Motorcadin' With The President

On Monday and Tuesday I had the unique opportunity to be one of the drivers in President Barack Obama‘s motorcade during his 18-hour visit to Los Angeles this week.

Wait, WHAT?!

That’s right, I was one of nine people chosen (and vetted) to drive the vehicles in the President of the United States’ motorcade.

How It Happened
Last Wednesday, I got a call from Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti’s office, asking me if I was available to be a motorcade driver for the President’s upcoming visit. In March of 2009, I was offered a similar opportunity as an usher for one of his public appearances during Obama’s first visit to L.A. as president, but I regretfully declined, as I was going on my legendary vacation to Australia that day (Instead I referred the opportunity to two other friends of mine, who were able to do it).

Having working with them in the community for the past nine years, I have a great rapport with Garcetti’s office, and I’m friends with pretty much everyone in the staff, including the councilman himself. Garcetti, having been Obama’s Los Angeles campaign co-chair during the 2008 election and an invitee to the inauguration, among many other things, has close ties to the Obama administration. Nevertheless, I was totally honored to be even be offered the opportunity (After all, Obama and I go way back – I even organized the “Barackcycle” grassroots bike ride during his campaign and made a song about him after the election).

Of course, this being the President we’re dealing with, I was asked to submit my Date of Birth, Social Security Number and Driver’s License Number to the White House contact, who confirmed the information with me the next day.

On Saturday, he called me back giving me details, which I was not to divulge to anyone until the President has left town on Tuesday. I was to report to the Beverly Hilton Hotel at 12 noon on Monday, wear a suit and make sure I had my Driver’s License on me at all times. I asked Dan, the White House contact, “So, this means I passed the background check, right?”

“Correct,” he replied.

(Phew, if my record is good enough for the White House, then I guess I’m good for any potential employer…)

On Sunday, I bought myself new ties, socks and a dress shirt for the occasion in L.A.’s Fashion District. This is serious business!

Motorcade Monday
Monday came. Arrived at the Beverly Hilton just in time, where I met the group of eight other people, which included two friends of mine, Ryan Carpio and Billie Jean Londoño, both from Garcetti’s office – this made the experience less daunting and more fun.

We left to the parking garage where we were given the keys to white passenger vans, a Chevy Suburban and a black car. I was given the keys to a Ford van, dubbed “WIRE 1” for the motorcade. Other vehicle names included “CAMERA 1,” “STAFF,” “SUPPORT,” “GUEST” and “STRAGGLER” for the black car (the last vehicle in our caravan, assigned to pick up motorcade passengers who have been left behind).

We caravaned in traffic through Westwood and onto Brentwood where we followed each other closely, using our hazard lights as identification in case we got separated. Along the way, I noticed “NO PARKING” signs (Having been stung by the experience recently, I’ve learned to not overlook these things) along Wilshire, San Vicente and Barrington threatening tow-away most of the day Monday and Tuesday until 11 a.m. It suddenly dawned on me that this had to do with the motorcade.

We arrived at a park called Barrington Recreation Center, where we lined up our vehicles in two lines and left them as they were individually searched and inspected by Secret Service staff while we got lunch (And by the way, in addition to doing this task on a volunteer basis, we had to pay for our own meals; zero taxpayer dollars went to any of us).

The entire neighborhood knew the president would be in the vicinity; supporters wore Obama shirts and waved welcome signs, while the curious asked the group in suits if we had to do something with the president’s visit (“We might be, ma’am” I replied, donning shades to boot, enjoying the thought of being potentially intimidating) and if she was able to get home to her ailing husband by 5 p.m. (Another one of us assured her that she would be able to).

After lunch, we walked back to see crowds of neighbors form, all of them either excited about the president or just merely curious. We got a quick briefing by the Secret Service – all rather common-sense information, and then we were searched and detected. Each of us got to wear a lavender-and-white pin with a black letter “A” (presumably for Advance, the White House bureau who handles all presidential trip logistics) on it, signifying we passed muster and were allowed to be part of “the bubble.” Secret Service and higher staff wore pins with an “S” on it, granting even more access.

