Actually, it was more like "The Day the White People Came" when Bill Clinton and his entourage of young Caucasians descended on our inner-city neighborhood. The park across from our office was the site of an official Overly Long Presidential Speech during
Earth Week, and we were just a "stones throw" away from the First Person. ("No, officer, I swear that I would never actually throw a stone at the president. Can I get up now?")
We knew something unusual was going to happen when, days before, teams of workers toiled feverishly to clean, trim, paint, and generally tidy up the place. Not that were complaining. This park is already one of the most beautiful in Washington, D.C., thanks to neighbors who worked tirelessly to reclaim it from the usual sources of urban deterioration: neglect, crime, and fear. [Editors Reminder: This is a humor column. So get on with it.] But back to the proceedings.
Our workday began with climbing around and over various police barricades to reach the office. The stone-faced guys in suits were everywhere. By the way, why do Secret Service people always wear suits? If I were president Id want them in jogging shorts and Reeboks. I mean, how fast can you run in a tie?
The Sojourners staff was busy not working anyway, so we gathered on the balcony overlooking the park. We decided to make a powerful witness by grabbing a banner to hang over the balcony, hoping that Clinton would see it and alter the course of his presidency. Banners can do that, you know.
Unfortunately it said "No War in the Persian Gulf." So we found a more general one (see photo below) that movingly proclaims: "Let Justice Roll Down Like No Parking on Mondays."
Our office had been given one pass into the park, which, in the spirit of true Christian community, the editors were arguing over. However, I pointed out that as principal photographer for Sojourners, I should get the privilege (a view later confirmed by the compelling Life magazine-quality pictures you see on this page).
Of course, even with a pass, it wasnt easy getting in. I had to walk through a veritable gauntlet of grumpy, stern-faced personnel. And that was just the magazine staff.
Once in the park I was free to roam and soak up wisdom from those who rub elbows with the powerful. One well-dressed young man was holding court with several attentive young women: "Well, I dont work at the White House per se. But I did work for the first transition team before the actual transition team came in...phones, mostly."
Also present for the festivities were some of the most important environmental leaders in this country, people whose selfless efforts have raised the consciousness of a nation. I forget their names, however, because Chevy Chase was there.
For some reason a number of Hollywood types showed up, including Dennis Weaver and three TV actresses. I didnt recognize them, since they arent on The Simpsons, but their fans knew them and there were several moments of frenzied autograph seeking. (By the way, do all television stars have artificial teeth? These people look beautiful, rich, and completely happy, but when they smile their gums look...sort of odd.)
Vice President Gore was the first on the program; he spoke about the environment. Clinton was next and spoke about an hour. (Not that his speech was long, but birds raised their young before he was finished.) The president spoke movingly about the three important elements of environmental awareness: respect, commitment, and...something else.
By the way, you know how some famous people sometimes look shorter in person? Bill Clinton looks redder. And Al Gore has a bald spot. Its a good thing I went in person or I would have missed stuff like that.