No fence jumping; I walked through the guarded gate when static next summoned via guard house exterior speaker. On the approved list; my identification, credentials presented and accepted; White House Press Pass granted and swiped; told to continue through the opposite door; no further instruction. All seemingly routine.
However, when I stepped through the door onto the White House grounds, there were two sidewalks: on the right, descending to what looked like an old weathered and neglected green house; to my left, a walkway leading directly to my destination. As is my custom, I chose the Left path, straight to The People's House.
Reaching a military guard, who seemed perplexed to see me, he asked, is someone with you? No, I answered. He inquired about my destination. The East Room. Another glance around, he then, indicating the now infamous unlocked WH door, said the East Room was through the doors and to the left.
I continued, oh sir, would you please leave the umbrella outside. As it was a gift from my wife, I expressed concern about getting it back. He assured me, will do sir. Still I took the precaution of hiding it behind a large stone planter before entering.
Stepping inside The White House, I walked past two men, before pausing to enjoy the history surrounding me. Then, the second, Oh Sir. One of the men in black asked, is someone with you? No. Then , who told you to come in here? Indicating the door through which I had just come, without my umbrella, I answered, the guard. Looks followed toward outside uniform, each other, then back to me. Where are you going? The East Room. Right through those doors, as they pointed down a short hallway.
Thanking them, I walked past a stairway to the East Room entrance, entering the long rectangular room, much of which was roped off to keep TV cameras and reporters separated from VIPs.
Armed with Nikon, and in my pockets, MP3 recorder and Flip, I stepped up to the rope, and took it all in. Then a female voice said gently, oh sir, is someone with you? I answered I was here for the First Lady's anti-bullying forum. She told me it wasn't starting for at least another hour, so I decided a preemptive men's room strike was appropriate.
Retracing my steps to exit, she, slightly firmer said, oh sir, now that you're in here, you'll have to stay. Hmm, so using the slightly too high for leaning comfort, mantle, but perfect for Flip and MP3 positioning, I stayed, waited and standing.
By now Rachel, you've realized that your reporting on recent incursions into the White House, prompted me to tell my story. It's not to further embarrass the Secret Service who, in my case I guess, supposed, someone unaccompanied, walking in a non-threatening manner both outside and inside the White House, must be, well, somebody, but rather to point out how my visit ended -- providing whatever inkling of reassurance it may.
Enter the audience of DC luminaries, special guests who in part inspired Mrs. Obama's forum against all forms of bullying, then the First Lady and finally, arguably the least protected President of the United States, since John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama.
After the speeches, and Valerie Jarrett Q&A, it was over: media asked to wait for the room to clear, but, ultimately, giving up on conversing DC crowd, was herded out of the back East Room door and past the up stairway, where I left the parade to exit and retrieve my umbrella, o h sir... Explaining it was the way I had entered failed to assuage the young shepherd. So downstairs I went, ending up in a dank, smelling, over crowded holding area, with a cheap cardboard sign with an image of The White House above the inscription: The White House, Washington.
It was in this room that I photographed Laura Smalley who lost her 11-year old son Ty Field after two years of school bullying.
Waiting near the exit (two sets of old swinging doors), I felt the chill of the rainy day as people came and went, and decided to leave. Pushing through the two door pairs resembling a saloon exit, I spotted a sidewalk interview, and, not wanting to walk through it, again took the path less travelled, stopping only for exterior White House photo opts, which included my first, oh sir, military guard in the background.
To capture the White House through a tree with gnarly shaped limbs, I navigated around driveway puddles onto the soggy lawn. Raising my camera for the perfect shot, I was oh sir interrupted. this time so differently that instead of clicking the camera, I turned and saw a uniformed guard who asked simply, W hat are you doing? I began to explain the terrific shot I was about to get, when the Allstate's Dennis Haysbert-like voice said, D on't do that sir, walk toward me.
He looked both surprised and pleased to see my press pass, saying, T his is your first time here isn't it? Yes. He asked for my pass, deactivated it and then explained that while I had chosen the direct path to The White House, I should have stayed on the path from guard house to press room, adding: T he next time you're here, don't step off that path, ok sir? Yes sir.