Marine One lands - or does it?

We got back into our vans and waited for the helicopters to arrive. At about 3:30, two U.S. Marine choppers landed on the baseball field of the recreation center, where the press and support staffers were being transported. Apparently transporting Air Force One passengers by helicopter was much less disruptive than closing down the 405 Freeway! Soon, two identical olive green-and-white choppers landed on the other side of the athletic field, one of them carrying the President of the United States, the other a decoy vehicle. I wasn’t able to discern which one had the president for sure other than the fact that the president’s vehicle came closer to one of them.

My van instantly filled up with camera- and laptop- wielding journalists, an ironic circumstance for a failed journalist like myself. The person in the front passenger seat was a woman named Katie who appeared to have some leadership or coordinating role with them, having inform them of their schedule and promising them “Starbucks runs” later on, of which they unanimously voiced to her their approval.

As the president’s vehicle left the field and went on to the parking lot, the motorcade was on! It was time to roll!

Crowds watch the Presidential Motorcade on Wilshire in Westwood.

The logic was simple: Just follow the car in front of you. We were also told to look out for motorcycle CHP officers who would be speeding on the left. If any suspicious incidents were to occur, we were told to let the authorities handle it. Common sense stuff.

We raced back the opposite way we came in: South on Barrington, southeast on San Vicente, east on Wilshire. We were going freeway speeds on the street, and for this relatively clean-record driver, it took a little getting used to the fact that we were supposed to ignore speed limits, stop signs and stoplights. Just follow the vehicle in front of you. About the only thing slowing me down was the gravitational forces governing the sharp radius of any street turns. In no time we were back in the Beverly Hilton, where President Obama was making a brief appearance – we weren’t told the details. We parked the vehicles in a line in the rear of the hotel off of Santa Monica Blvd, which was closed throughout the duration of his appearance at the hotel. We were led through the staff-only corridors of the hotel and on to a public lounge where we sat there for over an hour, waiting for our instructions, taking a restroom break, and making for bonding and conversation between us. We were all between our 20s and 50s, coming from different walks of life: students, artists, organizers, government staff. But all of us had some connection to politics.

It was time to roll again. We got into our vehicles, waited for our passengers to enter, then took off. Sped west on Santa Monica, south on Century Park West, east on Olympic. There were throngs of people, with either cameras or cellphones in hand, waving and cheering the motorcade, even after The Commander-In-Chief had long passed them. I drove stoically, wearing shades, but every once in a while would wave or flash a peace sign.

Then it hit me: THIS WAS A TOTAL FREAKING ADRENALINE RUSH! OMG! UNBELIEVABLE!

We blared through traffic lights regardless of color and even zipped past flashing red light cameras. This was probably my only opportunity to race through Los Angeles streets at 60 miles per hour and not only have law enforcement not stop you, but escort you. Part of me couldn’t believe it. The other part of me was all Double Rainbow Guy. But outside, I was relatively expressionless.

The radio was set to KNX 1070 AM and they reported all the traffic snarls due to the motorcade and reported on the location of the Presidential caravan. As other commuters were cussing and groaning, I was laughing inside at the thought of being partly responsible for the big local news story of the day (…and you would, too).

We were led to a house in Hancock Park at Hudson Ave and 4th Street, just a couple houses down from my familiar bicycling route (and the house of that Middle Eastern diplomat on the corner whose house is always watched by a security guard). Hudson filled up with vans, cars and motorcycles. The event was the political fundraiser at the residence of The West Wing producer John Wells, which was also attended by Mayor Villaraigosa (who fielded a Bicycle Summit earlier in the day) and Ryan’s and Billie Jean’s boss Garcetti.

