The president and me

Farm Forum

It’s a big deal whenever a president pays a visit. And since he would be speaking at a technical college less than an hour away, it was impossible to resist the lure of experiencing history.

“You sure about this?” asked my wife as we motored toward Watertown. “We don’t have a ticket or anything.”

“Don’t worry,” I replied. “We’ll just wing it and see what happens.”

“The last time you said that, we spent an hour stuck in a snowdrift!”

We arrived in town at about lunchtime, so we stopped for a sandwich at the Good To Go Market and Grill. Our waitress, Terri, is also the owner of the establishment. We asked her if anything interesting had happened during the run-up to the presidential visit.

“We’ve had several plainclothes Secret Service people eat here over the past couple of weeks,” she replied. “We know all the locals, so they weren’t fooling anyone. They were always very polite, though. And good tippers.”

On cue, six young men strode in and sat down. They weren’t trying to conceal their identities one little bit, with shiny badges clipped to their belts and semiautomatic pistols strapped to their thighs. The men were all in top physical condition, with biceps the size of cantaloupes. They were dressed in black and radiated a “we don’t take any crap” aura. It was as though a group of gunslingers had just arrived. Which actually was the case.

“I’m going to go chat with them,” I murmured to my wife.

“Uffda!” she groaned. “You’re only asking for trouble!”

“Don’t worry. I’ll just wing it and see what happens.”

“Before you go, I want you to know something,” she whispered, squeezing my hand. “If they grab you and throw you onto the floor, I’m out of here. You’re on your own.”

I strolled over and tried to converse with the clean-cut gunmen. One of them wore an emblem that read “United States Secret Service Counter Sniper Team.” Yikes! These guys could trim a gopher’s nose hairs at 100 yards.

They were quite taciturn, politely answering my questions in a clipped, a no-nonsense manner. When I asked what it’s like to protect the most powerful man on the planet, all I got was, “It’s a job.”

We opted to leave before they changed their minds about whether or not I was throw-onto-the-floor material and drove to the venue where the president was to speak. There were enough uniformed law enforcement officers on hand to populate a small town. None of the spectators so much as thought about crossing the orange cones that marked the perimeter. We South Dakotans are a docile bunch.

I joined a small knot of people who were watching the goings-on from a spot near the arena and struck up a conversation with a bystander. “I don’t care if the president is Republican or Democrat or green or purple,” he said. “I’m here to witness history.”

Several black-clad figures appeared on the rooftop. One of them peered at me through binoculars. I recognized him from the restaurant, so I waved. He didn’t wave back.

Moments later, a policeman walked over and told us that the Secret Service wasn’t comfortable with us standing there and that we should move down the street. My wife was right about me asking for it.

We joined the throng that had gathered at a nearby street corner. The rumor that Air Force One was running ten minutes late rippled through the crowd. Ten minutes later came another rumor that its arrival was delayed yet another ten minutes. If this keeps up, I thought, that plane won’t land until next week.

A woman began streaming the live feed from a local TV station on her iPhone. The tiny screen showed the motorcade leaving the airport. Minutes later, flashing lights appeared at the end of our street. It occurred that I would have gotten a better view had I simply stayed home and watched TV.

The block-long motorcade punched past us. As the black limo sped by, I saw a hand waving through a tinted window. That’s as close as I’ll ever get to a president, not counting the dollar bill in my wallet.

We went to the student lounge where folks were watching events on big-screen TVs. Many applauded during the speech despite the fact that the president was in an entirely separate building and likely couldn’t hear them.

Once the speech was done, we, like the president, promptly headed for home.

“What did you think?” asked my wife.

“It was certainly a big deal. And I had fun, even though we just winged it.”

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