stage. He stops, but I think he is just sending me on from that point to fend for myself. So I keep walking as Congresswoman Heather Wilson is announced. My "handler" suddenly pulls me back to the side of the stage because I am walking out on Wilson's entrance cue. Finally, I get my seat on stage. My dad goes camera-happy snapping photos of everything: me, the crowd, even the press. Bush gives his speech.
Several times he calls for everyone to stand with him on many issues I am opposed to, so I remain seated. I am probably the only one. I now begin to feel hypocritical sitting at a Bush rally when I don't support his beliefs. The event ends, and we are left behind by the motorcade and have to hitch a ride with a stranger who happens to be in charge of booking bands for Journal Pavilion. Thanks, Mr. President. Nice to meet you.
Jade Wright is a senior at Eldorado High School who spends most of her free time enriching the lives of others as a YMCA volunteer.