Downtime was sort of tedious, but us drivers passed the time making great conversation. We were all well-educated, well-mannered, good-natured folks who knew what was going on and there was never any awkwardness between us. John, a tall, thin, African American in his 20s, mentioned that while driving the “STRAGGLER” car, he recalled a number of women waving as he drove by, half-jokingly implying he was probably mistaken for the president himself. He said he would occasionally wave back and hear them screaming.

The president leaves the John Wells fundraiser in Hancock Park. Which means it's time to move!

There were long moments of sitting in the van getting ready to leave, and waiting to leave. I almost nodded off a couple of times. But when it was time to go, the adrenaline kicked in and I was fully alert. This was serious business, after all.

The motorcade went back the same way it came in, and the residents of Hudson Avenue waited curiously to see the president and the vehicles make their way back as law enforcement watched and blocked every cross-street.

We arrived back at the Beverly Hilton in just a few minutes, where we ended our day. We returned the keys to Dan, our White House Advance coordinator, surrendered our “A” pins and headed home our separate ways.

I went home along Olympic, surrealistically coming to the realization that just hours ago I had raced down this street just yards behind the President of the United States.

Fortunately, I was so wiped out I went to sleep uncharacteristically early. Which was a great thing, since I had to report back to the hotel at 6:55 a.m.

Meet The Prez
On Tuesday I woke up at 5 a.m., and headed out the door by 6:20. There was absolutely no traffic on the streets of Los Angeles at that hour. Driving west on 3rd Street was so easy I felt like I had my own motorcade. I even had time to stop by Tully’s Coffee by Cedar’s Sinai for an espresso.

I arrived back in time and we headed back down into the hotel’s lower level. We overheard the words “president” and “photo” in the same sentence and the giddiness quotient rose amongst us.  We were told by Secret Service to hang out until he was done with his morning workout and waited in the Trader Vic’s lounge, where we just sat and chatted as customers had their breakfast.

Then we were led down the hall, entered a corridor and got searched. We entered a room where several law enforcement officials from various agencies stood and we briefly met with them but mostly chatted amongst ourselves.

And then we heard the words, “Here he comes.”

There was a man with a camera, then a tall blond woman, and then – President Barack Obama.

“Hello, everybody!” the president cheerfully said, while entering the room, and proceeded to shake the hand of Marshall, one of my fellow drivers. I had my camera on video mode but shut it off to switch to still mode. I was fourth in line. Before he shook my hand, he paused and commented on something to someone else in the room.

Meeting the President of the United States.

Then, standing right in front of me, the president introduced himself, shook my hand and as I introduced myself I said something along the lines of, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. President.”

Just before that moment, I handed my camera to Sara, the fellow driver to the right of me, who snapped a picture, though I was so caught up in the moment I didn’t even sense the flash go off. Then she handed it back to me and I tried to snap one towards her way but the moment happened all too fast, it was a picture of the president shaking Ryan’s hand while Sara’s chin was in the corner of the picture.

In person, the president, though considerably taller than me, looks “small,” mainly attributed to his slim, yet not emaciated, stature. If it weren’t for his height he would be a tiny person. It’s a rather peculiar paradox to describe.  When I shook his hand in February 2007, as a candidate and senator, he seemed like a “larger” person. But in terms of his personality, though I personally didn’t find his campaign speech that day three years ago that particularly moving, once he said his “Hello, everybody!” it was as if the room was powered by his charisma alone.

Me and the other eight drivers pose with President Obama.

All nine of us surrounded the president for a group shot, taken by a White House photographer. Matt, one of the drivers, had Dan take a digital shot with his own camera for now (apparently the White House pic would take a while to get to us).

We were told not to talk about any policy issues (the Ground Zero Mosque was brought up as an example) but it all went quickly. Earlier that morning I thought about the possibility of handing the president a CD of my “He’s-a Barack Obama” song, but just counted my blessings for now and stuck to the duty at hand. This was good enough.

