WASHINGTON – The last time I was at The White House was Oct. 22, 1977 during the early days of the Carter Administration. The reason I know this was because my mom saved the tickets from the tour signed by President Carter (he signed his name, “Jimmy”). I was just a little fella back then and apparently I tripped my sister on the east portico and she fell on her face.
I don’t remember that one or maybe I’m just blocking it.
Either way, The White House as it was in 1977 was very different from the visit I had with the press corps to watch the WFC Phillies be feted by President Barack Obama. For one thing no one nearly got killed during that trip in ’77 though there was that incident with my sister.
No, this time around the budding writing careers (as well as the lives) of a pair of baseball writers nearly came to an end at approximately 11:10 a.m. on Friday morning. That’s when David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News and Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, wandered into the West Wing…
Right past the Marine sentry…
Steps away from the Oval Office…
Where the President of the United States was receiving his daily economic briefing.
That’s when those two chuckle heads decided to take a private tour.
Actually, it was an honest mistake. It had to be, right? For those who have never traipsed past those wrought-iron gates and onto the White House grounds, it’s easy to see how someone could get confused. That’s especially the case with Murphy and Zolecki, two guys who are used to going wherever they want whenever they want. Access and credentials are something other people worry about – not those guys.
Anyway, the way it works is you say your name into an intercom at a gate on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the complex closest to Lafayette Park. Once the guard at the other end of the speaker hears your name and finds it on the all-important “list,” you show a guard a government-issued identification and if it checks out, you are buzzed into the security shack.
That’s where you empty your pockets of everything and put the contents into one of those containers you get at airport security so they can run it through the X-ray machine. Then you walk through the metal detector. If you set off the detector, like I did, you get wanded down. That’s where they found that I left Chap Stick in one pocket and a pen in another to confirm that, yes, I am a jackass.
But not nearly as bad as the two guys that walked right past the Marine sentry as if they were in a hurry to get to a policy briefing.
So how could Murphy and Zolecki stumble within feet of the leader of the free world like a pair of children wandering around in the woods without a care in the world? Who sees the straightest laced Marine with the crisp dark suit, sparkling white pants with matching gloves (on a muggy, swampy D.C. day, no less) and thinks, “Yes, there’s a Marine sentry guarding a door of the White House. That’s where I should go.”
Who does that?
Murphy and Zolecki, that’s who.
To be fair, one can see how they made the mistake. Once a person is admitted to the White House grounds, they must walk up a long driveway past a bank of TV cameras set up for live shots before rounding a slight bend and squaring up with the entrance to the West Wing. Now there are two things to know about this entrance, one is if there is a man in a sharp Marine uniform standing at the door with a serious demeanor, which means the President is in the vicinity.
Or, as President Obama said to RNC chairman Michael Steele at the White House Correspondent’s dinner, “In the hizzy.”
Rule two is, if there no Marine, the President is not in the West Wing or the Oval Office.
But instead of following the path around a copse of trees and to an area marked, “Press,” and “White House Briefing Room,” ol’ Butch and Sundance walked straight beneath an awning and directly to the door where the Marine was stationed
Now get this… the Marine opened it for them. In fact, the Marine did everything but snap off a strong salute. After all, who walks into the West Wing if they don’t belong there?
A couple of baseball writers, that’s who. One from Milwaukee and another who has had brushes with the law in the past.
Here’s the most important part of the story – the two guys not only were nearly killed in cold blood by the Marine who held the door open for them once the subterfuge was discovered (as well as by various trained sharpshooters with the pair in their sights and simply waiting for the go-ahead to pull the trigger), but they also were literally steps away from the Oval Office and the President.
That’s much too close.
Then again, we all got pretty close to the Oval Office when we were led through the Rose Garden to the South Lawn. It was quite a sight strolling out of the portico and looking to the right to see that same path where JFK and his brother Bobby conferred during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But as soon as we exited the narrow pathway where some delicate roses separated us from the President of the United States, we made a quick right and were presented with the vastness of the South Lawn as well as a stunning view of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial.
Looking out to the South Lawn immediately conjured the image of Nixon beating a hasty retreat aboard that helicopter as he was exiled from the White House after Watergate.
This was from the shadow of the Truman Balcony, which just so happens to be my favorite architectural facet of the exterior of the building. We stood facing this splendor as we waited for the Phillies and the President to make their appearance for a brief ceremony to honor the champs for a pretty big season.
Put it this way, it was definitely worth waking up early for.
Besides, it’s not every day you get to stand 10-feet away from the President of the United States as he walks over to Gary Matthews and says, “Yo, what’s up, Sarge,” and then gives him the hug.
Yes, Sarge with the President was almost as good as watching Heckle and Jeckyl disrupt American governance.
Link swiped from The Fightins (who, in turn, swiped it from us at CSN)