When they first announced that the president was coming to my work, I have to say I was less than impressed. It’s a pretty big place, with a couple of thousand employees. I kind of figured it was like when people say, “Oh, you live in Chicago? Do you know Bill Smith?” And besides, haven’t I been dealing with my famous neighbor for 5 or 6 years now? Yawners.
But then it turned out he was coming specifically to talk about transportation research, in my specific building, which was a little bit cool. Things started to get exciting. They were painting offices, cleaning up parking lots, planting flowers. They even renovated a bathroom for the Presidential tushy. A memo went around saying not to look in the direction of the President, or approach the windows, lest we catch a sniper’s bullet for our impertinence.
At some point, though, we crossed a line. It became pretty obvious that we were quickly becoming a pretty backdrop and nothing more. First they told us his speech was invitation only, and we weren’t invited. The President was arriving with his own crowd of people, who would watch the speech. Between that and all the work being done to clean the place up, I started to wonder why he didn’t just film his speech in front of a green screen, and paint on a generic backdrop after the fact. Finally they sent an email telling us to just go ahead and work from home that day. I guess the fill-in “scientist” extras felt a little self-conscious around the real thing.
And then the actual day rolled around. There were pictures and live streaming videos. And there was the president, at my work. Talking to people I talk to every day. Hanging out where we eat Burrito Loco. Joking with the guy who runs the football pool at work. It was *totally awesome*! My boss’ boss gave him a hug!
There he is! The guy who runs the football pool at work! (among several other people I recognize in this picture) (such as the President)
Now here’s the thing: it was *not* like when someone asks you if you know Bill Smith from Chicago. 8 of my co-workers, people who I pass in the hall every day, have coffee with, or chat with while I’m warming up my lunch, got to present their research to the President of the United States. Not just attend his speech, not just shake his hand, but talk to him and explain what they do. No matter what happens, they’ll always be able to point to a picture of them chatting with the sitting President of the United States.
All of my world-weary ennui went right out the window. It was damn cool.
I wasn’t at work that day, so it was all sort of one-off. I’ve been a lot closer to Mr. Obama on several other occasions. But I did a little vicarious living, and I still feel like it was a little closer than the average man gets to the president. We’re practically old buddies now. Maybe next time he comes to work he’ll want to carpool.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my tushy needs to go have an important “meeting” in the Presidential Suite.