Though I had shaken the hand of Senator Barack Obama, this was my first time meeting a sitting President of the United States. Wow.

Again: Wow.

I briefly broke my Twitter/Facebook embargo with an ambiguous and totally non-revealing  “WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” update.

We left the room to report back to our vehicles, already filled with passengers. I passed by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke on the way to my WIRE 1 van.

And then we were off. ADRENALINE TIME!

En route, without much conversation I had Katie shoot video of the motorcade on the road and me driving. I mean, hey, I needed some proof! This was my fourth and final motorcade trip and the sight of crowds and onlookers en route was a familiar one by now. I guess I had grown into my “job” already. We returned to the Barrington Recreation Center where the press pool quickly emptied the vehicle and hopped into their Marine helicopter. So did the Commerce Secretary and the President as well. The choppers took off, very reminiscent of that scene in Avatar with those air assault vehicles, and headed off to LAX where they would board Air Force One and head to Washington — State, that is. Next stop: Seattle.

Our mission was not officially done until we heard “Wheels Up” – which meant Air Force One was totally airborne. After that point it was okay to tell people about our little job for the past two days. I called my mom and told her I met the President. The law enforcement and emergency personnel were all packing up and leaving as well.

We caravaned – in traffic – to the West L.A. Avis and carpooled back to the Beverly Hilton where Dan thanked us for our duty and we surrendered our “A” pins. We were civilians again. As we parted, We exchanged business cards and email addresses and confirmed we were on Facebook. There would be some new FB friends and tags to be made soon!

What an experience and what a unique way to serve our country, and what stories we would tell our own friends and loved ones later on. I hope the folks who get to do this in Seattle today have just as much fun as we did. I’m sure they will.

The number one question people have asked me was, “How did you get this opportunity?” In short, it’s because of all my volunteer community organizing work through the years and the friends, connections and alliances I’ve made along the way.

Often times I’ve wondered, for every poorly-attended (in spite of all the work that went into it) community meeting I’ve planned, every night I had to stay up until 5 a.m. to do preparatory work for an event, every piece of trash I bend over to pick up at a community beautification event, every time people I’ve had to depend on flake or bail out on me on a community project, every time I try to sell the notion of “community” to someone who just doesn’t “get it,” each time my head aches, heart breaks, sweat drips or blood lets – whether any of that was ever worth it.

And you know what? I guess it really is.

On Monday and Tuesday I had the unique opportunity to serve my country by volunteering as a driver in

President Obama’s motorcade during his 18-hour visit to Los Angeles this week.

Whoa, hold up! All those traffic jams in the Westside during Monday’s rush hour?

Yeah, that…was me!

Last Wednesday, I got a call from Los Angeles city Council President Eric Garcetti’s office, asking me if I

was available to be a motorcade driver for the President’s upcoming visit. In March of 2009, I was offered a

similar opportunity as an usher for one of his public appearances during Obama’s first visit to L.A. as

President, but I regretfully declined, as I was going on my vacation to Australia that day (Instead I referred

the opportunity to two other friends of mine, who were able to do it).

Having working with them in the community for the past nine years, I have a great rapport with Garcetti’s

office, and I’m friends with pretty much everyone in the staff, including the councilman himself. Garcetti,

having been Obama’s Los Angeles campaign co-chair during the 2008 election and an invitee to the inauguration,

among many other things, has close ties to the Obama administration. Nevertheless I was totally honored to be

even be offered the opportunity (After all, Obama and I go way back – I even organized a grassroots bike ride

during his campaign and made a song about him after the election).

Of course, this being the President we’re dealing with, I was asked to submit my Date of Birth, Social

Security Number and Driver’s License Number to the White House contact, who confirmed the information with me

the next day.

