President Obama didn’t take The Rivard Report up on our invitation to give him a tour of Geekdom, but as it turns out, The White House entourage was a few drivers short for last week’s one-day fundraising visit to San Antonio. A member of Geekdom was recruited as a volunteer and welcomed into the “bubble,” the president’s motorcade. This article contains sensitive security information. Please share.
By Winslow Swart
One major item not found on my Bucket List was this: Drive the lead support vehicle in the President’s Motorcade. This is largely due to not having a bucket list – I deem them to be rather macabre. If I did have a bucket list, I just do not think this would have occurred to me as something you could plan for. That being said, it did happen and in addition to the 80 MPH bumper-to-bumper exhilaration of escorting the President from one end of our great city to the other, I learned a few things.
The White House’s confirmation e-mail assigning me to drive in the Presidential Motorcade said, “hand-selected” to serve the President of the United States. I have no idea what the security clearance measures consisted of, but I felt pretty legit. Several paragraphs followed stating required duties, responsibilities and protocols. Including the dress code: MIB.
The morning consisted of clean-sweeping vehicles and personnel, including the “donning of the lapel pin” ceremony. The special pin allowed one to be in secured areas near the President of the United States. The motivational commencement speech was delivered by a senior Secret Service agent who looked like Kevin Costner: “You lose that pin and you are going to have a very, very bad day!” I promptly applied tape to the backing of my pin. Martial arts training or not, I really did not feel like getting my ass kicked by 50 Secret Service men in front of the national press corps.
My position in the motorcade was to drive the lead support van, right behind Presidential Limo One and Two and the Secret Service’s anti-terrorist tactical team. Actually, there were two Secret Service vehicles between mine and the President’s, and sometimes there were three.
The tactical team leader had some helpful words for me: “We are highly likely to do some bat-shit crazy driving. You stay with POTUS, and under no circumstances follow us when we swerve out of formation ‘cause we’re gonna’ be looking for bad guys.” After that, I kept my eye on agents flashing a lot of two finger “I see you” and “watch me signs,” their AR-15 automatic rifles occasionally visible. Watching these guys, I had my very own action-adventure feature film going on in front of me all day.
As we awaited Air Force One’s final approach, I looked out the side window of my assigned F-350 passenger van and what I saw stopped me for a moment. The Presidential Limos had pulled up and were parked right alongside me. I think I might’ve said, “Whoa!” out loud. That was the moment of realization that this was no longer play.
President Barack Obama’s (“The Boss,” as his advance team refers to him) appearance at the top of the stairway was the first of many Presidential moments on this day, and I was excited to have a (moving) front row seat. At the bottom of the stairs, The President was greeted by re-election co-chairs U.S. Rep. Charles Gonzalez and Mayor Julián Castro, along with state Rep. Joaquín Castro. The usual press and guest meet and greet followed and then we were off. It was “Go-Time!”
Our motorcade had fully unimpeded routing throughout the city’s streets and highways. Hundreds of police motorcade vehicles saw to that. Closely tailing the Presidential Limo and advanced security team at high speeds, without the usual traffic constraints on my daily driving routes, was absolutely awesome.
Meeting the President of our great nation was an honor I had not had since President Clinton. This occasion was a bit more formal, and I felt very connected to the power of the moment. When we met, I shook his hand, we exchanged greetings and he asked my name. After our official group photo-op with the President we returned to the motorcade. A few steps away from POTUS, I turned and looked back and he was looking me as well. We smiled and exchanged a head nod and subtle fist pump gesture, not unlike that exchanged between two basketball players after an assist and a slam dunk. It was a very nice, unforgettable moment.
There was a very interesting, maybe even surprising, peek into human behavior during this adventure. When it comes to the Presidential Motorcade, people act pretty much the same everywhere you go. The Domion-aires, with their McMansions and Bentleys, had the same curbside reactions and behaviors as those lining the streets near and around downtown. After several waiting hours in the hot South Texas sun, all held up their camera phones, cheered in support or protest, and pretty much universally wanted to catch a glimpse of the President and his motorcade. The main difference was the folks on Cesar Chavez Boulevard in their T-shirts and shorts stood a better chance of survival in the heat than did their pin-point clad counterparts on Dominion Drive.
The next two legs of the journey were equally intense and exciting – from the Convention Center, to the Dominion, and then back to Air Force One. On our return to San Antonio International I realized something out of the ordinary. It was quiet. Air traffic had been shut down. Oddly, neither myself, nor the other drivers noticed this fact in the morning, and we had been there for hours. Must’ve been all the excitement.
I did not realize how much focused energy was being tapped during the course of the day, driving under intense conditions and having to be alert and aware of so many minutiae, until I hit the rack that night. After a few posts on Facebook (we were social media quiet all-day) I slept quite soundly.
Winslow Swart is the Kyoshi Sensei of Kenseido, Chief Inspiration Officer at Winslow Consulting and hangs his mysterious dark glasses at Geekdom in San Antonio.