The Secret Service and a really cool sewing kit

by Lee Adams

On September 21 I had my first opportunity to shoot a president (for all you Secret Service guys, that’s ‘photograph’). Bill Clinton and Bob Dole were speaking at the Grandover Resort to raise money for Bennett College and I got to cover the event.

In a ballroom of the hotel, black duct tape stretched across the floor in the back of the room to corral all of us wild, paparazzi, media-types. There would be absolutely no crossing the line or secret service would throw us out immediately, we were told. One guy in shorts and a golf shirt watched as we put our gear down where it would be swept for security reasons. I don’t know if he was with the hotel or the Secret Service, but as he watched us he said, ‘“Don’t go over there. That’s already been swept,’” referring to the dining area of the ballroom. Then he joked, ‘“If you do I’ll shoot you in the ass.’”

The Secret Service were pretty cool. They smiled at us and made small talk. They weren’t all hard-faced and strong-armed like you see on TV, but I still bet they were packing some heat up under those jackets.

All the media were pretty upset about the positioning at the event. Even zoomed in at 200mm the folks on stage were quite small. I tried to bribe Joseph Rodriguez of the News and Record to let me shoot a few frames through his 400, but he wasn’t having it. Actually, he said the 400 was too tight and the 200 too loose, so we both figured we’d probably have to shoot at 200 and crop in.

With about 30 minutes left before the event started my wheels were turning. It seemed as if I could just walk up to the front and act like I was supposed to be there and I paced from door to door smiling at the Secret Service and trying to get up the nerve to walk past them and go right in. The only problem was that the event was a black-tie affair and I stuck out like a sore thumb in my bright burgundy shirt and tan corduroys. I told Rodriguez I was thinking about it and he said he’d cheer me on, but I couldn’t risk getting thrown out and not getting a shot at all. Plus, I was envisioning blazing Uzi’s firing at me from the Secret Service guys or, worse yet, being stripped naked and interrogated. So I figured maybe next time I would put on a tux myself and slip into a chair near the front and act like I belonged. That was good thinking, some of the others said.

When the food was served it wafted across the press pool causing murmurs of ‘“ooohh,’” and ‘“mmm’” and ‘“that’s not fair.’” We all had to get out of there and take a break. It was just too much. So while everyone at the event was eating I paced the doors a couple more times, got a free Coke and went to the bathroom.

The bathrooms at the Grandover are really fancy, in case you’ve never been in one, and that night they had the coolest sewing kits and little bottles of mouthwash I’d ever seen. I passed them up the first time, not wanting to seem like the underprivileged journalist I am. But the second time around it was just too tempting. Besides, two of my favorite shirts at home needed the buttons replaced and I needed a needle and thread. Next was the mouthwash. I opened the little bottle and put about half of the liquid into my mouth. Just then the cleaning guy came in and caught me, and I swished in front of that mirror like there was no tomorrow, like I needed that mouthwash like nobody’s business. I figured I had to play it like that because I was so out of place and it was obvious that I was the only one to take a bottle.

Back in the ballroom we shot like crazy at the staging area, hoping we could get a clear view of Clinton and Dole through all the bobbing heads of the wait staff. Everybody complained ‘— photographers, cameramen. Finally we all got our golden opportunity. We were escorted a few at a time to the front where we could get better shots. When it was my turn I rattled off about 20 frames before I had to go back to the media area. I got some great close- ups, but it was no Pulitzer. Clinton never looked in my direction until I left, so all I got was his profile. Still, it’s a moment I’m thankful to have had.

In the back, I chimped (that’s pro-talk for ‘“looked at the pictures on the back of my digital camera’”) through my prizes, checking them for clarity and sharpness. I tried to get a second turn, but just before I could the Secret Service cut us off.

Apparently one of the Secret Service guys had taken a short break when we started going to the front and after he got back and talked into his sleeve for a few minutes (I’m serious about that ‘— that’s just like on TV) he said we weren’t allowed to go up there anymore.

After the event I waited around a little while, missing the first episode of Invasion I’d been planning to watch, hoping to get some odd shot of the touring politicians. They’d already left. But at the end of the night I was grateful nonetheless to have added these two to my portfolio.

Back home I pulled my nifty sewing kit out of my pocket and gazed at the six shiny, pre-threaded needles in their clear, plastic case, but I couldn’t find either of the buttons that needed sewing back onto my shirts.