On Saturday, he called me back giving me details, which I was not to divulge to anyone until the President has

left town on Tuesday. I was to report to the Beverly Hilton Hotel at 12 noon on Monday, wear a suit and make

sure I had my Driver’s License on me at all times. I asked Dan, the White House contact, “So, this means I

passed the background check, right?” “Correct.”

(Phew, if my record is good enough for the White House, then I guess I’m good for any potential employer!)

On Sunday, bought new ties, socks and a dress shirt for the occasion in L.A.’s Fashion District. This is

serious business!

Monday

Monday came. Arrived at the Beverly Hilton just in time, where I met the group of eight other people, which

included two friends of mine, Ryan Carpio and Billie Jeal Londoño, both from Garcetti’s office – this made the

experience less daunting and more fun.

We left to the parking garage where we were given the keys to white passenger vans, a Chevy Suburban and a

black car. I was given the keys to a Ford van, dubbed “WIRE 1” for the motorcade. Other vehicle names included

“CAMERA 1,” “STAFF,” “SUPPORT,” “GUEST” and “STRAGGLER” for the black car (the last vehicle in our caravan,

assigned to pick up motorcade passengers who have been left behind).

We caravaned in traffic through Westwood and onto Brentwood where we followed each other closely, using our

hazard lights as identification in case we got separated. Along the way, I noticed “NO PARKING” signs (Having

been stung by the experience recently, I’ve learned to not ignore these things) along Wilshire, San Vicente

and Barrington threatening tow-away most of the day Monday and Tuesday until 11 a.m. It suddenly dawned on me

that this had to do with the motorcade.

We arrived at a park called Barrington Recreation Center, where we lined up our vehicles in two lines and left

them as they were individually searched and inspected by Secret Service staff while we got lunch (And by the

way, in addition to doing this task on a volunteer basis, we had to pay for our own lunch; no taxpayer dollars

went to any of us).

The entire neighborhood knew the President would be in the vicinity; supporters wore Obama shirts and waved

welcome signs, while the curious asked the group in suits if we had to do something with the President’s visit

(“We might be,” I replied, donning shades to boot) and if she was able to get home to her ailing husband by 5

p.m. (Another one of us assured her that she would be able to).

After lunch, we walked back to see crowds of neighbors form, all of them either excited about the president or

just merely curious. We got a brief briefing by the Secret Service – all rather common-sense information, and

then we were searched and detected. Each of us got to wear a lavender-and-white pin with a black letter “A” on

it, signifying we passed muster and were allowed to be part of “the bubble.” Secret service and higher staff

wore pins with an “S” on it, granting even more access.

We got back into our vans and waited for the helicopters to arrive. At about 3:30, two U.S. Marine choppers

landed on the baseball field of the recreation center, where the press and support staffers were being

transported. Apparently transporting Air Force 1 passengers by helicopter was much less disruptive than

closing down the 405 Freeway! Soon, two identical olive green-and-white choppers landed on the other side of

the athletic field, one of them carrying the President of the United States, the other a decoy vehicle. I

wasn’t able to discern which one had the President for sure other than the fact that the President’s vehicle

came closer to one of them.

My van instantly filled up with camera- and laptop- wielding journalists, an ironic circumstance for a failed

journalist like myself. The person in the front passenger seat was a woman named Katie who appeared to have

some leadership or coordinating role with them, having inform them of their schedule and promising them

“Starbucks runs” later on, of which they unanimously voiced to her their approval.

As the President’s vehicle left the field and went on to the parking lot, the motorcade was on! It was time to

roll!

The logic was simple: Just follow the car in front of you. We were also told to look out for motorcycle CHP

officers who would be speeding on the left. If any suspicous incidents were to occur, we were told to let the

authorities handle it. Common sense stuff.

