While campaigning for the presidency in 2000, George W. Bush stopped by Locust Lane Elementary School in northeast Eau Claire. I was there that day, and I was struck by the experience.
First though, a bit of geography.
Locust Lane is situated so that the main entrance is on the North side of the school. The parking lot is on the north side of the building too. When I arrived on site along with the rest of the press corps, I was quickly debriefed as to proper procedure.
“Wait over there,” said a burly man wearing an earpiece.
He was pointing at a twenty by fifty foot section of lawn adjacent to the brick north wall of the school that had been cordoned off with yellow police tape. There were already several reporters massed inside, and the image that immediately came to mind was one of a stockyard “pen”.
I stepped over the police tape and joined the others assembled there. There were no chairs, so all of us just kind of stood or leaned against the wall. The vantage point offered a clear view of the proceedings:
Inside the building school was in session. Outside the building there were individual secret service agents scattered about outside the pen and journalists inside. But wait, it wasn’t only the press that had been delegated to the pen. I watched as the head of the county’s Republican Party arrived and was ushered into the designated waiting area.
“Hi Don,” I said. “How come you’re on this side of the police tape?”
“Oh…security, you know. That’s the way it is,” he smiled sheepishly.
Bush Junior was Governor of Texas at the time, and of course a son of a former president. I tried to imagine the danger inherent in that genealogy, but struggled. I counted about six visible secret service agents.
We hadn’t been in the pen for five minutes when I realized I wasn’t dressed for conditions. I stepped over the tape and was immediately accosted by one of the agents.
“I’m sorry, sir, but you have to stay inside the designated area.”
“I’m just heading to my car to get my sunglasses,” I explained pointing to the well-marked news vehicle ten yards away. He thought about this for a moment and then spoke into his lapel microphone. I couldn’t hear the response.
“Okay,” he said tersely, releasing my arm. I secured said sunglasses and returned, like a good journalist, to the pen without further incident.
Within a half hour Bush Junior arrived — with even more security. The first thing he did upon exiting the limo was scowl. The second thing he did was lean in to listen to one of the agents who was pointing at us. Bush then veered our way.
The head of the County Republican Party was a pretty obvious target. He was the only one in the pen cheering loudly.
“We love you Governor! We’re going to win the state for you!” he crowed.
Bush – looking rather startled – stopped briefly to shake the man’s hand – from the other side of the police tape. Guess it’s best not to let your guard down when security is at issue. The Governor – enveloped in stern black-suited men all a head taller than he — then rounded the corner of the pen and entered the school looking like he was headed for a pop quiz that he had neglected to study for.
At that time we were instructed that we could also enter the building. Stepping over the police tape we were ushered into a small room about ten by ten feet (the nurses’ station perhaps?). After Bush Junior had his photo opportunity with the school children he joined us in the “interview room”.
What I remember best about the event was how packed the room was. Between the lights, tripoded cameras, reporters, secret service and the Governor, there was barely room enough to wedge a sound bite in sideways. Bush Junior was so close I could’ve reached out and touched him…though I certainly didn’t want to be wrestled to the mat by some ex-Marine poorly disguised by Armani. I remember that the Governor kept staring at the camera with this stunned look, like the lights were dizzying him.
After all this time I have absolutely no recollection of the questions asked or answers given. Throughout Bush’s career as Leader of the Free World I was consistently unimpressed by what he had to say. In fact I often thought that Brett Favre crafted more interesting interviews. I’ve met many so-called “famous people”, and there have been times when I’ve literally felt the tingle of being in the presence of greatness, but not that day at Locust Lane.
Posted under Artist? Scientist? Philosopher? Camera Guy?
This post was written by sbetchkal on April 27, 2011