A few days before the event, I was notified of an upcoming Presidential rally about 20 miles away. I intended to go and take photos of the president. I had it all planned out. I would bring my sturdy monopod, my Canon 1Dx professional camera two standard lenses at either my 600mm or my 800mm lens. I grew more and more excited to photograph our president but in researching the price of admission (free), I discovered that the only devices allowed within the arena were cell phones. That meant no professional cameras allowed, at all. YIKES!
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little bit of panic and desperation. However, as I continued my research (looking for a loophole, let’s be honest), I found that professional cameras would be allowed for the White House Press Pool and a link to apply. Since I am a feature photographer for CapeStyle Magazine (a great little magazine, in print and online, I might add…go check them out HERE), it was worth a try. I realized that there my chance of being approved was between little and none but figured I had nothing to lose by trying.
I waited until the day before with no news. I just knew, at that point, that I was denied. In fact, I assumed they were probably laughing that someone as “small time” as me would even try to be included to stand with greats like CBS, CNN, et al. I was away from home when I got the email stating I had been approved. I read that email and read it again, just to be sure that I was reading it right. Unbelievable! I was approved to be in the White House Press Pool for the Donald Trump Rally!
The email informed me that media would be allowed into the arena to set up at 10:00am. We arrived at 9:15 and found a line already a mile long (no exaggeration…we measured it) with people waiting to be granted admittance. Traffic was very backed up and moving at a crawl so people on the sides were yelling that there was no place left to park and we would have to go several miles from the arena to find parking. It was during one of those exchanges that my husband proudly exclaimed “Not for us. We are media”. I will have to admit that I, too, felt filled with pride at that moment.
We pulled up to the entrance, slinking our motorcycle through the crowd so as not to hurt ourselves or anyone else, and came upon a line of police officers and several police vehicles. After announcing we are press, they directed us to pull over to the side with our IDs and press credentials so they could verify our information. After taking our identification and CapeStyle Magazine press pass, the officer informed us “yes, you are on the list”. WOW! It feels good to be on “the list”. They pulled aside the barrier and directed us to the back of the arena for “press parking”.
We drive around the empty parking lot to the back. I say “drove around” because they had it cordoned off into segments and lines that eventually reached the entryway. Vehicles had to go all the way around the central area. At the entrance to the press lot, a volunteer directed us to find a spot wherever we could. The lot was already pretty full (with a warning that once full, media was on it’s own for finding wherever they could find, off site) but, having a motorcycle, we had an advantage that cars did not. We could pull up onto slim areas that a car wouldn’t fit. That’s just what we did. It was even under a tree for shade.
At that point, we grabbed all of our gear (you’d be surprised what you can fit on a motorcycle) and proceeded toward the entrance. There was already a line formed and we were about 6th in line. It was in the burning sun and everyone was sweaty and miserable but there was what I can only be described as “thick tension” in the air. Conversations were muted and short. Faces around us were stern and brows were furrowed. It was a crowd of “game faces”, if I ever saw one. I was definitely not like that, at all. The polar opposite, actually. I was proud as a peacock and looked around with wide-eyed wonder, like a young child watching the first lighting of a Christmas tree.
There were men with huge boxed and piles of expensive-looking gear. Media trucks with large appendages seemingly sprouting from the roofs, microphones and more. Seemingly everywhere we looked there were wheeled carts filled with mysterious cases and bags. It was honestly already quite a sight to behold.
About an hour later, a woman emerged from the interior of the building. She held a clipboard and announced the line should form in front of her. We all merged into a single file line and she started verifying credentials, again. She slowly scanned her 3 pages and finally announced “ok, you can go in”. Those words felt like notification of a paid holiday. I was hit with a wave of fear of the unknown but also felt giddy at the same time. Strange emotional bedfellows, I know. Those opened doors beckoned to us and we entered into the darkness from the bright sunlight.
Before our eyes even had time to adjust, someone asked for our ID’s and told us to put our belongings into the scanning area. It was like a TSA area at the airport. We had to individually step through a human-sized scanner that was surrounded (and I do mean surrounded) by stern-looking men in dark suits with curled cords emerging from their ears. I watched everyone in front of me pass through and pointed in the direction to proceed to but when I went through, I heard the dreaded beep. A sense of doom washed over me because I am very well familiar with that sound. I seem to get it every single time I fly. I set off the metal detector. Oh, no. I was not going to be allowed in. I just knew it!
A youngish-looking dark-suited man told me to step aside for a manual scan. He actually smiled. That and the kind tone of his voice put me immediately at ease. Honestly, TSA agents could take some lessons from the Secret Service. He calmly informed me that I was going to be scanned and how and he proceeded to pass a wand over me, as I stood with my arms up and legs apart. It lasted only a few seconds and I was then directed to go in and find a spot in the press box, wherever I wanted that wasn’t already occupied.