We raced back the opposite way we came in: South on Barrington, southeast on San Vicente, east on Wilshire. We

were going freeway speeds on the street, and for this relatively clean-record driver, it took a little getting

used to the fact that we were supposed to ignore speed limits, stop signs and stoplights. Just follow the

vehicle in front of you. About the only thing slowing me down was the gravitational forces governing the sharp

radius of any street turns. In no time we were back in the Beverly Hilton, where President Obama was making a

brief appearance – we weren’t told the details. We parked the vehicles in a line in the rear of the hotel off

of Santa Monica Blvd, which was closed throughout the duration of his appearance at the hotel. We walked

through the staff-only corridors of the hotel and on to a public lounge where we sat there for over an hour,

waiting for our instructions, taking a restroom break, and making for bonding and conversation between us.

We came from different walks of life: students, artists, organizers, government staff. But all of us had some

connection to politics.

It was time to roll again. We got int our vehicles, waited for our passengers to enter, then took off. Sped

west on Santa Monica, south on Century Park West, east on Olympic. There were throngs of people, with either

cameras or cellphones in hand, waving and cheering the motorcade, even after The Commander-In-Chief had long

passed them. I drove stoically, wearing shades, but every once in a while would wave or flash a peace sign.

Then it hit me: THIS WAS A TOTAL ADRENALINE RUSH! OMG! UNBELIEVABLE!

We blared through traffic lights regardless of color and even zipped past flashing red light cameras. This was

probably my only opportunity to race through Los Angeles streets at 60 miles per hour and not only have law

enforcement not stop you, but escort you. Part of me couldn’t believe it. The other part of me was all Double

Rainbow Guy. Outside, I was relatively expressionless.

The radio was set to KNX 1070 AM and they reported all the traffic snarls due to the motorcade and reported on

the location of the Presidential caravan. As other commuters were cussing and groaning, I was laughing inside

at the thought of being part of the big local news story of the day (…and you would, too).

We were led to a house in Hancock Park at Hudson Ave and 4th Street, just a couple houses down from my

familiar bicycling route (and the house of that Middle Eastern diplomat on the corner whose house is always

watched by a security guard). Hudon filled up with vans, cars and motorcycles. The event was the political

fundraiser event at the residence of The West Wing producer John Wells, which was also attended by Mayor

Villaraigosa and Ryan’s and Billie Jean’s boss Garcetti.

Downtime was sort of tedious, but us drivers passed the time making great conversation. We were all well-

educated, well-mannered, good-natured folks who knew what was going on and there was never any awkwardness

between us. John, a tall, thin, African American in his 20s, mentioned that while driving the “STRAGGLER” car,

he recalled a number of women waving as he drove by, half-jokingly implying he was probably mistaken for the

President. He said he would occasionally wave back and hear them screaming.

There were long moments of sitting in the van getting ready to leave, and waiting to leave. I almost nodded

off a couple of times. But when it was time to go, the adrenaline kicked in and was fully alert. This was

serious business, after all.

The motorcade went back the same way it came in, and the residents of Hudson Avenue waited curiously to see

the President and the vehicles make their way back as law enforcement watched and blocked every cross-street.

We arrived back at the Beverly Hilton in just a few minutes, where we ended our day. We returned the keys to

Dan, our White House Advance coordinator, surrendered our “A” pins and headed home our separate ways.

I went home along Olympic, surrealistically coming to the realization that just hours ago I had raced down

this street just yards behind the President of the United States.

Fortunately, I was so wiped out I went to sleep uncharacteristically early. Which was a great thing, since I

had to report back to the hotel at 6:55 a.m.

On Tuesday I woke up at 5 a.m., and headed out the door by 6:20. There is absolutely no traffic on the streets

of Los Angeles at that hour. Driving west on 3rd Street was so easy I felt like I had my own motorcade. I even

had time to stop by Tully’s Coffee by Cedar’s Sinai for an espresso.

I arrived back in time and we headed back down. We overheard the words “President” and “photo” in the same

sentence and the giddiness level rose amongst us.  We were told by Secret Service to hang out until he was

done with his morning workout and waited in the Trader Vic’s lounge, where we just sat and chatted as

customers had their breakfast.

