There are days when I don’t like all the attention. And then there are days like today.
Today I met the President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, at the White House in D.C.
As a blueblooded liberal who registered as a Democrat the instant she was legal to vote, I was ecstatic when Obama was elected last November. The entire team came over to the house to watch the election results. I wore an Obama pin, and kept freaking out whenever McCain took a state (so I freaked out maybe three times, zing!). When he won Pennsylvania, then Ohio, I knew we had it in the bag. At 11:00, when the West Coast came in and it was clear he had taken it, I watched as the girls on the team danced in my living room to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, while my mom attempted to join in and failed. My dad just grinned. It was justice that he was so happy to see Obama win, as he had been leaning towards voting Republican and Mom and I got him to switch teams just in time for the polling. Peer pressure’s a powerful thing in my family.
I flew to Washington with the team this morning around 9:30, and you could tell there was a big buzz in the air. Everyone was happy. I was happy but really nervous. I didn’t know how I’d react when I met Obama. However, it was also really great to see the girls again. While I compared lipstick with Tahirah, Sarah Darras came back to explain that three of the girls would be given video cameras to document their experiences at the White House, and that the videos would end up on the official Government website. The cameras were very tiny, top of the line HD Flipcams, and I spent most of the morning dodging them while they popped out at every given opportunity.
It was a gorgeous day if insanely hot, and we pulled into a parking lot next to a huge overhang of trees and foliage. Beyond that was the back end of the White House, but you couldn’t see it beyond a bit that stuck out behind a large black gate. Looking the other way gave us a pretty good view of the Washington Monument.
We had some time to spare before we had to go in, so we mulled around, taking in how gorgeous D.C. is in the springtime, and tried to avoid the blazing hot sunlight as much as humanly possible. My mom and I tried not to complain, but we’re Italian. We sweat.
After getting the full security checkpoint treatment, I had to go first due to the alphabet and I kept screaming “Someone walk with me I don’t want to walk in by myself!” Finally we got into the East Wing lobby, right next to the First Lady’s Office. Part of me was absolutely dying to see Michelle Obama, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen. The tour then commenced, and it was really quite incredible. The portraits alone made it worth the entire trip. Something that surprised me but shouldn’t have was how tiny the rooms are. The biggest room we saw was smaller than your average hotel ballroom, and the Secret Serviceman who gave us the tour told us that it was the room that John and Abigail Adams dried their laundry in, after realizing they didn’t want the people of Washington to see the President’s dirty underthings out on a pole, blowing in the breeze. Sadly, no Oval Office tour. But we did see the Blue, Red, Green, and Yellow rooms, as well as the Banquet Hall with the official White House prayer, taken from a letter John Adams wrote to Abigail:
“I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
After the tour, we hung out in one of the Executive Offices that faced the South Lawn, where the press junket was to be held. That’s when we all started getting a bit loud to cover how nervous we were. At one point the woman who was corralling all of us came in to tell us he was on his way, and everyone got very quiet, only to shout out when the First Dog, Bo, ran past the room. I unfortunately didn’t see it but everyone else yelled “The dog! The dog!”
Then it got quiet again, and people came in and out. Then…
And loping into the room like the most relaxed person on the face of the planet, there he was.
The noise that came out of some people’s mouths…I think it’s suitable to say that it was a squeal. I didn’t say or do anything. I may have gaped. My face melted or something. The 44th President of the United States was walking towards me and I couldn’t feel my feet. The DNC in 2004, the debates, Dreams From My Father, the moment after the 2004 election, after I had campaigned so hard for Kerry and was devastated when he lost, and when I thought to myself “Obama will win in 2008”, and this past year’s Election Night and the celebration in our home…I thought about all of it. Then he came over to us, and it kind of disappeared. He became just a normal guy.
First he shook hands with Dad, then down to Mom, talking about how happy he was to see us, and he genuinely looked it. And then he shook my hand, pronouncing my name correctly, and said he was pleased to meet me. My mind was completely blank but I managed to say that it was a great honor to meet him. First of all, he’s handsome on TV, but in person, he’s just extraordinarily good-looking. His handshake was firm and he looked me directly in the eye. He’s a tower of confidence, but not in an intimidating way. Some people of that stature and fame scare the hell out of me. Not Obama. He makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room. We got a picture taken with him, and looking back at it, I realize how tall he is. I was wearing three-inch heels, and he still is a good head and a half above me.
Two people have asked me what he smelled like, which is a pretty normal question to ask in my opinion. The answer? Cigarettes. It wasn’t so much that it was gross, but I got a faint whiff of it on his clothes. I had known beforehand that Obama was a smoker trying to quit so it didn’t come as a shock. I personally think that due to all of the stress in his life, I say let the man have a cig every once and a while. Man’s got enough to deal with!
After he shook my hand, Dad gave him one of our wristbands from Geno’s Cancer Team, which are the same bands that were given at my sister’s wedding. They’re pink and stamped with the slogan “Remember, Celebrate, Believe.” In keeping with his overall awesomeness, President Obama immediately slapped it on his wrist and promised to mention it in the speech. And he did, which prompted thousands of clickclickclicks from the CNN cameras to document that he was promoting the cause.
I didn’t get to talk to him too much because we got ushered out into the conference area on the South Lawn. The speech itself was standard, but very casual and fun. The President, after giving a shoutout to the fact that the girls play Pictionary (I wonder if he found that out from my blog…?) pronounced Auriemma correctly, something that Bush had failed to do, although Bush made a funny joke about it so I forgive him (“Whatever his name is, he sure can coach!”). He also added that as a father of two particularly tall girls, he appreciated women who remind them that they can be successful no matter what. Although I honestly think that Malia and Sasha can do whatever they want anyway, since they’re two of the world’s most famous kids right now.
After the speech, Renee presented him with the customary jersey, which Obama promised to wear while he played. There were pictures taken by CNN and other networks, I got another handshake, and it was pretty much done. I kept cursing in my head because I had probably the best seat at the conference and my camera had died. I cursed even more when Obama suddenly said “You know, we’ve got a hoop down that road. Should we shoot some? I think we should shoot some baskets.”
And off they went! And while Renee complained (and rightfully so) that if she had been in sneakers she wouldn’t have done too bad, Obama was on fire. He’s got a pretty sweet jump shot. Tiffany loved him because he’s left-handed. They sort of have the same delivery!
It was all a bit surreal, but it didn’t feel like we were shooting hoops with the President of the United States and default leader of the free world. We were just hanging out with a guy who had a great sense of humor and a killer midrange shot. Even when Meghan missed a long jumper, he laughed it off and said “She’s a power forward, it’s okay!”
After the White House trip, I had to take a taxi to Union Station to catch the train back to NYC. I was only in there for about an hour, but Union Station is absolutely gorgeous. I like it so much better than Penn Station! It’s almost set up like an airport, with different gates and terminals. However, it has those big train station windows and vaulted ceilings.
After the shootaround, Obama thanked us for coming and reminded us that he really loves this part of his job. Renee stepped forward to give him back the ball, which is emblazoned with the Obama logo and his name. “Actually, I was wondering if I could keep this?” she said. Obama looked at her and said “You know what? Yes. In fact, give it to me, I’ll sign it.”
Renee better put that thing in a vault in Fort Knox…