As fate would have it, my friend Kirk texted me the night before the President was going to be in town asking if, by chance, I would like one of his tickets to go as his ‘date’ to the rally. Being a workaholic most of the time I have missed, and regretted, opportunities to see presidential candidates, the Dalai Lama, and presidents and vice presidents who come through Iowa all the time. As it so happened, being rudely let go from my job less than 3 hours earlier, my calendar was suddenly free so I leapt on the chance.
This you need to know about going to see the President (and probably any big rally with free tickets).
- Your ticket does not guarantee you entry. It says so clearly on the ticket – I did not have a copy of the ticket before I got there, so I didn’t know this. Keep this in mind as you read the rest of my tips.
- Dress for the weather. You will be standing in lines…a lot. Chances are, you will be standing outside for hours. If it’s sunny? Wear sunscreen and bring extra, maybe bring a tube that’s almost gone so you can ditch it before you go through security. If it’s rainy? Bring a poncho or an umbrella – they won’t let you bring the umbrella past security, so bring one you’re willing to lose.
- Get there early. Ignore logic that says that there will be an early rush, and then a lull. That is terribly incorrect. If you want to get in? Get your butt there at open time and get in line – be ready to wait. Or find a way to get VIP tickets.
- Waiting is crucial, prepare for it, inside or out. It’s fun to watch the secret service agents…for a while. And chat up the people around you in line – you already have something in common if you’re standing around together.
- Dress for security. Carry as little as possible, be prepared to throw things away before you get to security, and for gods’ sake don’t bring a bag with you or you will slow everyone down.
- Bring snacks…and water. You may be standing around in lines for hours, maybe even 4 hours, with the sun beating down on your bare skin frying you to a crisp. Just sayin’. You’ll need to throw these away before you go through security too.
As you might guess, we did everything wrong. Neither of us had ever been to an event like this before. We didn’t show up at the first possible second so we were near the end of a huge winding line of ticket holders. I did not realize we would be outside, so I had worn a white (reflective) cotton tank top and linen pants and carried only my ticket – great for getting through security, zero protection from the blazing sun. I had anticipated we would get into the building, then sit in a stuffy auditorium for an hour while we waited for the President to arrive.
We stood in a line that barely crept towards the security checkpoint where I watched other people dawdle their way through security with their backpacks, mongo purses, etc. Because these folks took their sweet time we missed our chance for face time (from 50 feet away) with Mr. Obama. Half an hour before the speech it was clear we wouldn’t get into the auditorium, but there was promise of an overflow area outside where we could listen to the speech over speakers, and where the President would make a short appearance before the speech started. We were still about 50 feet away from the security checkpoint when they stopped letting people through because the president was on the lawn, speaking.
The entire time we were waiting in line there was a brisk breeze that was whipping my hair into my face and completely fooling me about the condition of my skin. It felt comfortable out there. And for a desk rat like me the only discomfort was from standing on my feet for so long.
When the President started to speak to the overflow area a bunch of the people ahead of us in line ran over to the fence barricade to get closer – so we slipped up right next to security, knowing we weren’t going to see squat from the fence, and we were in place when they finally re-opened the line after the President was safely inside the building.
I went through the security wand zip, zip. Kirk, though, learned the lesson about cleaning out your pockets before you get to the event. He managed to confound the nice officer with bug balm, a utility wrench that folds up into a keychain, books, change…a wide variety of pocket junk.
It was only when we were sitting down, in the sun again, to listen to the speech that I saw how red my shoulders were. Bright red. Holy crap. So was my face, and neck, but I didn’t know that yet.
We listened to the speech, and while I knew this already, our President is a great orator. The people around us were a very interesting mix of ages, styles, and modes of dress. There were kids, high school students, college students, middle aged folks, and retired folks. Some dressed up, some came casual; high heels to birks. There were crew cuts, hot pink dyed locks, gray hair, and pony tails.
Very few of them looked as burnt as I felt. Clearly they knew a little more about what they were doing.
After the speech we stopped at McDonald’s where we sucked down liquids and ran into a little boy in suit who was proudly telling everyone that he got to meet the president and shake his hand. Yeah, I was jealous.
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