Sunday, March 24, 2013

POTUS in Jordan

I'll probably split this into several posts, because I have a ton of pictures and a slow internet connection. But in the interest of giving my father-in-law something to read over breakfast, I figure I should get something up on the blog quick.

So. Maybe you heard that POTUS came to town? When POTUS decides to make a move, it's a pretty big deal for the entire Embassy. There are meetings to plan and schedules to make and reporters to coddle and tons and tons and tons of White House staff and secret service people and cars and helicopters and computers and stuff you never would have thought of moving back and forth across the country. 

My office was pretty heavily involved in the visit because there were over 100 reporters showing up from the U.S. alone to cover the event. And the President was planning to move from the airport to the palace to the hotel to the airport to Petra and back and every single time he moves all of those reporters go with him in a gigantic circus caravan of craziness that is orchestrated by press people who hang on to their wits by a mere thread and wow is it ever exhausting keeping up with all of them. So every single person in my office got tasked to cover a specific site.

And that is how I ended up being named as the "Queen Alia Airport Press Control Officer," which is a very fancy way of saying that I spent the entire weekend at the airport trying to look as press-y as possible.

Our Jordanian counterparts offered to set up a tent at the Royal Pavilion, which is where all of the airport action took place. They figured we'd need a place to get out of the sun, I guess. So I pictured, you know, a tent. Maybe nylon, or canvas, with some folding chairs and a cooler for sodas? Maybe a zip-out window like those fancy camping tents have?

Apparently, though, Jordanians take their tents seriously. Because this is what we got:

One of the secret service guys commented that it was nicer than the place where he held his wedding reception. They had waiters setting up a buffet, so I promptly stashed my granola bars and tootsie rolls deep in my purse and decided that I had the best press site in town. It was BYOStarbucks, but I had that covered on my own, as the picture above clearly shows. (Aside: one of the lead secret service guys offered me 20JD for my coffee. I think he was probably kidding. But seeing as he was armed, I decided to bring him his own coffee the next day. He offered to "smooch" me. That's right: I may be old, but I still got it! Coffee, that is.)

The day started out beautifully. We had to get there at a gawd-awful early hour to meet the press plane and get all 100+ reporters safely aboard buses and off to their hotel. Not a problem, except the crown prince's plane landed at the same time as the press plane (I guess there's a reason it's called the Royal Pavilion?), so our reporters were trapped on the tarmac while we waited for the prince's security detail to whisk him away.

Eventually, however, our plane doors opened and my first task of the day began. I stood at the base of the stairs and repeated, over and over, "Welcome to Jordan! Please take any of the last three buses, folks. Any of the last three buses..." while gesturing broadly toward aforementioned buses. I'm telling you what: that right there is why I decided to get a Master's degree. It was grueling. But never once did I slip up and forget my lines. I'm smart like that.

Once we got them all out of the airport, we went back to the tent to wait. And wait. And wait. I sat there and read my book and drank my Starbucks and chatted up about a million guys with guns strapped all over their bodies. As we sat, the wind started to pick up, prompting many a joke about just how well the tent was bolted into the tarmac. It felt like it was going to up and blow away. After awhile I decided to head into the main building to get out of the wind, and when I looked out of the tent flaps, this is what I saw:

It was like a good day in China.

So all of that dust pushed the arrival time back, which meant we were going to wait some more. The helicopter pilots started fretting about the weather, which was apparently bad enough to ground them, should they be needed, and contingency plans were drawn up in case the next day's trip to Petra had to be cancelled. None of that concerned my press work, however, so I continued to sit. And wait. And wait some more.

Eventually it was time to meet the press - a busload of local reporters arrived, and my job was to get them through security, badge them up and wrangle them into the tent without losing any of them. This my colleague and I managed without a hitch, until one of the cameramen needed to use the restroom. It turned out we ourselves were never properly badged, and so the new secret service guy standing in front of the tent wouldn't let us out.

"Help," I emailed my White House press counterpart, "I seem to be under tent arrest."

She showed up eventually with badges that made us official and we were released from our tent-prison, just in time to get our photographers up on their podium. We had to explain to them that they couldn't move off of the podium once up there, or they would likely be tackled by secret service agents. And then we had to stand next to them and keep reminding them that, seriously, don't move, because that one guy alone has like 16 guns strapped to his leg, never mind the rest of his body.

See them down there, surrounded by scary armed people? That's the red carpet to nowhere, off to the right, waiting for Air Force One to pull up.

Meanwhile, as we were getting our press guys set up, the motorcade was moving into position. I haven't seen that many fancy cars all in a neat row since Shay was a 3-year-old with OCD and a Matchbox car obsession. One of the DS guys explained to me the significance of each car in the row and all I can say is, these people are prepared for any contingency at all. Seriously. If the President decides to pull off to the side of the road for a cappuccino, he'll probably find a coffee cart 10 cars back.

There's his car right there. Keep in mind that I don't have much of a zoom on my camera.

Finally, the moment we'd all been waiting (and waiting!) for: wheels down! And everyone turns tourist at that point - except for the secret service, of course. We were all just snapping picture after picture as that big ole plane with "United States of America" emblazoned on the side rolled right up to our group.

The Royal Honor Guard moved into place, flashing guns-with-knives-attached as they marched in formation. Wonder how the secret service liked that?

They marched right behind the stair truck thingee, which drove up to the plane in order to allow one guy to deplane. All this fuss, when you get down to it, was for just that one man alone.

And there he is! What? You can't see him? Right about then I was thinking I should have bought a camera with a longer zoom. But he's there, off to the left, I promise. Secretary Kerry is there, too.

There you go. You can see him there, right? Right?

Moments later, he was gone, along with the entire motorcade, speeding down the road to the palace. The luggage people moved in, the press moved out, and I took an opportunity to snap a photo of me: the closest I'll likely ever be to Air Force One.

Okay, then. Father-in-law? Is that enough for one breakfast? How about if I finish this story tomorrow? Ish. Tomorrow-ish. Because I've taken about three showers since POTUS left Jordan, and I still haven't managed to wash all of the dust storm grit out of my hair. I think it's time for shower #4 and a long nap.


Popster said... [Reply]

Nice handbag, but it isn't color coordinated.

Naomi Hattaway said... [Reply]

That dust! I'm sure you did so well at your job!! Very cool, chicka!

Please. Write your own stuff.