Then we were led down the hall, entered a corridor and got searched. We entered a room where several law

enforcement officials from various agencies stood and we briefly met with them but mostly chatted amongst

ourselves.

And then we heard the words, “Here he comes.”

There was a man with a camera, then a tall blond woman, and then – President Barack Obama.

“Hello, everybody!” the president said, while entering the room, and proceeded to shake the hand of Marshall,

one of my fellow drivers. I had my camera on video mode but shut it off to switch to still mode. I was 4th in

line. Before he shook my hand, he paused and commented on something to someone else in the room.

Then he introduced himself, shook my hand and I introduced myself and said something along the lines of, “It’s

an honor to meet you, Mr. President.”

I handed my camera to Sara, the fellow driver to the right of me, who snapped a picture, though I was so

caught up in the moment I didn’t even sense the flash go off. Then she handed it back to me and I tried to

snap one towards her way but these things happen so fast it was a picture of the President shaking Ryan’s hand

while Sara’s chin was in the corner of the picture.

All nine of us surrounded the President for a group shot, taken by a White House photographer. Matt, one of

the drivers, had Dan take a digital shot as well for now (apparently the White House pic would take a while to

get to us).

We were told not to talk about any policy issues (the Ground Zero Mosque was brought up as an example) but it

all went quickly. Earlier that morning I thought about the possibility of handing the President a CD of my

“He’s-a Barack Obama” song, but just counted my blessings for now and stuck to the duty at hand. This was good

enough. Though I had shaken the hand of Senator Barack Obama, this was my first time meeting a sitting

President of the United States. Wow.

Again: Wow.

I briefly broke my Twitter/Facebook embargo with an ambiguous “WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” update, yet still

not referencing the situation by any means.

We left the room to report back to our vehicles, already filled with passengers. I passed by Secretary of

Commerce Gary Locke on the way to my WIRE 1 van.

And then we were off. Adrenaline time.

En route, without much conversation I had Katie shoot video of the motorcade on the road and me driving. I

mean, hey, I needed some proof! Ths was my fourth and final motorcade trip and the sight of crowds and

onlookers en route was an already familiar one. I guess I’d grown into my “job” already. We returned to the

Barrington Recreation Center where the press pool quickly emptied the vehicle and hopped into their Marine

helicopter. So did the Commerce Secretary and the President as well. The choppers took off, very reminiscent

of that scene in Avatar with those air vehicles, and headed off to LAX where they would board Air Force One

and head to Washington — State, that is. Next stop: Seattle.

Our mission was not officially done until we heard “Wheels Up” – which meant Air Force One was totally

airborne. After that point it was okay to tell people about our little job for the past two days. I called my

mom and told her I met the President. The law enforcement and emergency personnell were all packing up and

leaving as well.

We caravanned – in traffic – the West L.A. Avis and carpooled back to the Beverly Hilton where Dan thanked us

for our duty and we surrendered our “A” pins. We were civilians again. As we parted, We exchanged business

cards and email addresses and confirmed we were on Facebook. There would be some new FB friends and tags to be

made soon!

What an experience and what a unique way to serve our country, and what storeis we would tell our own friends

and loved ones later on. I hope the folks who get to do this in Seattle today have just as much fun as we did.

I’m sure they will.

The number one question people have asked me was, “How did you get this opportunity?” In short, it’s because

of all my volunteer community organizing work through the years and the friends, connections and alliances

I’ve made along the way.

Often times I’ve wondered, for every poorly-attended (in spite of all the work that went into it) community

meeting I’ve planned, every night I had to stay up until 5 a.m. to do preparatory work for an event, every

piece of trash I bend over to pick up at a community beautification event, every time people I’ve had to

depend on flake or bail out on me, every time I try to sell the notion of “community” to someone who just

doesn’t “get it” – whether any of that was ever worth it.

And you know what? I guess it really is.

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