By the time I made it to the press room of the White House, I had already managed to make a fool of myself at security.
I was following – somewhat creepily – behind another reporter. I didn’t know where I was going, and this guy clearly did, so I followed his lead – from a safe distance, I promise.
He sauntered through the Northwest Gate of the White House, brandishing his press pass, fluidly making it to the other side of the tourist-ridden fence. After I watched him walk through, I shifted my equipment on my shoulders and was prepared to breeze through security just like the guy before me.
That didn’t happen. I couldn’t figure out why the door wouldn’t open until I realized the security guard was looking at me disdainfully. He needed my ID so he could verify that I was supposed to be there to cover President Barack Obama talking about health insurance, and then could open the door for me. After a few more mishaps while getting through the security machines, I was thoroughly embarrassed with my so far less-than-graceful entrance to the White House.
As I walked out of the security building, I noticed that the driveway for the White House splits. I start following the left fork toward the front of the White House. A voice came from behind me.
“You need to go that way.” A security guard was hanging out of the door of the building I just left. With an annoyed smirk on his face, he pointed to the right fork.
When I finally made it to the press room – at the end of the right fork, no less – I had given up on trying to hide that I was intern.
After the sweat had stopped sliding down my back – I swear this heat wave feels worse than the temperatures in Kenya, where I was in January – I noticed a reporter getting her photo taken at the press room lectern: the spot where all the famous press briefings from the White House come from, the spot that looks a whole lot bigger on TV.
As she began to step down from the podium, I asked if she would take my picture there. After all, I was an intern.
Her face brightened, and she was more than happy to take my photo. Apparently being an intern in the press room is cute, but being an intern at security is annoying.
As I stepped away from the podium – I needed to stand a block of wood to be sufficiently taller than it is – she asked me if I’ve ever seen the pool.
She laughed and told me no when I asked her this, and then had me follow her past the podium to a small hallway off the side. I followed her down a metal staircase into a room with a slanted floor and tons of wires. The faded blue of the tiled walls was hardly visible through thousands of signatures.
Chloe Sommers, a reporter for CNN and the woman I was convinced was going to haze me, told me a story about how when the swimming pool was drained, the press room was built on top of it, and now the pool is used as a home for wires for various news networks. And for some reason, people who visit the White House sign their names.
She showed me her signature on the wall, from when she was an intern. And then she pointed out the Sharpie hanging from a string and told me to sign my name.
I wasn’t being hazed. What I was doing was getting the opportunity of a lifetime.
I took the Sharpie – and of course got ink on my hands – and found a spot on the wall where there were no names, yet. I scrunched myself up to fit into the corner. I signed my name, dated it and added “SHFW.”
There it was: my name in permanent marker on a wall of the White House. As I uncurled myself from the corner, I managed to trip over something – probably myself – and knock my shoe off. I’m sure Chloe laughed to herself over my – what I hope to be endearing – intern qualities.
And while those intern qualities didn’t earn me anything besides flushed cheeks at security, it did give me the chance to do something I’ll never forget. My first visit to the White House may not have been the graceful one that I was hoping for, but because of Chloe, it was one of the best days of my summer so far. And a story that’s worth telling – even if I do embarrass myself while telling it.