The press box was surrounded by a fence (and more dark-suited men with ear cords). It was a three-tiered raised floor that stood about 4’ from the ground, at its lowest point. There was only one set of stairs and it ended at the center section. I tried squeezing in on the lowest section, right next to the mark on the floor on tape saying CBS, between that and another named piece of tape but when we tried placing our tripod, realized we would not fit. Ok, plan B. We stepped back up onto the middle section and got right in the front center of that area. Straight ahead of me was a podium, decorated with the presidential seal.That’s right. I would be looking straight into the President’s face. Other than the CBS and CNN spots, I think ours was the best vantage point.
As more and more press came onto the platform, there was less and less space to move. People tried to move in on our spot, attempting to dislodge our equipment, encroaching our area with their gear to push us back but my assistant (best husband on Earth) would not allow our stuff to be moved. It was, after all, a “first come, first served” situation and we roasted in the direct sunlight for an hour before being allowed access to be sure that we were amongst the first to come and be served for this very reason. I felt like Gandalph the Great, slamming his rod down and proclaiming “You shall not pass”.
An hour and a half later (on the dot), as warned, the Secret Service announced that all persons needed to vacate the building, immediately. It was time for the sweep. The man instructed us to leave our cameras on and proceed out. Others announced there is no guarantee of re-admittance so be sure to be back at precisely 3pm. Those not there when the media entrance shut would not be allowed back in until it was over. It was during our exodus that a Secret Service agent approached us to say he is the one who approved us. We thanked him, profusely, for giving us the chance.
I had learned a painful lesson that morning. Never forget comfortable shoes. I knew, going in, that the first stage would last only about two-and-a-half hours (from arrival on the scene to media exit). so I was dressed up, including a pair of 4” stiletto heels. My feet were on fire (I’m already in foot and leg pain, constantly, after suffering a badly broken lower leg, ankle and foot). I had every intention of bringing my “real shoes” for the main part of the event but I had forgotten them at home. So, during the break we were off to buy sensible shoes. Luckily, it was right next door to Miromar Outlets. I also picked up a C-shaped stool that fit perfectly around my tripod legs and allowed another 6” in height. That comes in handy when you are only 5’2 and surrounded by tall men.
We arrived soon enough to be the first ones in the line. I took that time to ask people questions as they passed. Some said they were there just because they believed President Trump really wanted (and could) the country to be great, as it once was. One person at the VIP line said they weren’t able to perform military service in their younger years so wanted to do something to help the country in this way (financial support). A young Hispanic woman said she was there because she supports the President’s stance on immigration, siting that her parents had come to this country, legally, and that illegal entry “is a spit in the face of my parents who worked so hard to come and fit in”. There were a myriad of reasons people faced the heat of the day, for hours and hours, but all of them had one thing in common. Pride for the USA. The air was palpable with it. There’s just no other way to describe it.
I know this is lengthy, and for anyone still here, I thank you for hanging in to the end (thanks, Ray). We got back in before anyone else (AP and CNN were told to get behind us…it pays to be nice to volunteers and to show up, first). Our spot was right where we left it. The VIP crowds started rolling in. So many were wearing red MAGA hats and shirts that it literally looked like a red wave as they moved to their seats. As time passed, the crowds got thicker and thicker and seats got fewer and fewer. Before the arrival of the president, even the walkways were packed with people.
They announced the arena was at capacity an no more would be allowed in. My editor asked if I could go see how many were left outside and maybe get a photograph but I couldn’t comply and keep my spot. In fact, the media members had more than quadrupled on that stand. You, quite literally, could not even see the floor, anymore. There were lights, cameras and people filling every square inch and we all stood with arm touching arm. IF I could get out of that pack, and that was a big if, there would be no way I’d be able to get back. At the end, as we left the arena, I did ask some officers outside and was told there were hundreds who didn’t get in.
The crowd was chanting USA, USA, USA… If you’ve never experienced a packed arena filled with people chanting USA, I highly recommend it. I heard several disparaging remarks from certain press members, stating they all wore black to signify mourning. I stood out, as I was draped head to toe in USA flag attire. Only one other press member proudly donned her pride in America, as she placed her red MAGA hat atop her equipment, for all to see. Every time CNN’s Jim Acosta tried to do video, a section of the crowd loudly chanted disparaging remarks about CNN, in unison. At three points in the evening, he even got into a loud and rowdy verbal confrontation with bystanders. I wasn’t drawn into that, as other reporters were, grabbing their cameras and running over to the area they were yelling in. I was still just looking around in utter awe that I was there. I was actually there, in the press box, wearing my new White House Press Pool badge. I simply could’t believe it.
Anyway, as the crowd enthusiasm built to a deafening crescendo and armed guards, dogs and their handlers, Secret Service and more took defensive positions all around the arena, vehemently scanning the masses for signs of trouble, President Donald Trump finally emerged from behind large black curtains. The crowd tripled it’s noise level in showing their excitement and support for him. It was deafening. More than that, as someone just looking on, it was a profound and impactful moment to behold.
If I learned one thing and one thing only, it was that a whole lot of people are proud of our country and it’s president. I was deeply honored and extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity of a lifetime. USA