Busted

Female in Pink from Texas

My trip to our nation’s capital in April 2006 was especially memorable on many levels.  The cherry trees bloomed for one thing.  But another experience trumped that sensational eye-candy.

I was there for a legislative conference about mortgage finance and had been in meetings all day.  A crisis at the office in Texas kept me on the phone through lunch, so I picked up popcorn in the bar on the way to my room. Dinner would be at Union Station after a cocktail party but I had an hour to refresh.  A man I didn’t know on the elevator said the President was speaking next door and they were closing our hotel’s entrances.  This could be cool, or not, I’m thinking.

On the phone with home a few minutes later, I was forced to hang up because of the god-awful racket on the street below the window of my room. Motorcades are always snarling traffic inside the loop.  You never know who they are protecting but they are not quiet about it and tall chunks of concrete create a canyon effect, you know. It is deafening and I’ve gawked and snapped pictures plenty.  Locals just utter swear words and change route.

From the sixth floor, my room overlooked the street from where, judging by all the activity, the President would enter a hotel I couldn’t see to my left.  Ear plugs are a staple in my suitcase so I inserted a pair and opened the window curtains – to find an unlatched sliding glass door. Hmmm.  It didn’t feel great to realize I’d slept with a door to the outside unlatched. I scolded myself for not catching it then slid it open to the tiny balcony, more like a ledge it was less than two feet deep with a waist-high stucco railing.  I could hardly bear the din of the motorcycle posse long enough to watch a literal army of black SUVs creep through a U-turn and maneuver into position.  A seated gunner poked out of a sunroof.

While this strangely elaborate, choreographed spectacle unfolded I’d forgotten my hunger and grabbed my popcorn for the show.  Snipers on the roof responded to my movement and I froze. A pop-up canopy snapped open and make a racket but uber binoculars remained trained on me and I didn’t know what to do.  I smiled without thinking.  Here I am wearing a very pink vest and a giant conference badge blaring TEXAS, I had the feeling they judged me low-level.  The bug eyes swept away and I inched to the rail for a better view.  Other balconies on my side of our hotel were tightly shut and curtained, but a glance back at the rooftop crew gave me weird assurance, and I got braver.

On the ground below, a burly D.C. motorcycle cop was directing pedestrians away from the secure zone.  They’re all craning to see, shouting at their friends and filming with cell phones.  The cop is yelling “Get off the sidewalk!” with threatening gestures. “Off the street, I said!” “Back!  Back!”  He had no time for gawkers.

Largely ignored, he was bound to be getting hoarse. “Get back, people!”  Six floors up, wearing ear plugs amid all that ambient noise I could hear him clear as a bell.  Up and down the sidewalk he stomped, forcing one group of spectators after another into our hotel lobby or shooing them away from the cordoned area.  German Shepherds leashed to suits wearing mirrored sunglasses strolled through the paces and sniffed everything several times.  People moved back for the dogs.

While I was observing that business the Presidential limousine had moved into place so I didn’t have a chance of seeing George or Laura.  But an amazing crowd of uniforms and suits carrying guns of all sizes, talked into their bluetooths and milled around in the sea of testosterone oozing wicked black vehicles. Some appeared bored.

Except poor mister D.C. Motorcycle Cop.  Watching him, still helmeted, I started to worry about him succumbing to heat stroke.

Then time stood still.

I watched helpless, as my styrocup of popcorn slipped away and wafted directly above D.C. Cop’s helmet. My heart stopped.  The cup seemed to drift downward like a feather and in my head I’m going, “ohhhhhhh nooooooo.” (f*******).  One frame at a time.  Cup hits pavement; popcorn flies; helmeted cop drops to crouch and trains weapon at  styrocup then me. Snipers, spotters, all of them are facing me.

Always quick, I plastered an expression of shock on my face – hands on cheeks, wide eyed. “It’s only popcorn,” Hands gesturing, big shrug “I’m sorry,” like an idiot mime.

Motorcycle cop thunders “GET BACK!” Pointing at me with his ginormous pistol.  I called to him specifically, “Sorry!!!  It’s only popcorn,” when he screams “GET BACK I SAID!” Gesturing that gun like an exclamation point. “BACK! BACK! BACK!”

I can’t breathe and feel a need to pee but back up.  I wave an honest “sorry” at the rooftop guys (who, I swear, were grinning).  Back on the ground, big cop shouted, “CLOSE THOSE DOORS!” Done. “CLOSE THOSE DRAPES! NOW!!” I’m six floors up behind glass still wearing ear plugs and it’s like he’s up in my face and I cringed.

Suddenly it got very quiet.  Mortified and breathing like I’d run around the block I paced, tried to convince myself I was sober, guns were pointed at me but I didn’t mean it, and oh my god oh my god it’s the president of the United Frigging States then BAM! BAM! BAM!  The door to my room and the wall surrounding it shook and I jumped, unable to withhold a yelp.

“Yes?” I said.

“Hotel Security, ma’am.”  Loud and angry.

I hurried to unbolt the door, shaking and feeling so apologetic and ashamed and expecting I didn’t know what.  A big guy in a suit faced me, sweating like he’d run six flights of stairs, holding a radio and breathing hard he said, “Were you just out on that balcony?”

“Yes. I’m sorry,” I said.

His voice raises, ” Do you know what you did?”

“It was only popcorn but really, really I’m so sorry.”

“You embarrassed me!” He roared. More than once.  It didn’t help one bit for me to say I was embarrassed too.  Or that my door had been unlatched all night.

Turns out he was head of security and I had evidently broken an unwritten rule about not shaming his office with tourist-like behavior. I acted as humble as I could to get rid of him.  Thankful, yet disappointed in a way, that I was a  minor speck who didn’t rate a visit from the Presidential Detail. Or even the DCPD — whom I humbly acknowledge embarrassing.

“Think of it like this,” a friend said later.  “You’re in the annals of the White House Secret Service.”  It probably looks like this: Woman in pink; Texas badge; sixth floor.

The story went viral at the legislative conference and I enjoyed retelling it numerous times. A lady said during dinner, “I was filming everything on my phone.  I saw you up there and thought at first you must be one of the protection snipers – until I realized d-uh! Snipers don’t wear pink!'”

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