Friday, March 18, 2011

Once Upon a Time...

Ronald Reagan waves to the press as he leaves Marines One on the South Lawn of the White House in 1984. Reagan here is returning from a trip, surrounded by aides (Press Secretary Larry Speakes is at far right, Michael Deaver walks toward the President, third from right) and Secret Service agents. A return from Camp David was a much simpler thing, with fewer people, no briefcases and suits worn rarely.

Scenes From the White House

Some time ago, when I was still on afternoon shift, I was handling the arrival of the President from Camp David, as I did each Sunday. It was a particularly quiet week, and nothing was pending in the news, so few reporters showed up to watch the regularly repeated scene.

On schedule, Marines One, the President's great green and white helicopter, swept around the Washington Monument and down to the White House grounds. As usual, the President stepped down and walked towards the Diplomatic Entrance of the mansion. However, unusually, the press had nothing to ask. The smaller than average crowd of journalists milled about, uncomfortable with having nothing to worry about, yet enjoying the fall sun.

Nonetheless, the President assumed questions were being shouted, questions he couldn't hear over the whine of the helicopter's motors. So, as he always did, he gestured with his hand to his ear, then shrugged. All in response to no questions whatsoever. It seemed almost Pavlovian.

BKY - 7/25/85

As indicated by the date above, this was written some 25 years ago, when I worked in the White House Press Office as a low lever staffer. I took to writing accounts like this as well as practice news stories to ensure my writing skills remained, as well as to document my experiences before I forgot the details.

I'm glad I did in this case, as I have told this anecdote often since, but over the years the details changed in my memory. I recalled the day being cold and dreary, the press pen filled with sullen photographers and only one reporter, dripping with drizzle, only there because they had to be. Turns out to have been a very pleasant day.

I think my writing form has changed little over time, and I'm not sure if I find that reassuring or disturbing. However, I think it lacks some descriptive flair, and in some places is too florid.

The picture was shot with a model III Leica and 90 mm lens on Tri-X. It was the first Leica I ever owned -- bought from it's first owner, an NIH chemist who bought it in Germany after World War II; I still have it.

(CORRECTION: In the caption on the top, I say Reagan is waving to the press. As I look at the image in large display, I can see his eyes are actually turned up to the Truman Balcony of the White House. Whenever he returned from traveling alone, Nancy would come out on the balcony to greet him upon landing. He is obviously waving to her.)