Reporters who are not a part of the regular White House reporting corps must submit personal information in advance to obtain a temporary press pass. Visitors wait outside the front gate before going through a security checkpoint in a building 50 yards from the front door of the White House. Short of a passport, visiting the president’s home is as involved a process as flying internationally.
I got the airport-plus security treatment during my White House visit Monday. I have a press pass issued by the Senate, but that wasn’t enough. The security staff needed to see my driver’s license. Apparently, Ohio’s under-21 driver’s license is not a part of the guidebook to telling a real ID from a fake. After five officers studied my license, I was permitted onto the lawn.
During another short wait, I had time to survey the grounds. The White House is well kept, but an up-close view shows the age of the building. From far away, the storied structure looks as pristine as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but up close, its history becomes more apparent. The concrete sidewalk slabs aren’t all even, and the sandstone exterior walls weren’t as smooth as I expected them to be.
And then came the time to step across the threshold that 43 presidents have traversed. A quick left turn delivered me to the East Room, where I set up my tripod to photograph President Barack Obama’s reception for the San Francisco Giants.
I immediately recognized Brian Wilson, whose beard has its own alter-ego. I saw Andres Torres, the quiet outfielder whom I first met five years ago when I worked for the Toledo Mud Hens. I cleaned the mud and grass off the cleats of his shoes and shined them. But then, I heard murmurings that a far greater person might be present.
“Is that Willie Mays? Is he here?”
Soon afterward, the Say Hey Kid slowly entered the room to a roaring audience. Not even Obama entered with so much fanfare. As a voiceover announced the president was entering the room, I stole two extra seconds to photograph the iconic baseball player. At first, I felt guilty for not focusing my camera in Obama’s direction, but the commander in chief held an equally high regard for Mays.
I did one other thing before capturing my first photograph of the president: I made sure I saw him without the aid of a camera lens. It was important for me to see him with my own eyes before immersing myself in my work. But once he reached the podium, the journalist in me took over.
The event lasted less than 20 minutes, but it was enough to say I have covered an event in the White House. This is one experience that I will remember the rest of my life.