Susan and I went to DC to attend a dinner at the White House in honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and what a time it was! When I mentioned it here last week, I said I thought it might be a hoax. It was not.
We arrived in DC Monday morning, with a rented tux and a pink ball gown. We visited with a friend in the afternoon and had fun riding the Metro. We continued to joke about the possibility of it being a hoax, and I even picked out a restaurant we’d have dinner at if we needed to.
By about 5:00, though, it was time to get serious and prepare for the big event. We showered and dressed, and ended up out front of the hotel about 6:00 to catch a cab. We decided it was too early, and went back into the lobby for a glass of wine with other guests. We were a bit out of place in our black-tie evening wear, but it made for an interesting conversation starter: “What are you guys dressed up for?” “Well, ...”!
6:15, we head out to a taxi, and drive to the 15th and Hamilton entrance to the White House. We get out of the cab in the 85-degree heat, and start walking through the White House park toward the entrance. Looking around, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else dressed up, and we start to get nervous we were in the wrong place.
But up ahead are four people in serious suits, with ear-pieces and clipboards, so we go talk to them. We hand them our driver’s licenses, and they look through their lists, and tell us that Susan is on the list, but I am not! When the serious guy with the shades then says to step to the side, I stepped, pretty quick! We stood on the cobblestones and watched as a stream of black limos carried properly-credentialed luminaries up the driveway.
One of the men takes my license into the shack and comes back about five minutes later and says we are all set to go in. We’ll discover later that I had been on the list as Ned Senator, rather than Ned Batchelder. Although we had to provide our Social Security numbers when we RSVP’d, I guess the background check was not thorough enough to discover my last name!
We walk up the driveway, and up to the East Entrance of the White House. It’s really happening. At the door, we meet Tim Shriver, who had put us on the guest list in the first place. One of the surprising things about the entire evening was how friendly everyone was.
The staff to guest ratio for the evening must have been close to 1-to-1. Although many of the staff we encountered must have been Secret Service, or at the very least elite and highly trained military, they were all extremely welcoming and gracious. For example, the security at the White House must be extremely tight, but it felt much less heavy-handed than at a typical airport.
We passed through a metal detector, but we handed handbags and pocket contents to a staff person who simply took them and handed them back to us after we passed through the detector. They didn’t open the bags, or x-ray anything. It’s hard to imagine they didn’t care what was in the bags, so maybe they had unseen ways of knowing what was in them? In any case, we were immediately made to feel welcome.
We walked down a long hallway lined with Presidential memorabilia, walked upstairs, and were in the heart of the White House. Dozens of waiters were handing out drinks, and we were shown into the East Room. There weren’t many people in there, but they gradually started filling the room.
In no particular order, here are people we saw or met during the evening:
- The President
- The First Lady
- Barbara Walters
- Ted Kennedy
- Tim Russert
- Tom Harkin
- Peter Lynch
- Maria Shriver
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Steve Case
- Vanessa Williams
- Scott Hamilton
- Bart Conner
It was kind of overwhelming seeing all these people in the flesh, but it somehow became kind of routine, too. “Oh look, there’s Barbara Walters. Of course, sure, why not?”
After mingling around in the East Room, we were gently encouraged to line up to have our picture taken with the President. We each had a “photo card” with our names, address, and caption text. Aides asked us to check the information to be sure everything was correct. I fixed my name, and made the caption read, “Susan Senator and Ned Batchelder”. We inched our way forward, through the Green Room, and caught sight of the President and First Lady in the Blue Room.
Two photos ahead of us in the line was Ted Kennedy. After having his photo taken, he talked with the President for about ten minutes. The half-dozen aides in the room whose job it was to move things along, were clearly anxious to get to the next photo, but the President wasn’t ending the conversation, and Ted certainly wasn’t going to.
The aide who took our card asked how we should be introduced. Should I be Susan’s guest, or Susan’s husband, he asked. No detail was overlooked. We were told where to stand (Susan between Bush and Eunice Shriver, me to Mrs. Bush’s right), and who’s hand to shake when.
When the time came to shake hands and stand for the photo, I’m not actually sure what I said to the President or Mrs. Bush. I stood where I was told, and the camera flashed twice. Susan says Bush reminded her where to stand, and she said she forgot what to do, and he said it was hard to remember everything.
(Note from the future:) The photo arrived in August:
Then we were ushered into the Red Room, and on to dinner.
Continued in part 2.
BTW: more photos from the adventure are on Tabblo: