It was the moment of truth; an email from the White House media affairs office arrived – would I be allowed to attend President Obama’s visit to Master Lock or not? When I saw my RSVP was confirmed, I wanted to do a few cartwheels down the hall, but I posted the news on Facebook instead.
The White House keeps President Obama’s itinerary a mystery until pretty much the last minute. We were alerted that Obama was coming to town a few weeks in advance, however the exact location was not known until four days before the event. The day before, members of the press received a schedule of when Air Force One was to land and take off at the airport as well as the time the President was to arrive at Master Lock. We could not disclose this information to anyone.
As I got closer to the Master Lock factory, located in an economically challenged and crime-ridden area, intersections were blocked by barricades and law enforcement. Citizens, hoping to get a glimpse of Obama, lined up in front of run-down homes facing the parking lot entrance.
Members of the press had a devoted entry which was a very cold docking area of the factory. We had to show proper identification, wear our White House issued badges and wait in a very specific area until security was ready to check us. It mattered how you got to security; I went the wrong way and had to go back and follow a certain path to enter the station.
Kent Wainscott, an ABC WISN reporter, stood in line behind me as inspectors scanned our clothing. After clearing the metal detection scan, highly-trained German shepherds sniffed out equipment bags which were placed about 15 feet away from us. When the dogs finished, security took out and inspected every piece of professional, expensive camera equipment in my bag – taking off lens caps, popping out the compact flash card and peering through the view finder.
Entering the site was like entering an arena. There was media chaos in back, excited Master Lock employees chatting with one another in the middle and the calm, empty speaking pulpit in front.
Because this was my first time covering a presidential visit, I was rather intimidated. When a man dressed in an expensive, navy suite with White House credentials pinned on his lapel approached me, I wondered why he singled me out. Instead he asked, ‘Do you know where press agent so-and-so is?’
TV crews had come in before the crack of dawn to set up and were perched on two platforms. Places on the platforms were specifically reserved and guarded by security personnel. I stood a little too long in one spot and was told to move.
After scoping out the area, I found a spot about 25 feet from the pulpit where I wasn’t violating anyone’s reserved area and could still get great shots of President Obama. I stood my ground and waited almost an hour for the President to arrive – as did hundreds of other media members.
When the presidential seal was placed on the pulpit, the once bustling, loud crowd was silenced with anticipation. After Barack Obama ran up the stage and was introduced, Master Lock employees and special guests jubilantly cheered while the media snapped photos and started reporting on air.
As President Obama spoke, the only other sound came from photographers snapping their shutters hoping for that perfect shot that expressed his emotion. The crowd knew when to listen and when to express cheers or jeers – it was a very pro-union, pro-Obama audience.
Just as it seemed to start, the President ended his speech, thanked the audience and waved goodbye. Surrounded by secret service, Obama shook hands with people in front as he was whisked away to his bullet-proof vehicle.
Me, I left through the same door I came through – quietly, unnoticed and without any security prods.