White House Woes & Wonders

The State Department has a lot of perks: a cool badge, security clearance, free lunches, a transit subsidy, and most importantly the organized tours to other government fixtures.  I’d already done the tour to the Pentagon. The last big place to see was the White House.

I managed to resp0nd just fast enough to our event organizer’s email, so that I snagged one of the 20 spots for the tour of the White House.  Our slot was really early in the morning–7:30.  I wasn’t excited to have to get ready, catch the bus, and be there so early, but it was worth it since I hadn’t been to the White House since I was a small kid.  I showed up at the White House and got in the line.  I’d expected that we had a private tour–not just a regular tour for the public, but I was in for a much worse shock.

Standing in line, a Park Ranger (the White House is technically part of the US park system) informed me that I was not allowed to take my bag in with me and that they have no where to leave a bag.  I would have to just go home.  I had read the rules State had sent out about the visit and all it had said was “Please refer to White House rules,” which I assumed were equally strict as State–not true.  Slightly panicking I rushed over to the Hotel W to see fi they had a place where I could leave my bag.  No.  Apparently, for fear of bombs no building within 3 blocks of the White House is allowed to store items for anyone.  I was so mad.  I was going to miss this tour that I had woken up so early for.

It was 8 by now.  I decided to rush back to my office a 15 minute walk away at Main State.  I dropped off my bag and made it back to the White House by 8:30.  Proud I had managed not to lose my tour slot, I then overheard a park ranger telling this dad and son that they were not allowed to bring in a camera and would have to throw it out–their nice digital camera.  My stomach sank.  I reached down to my pocket and felt that I had left my camera in there.  I was once again screwed.

I arranged with the dad for me to go on the tour first while he held onto my camera, and then I would hold onto theirs while they were on the tour.  That way everyone could go on the tour and no cameras would have to be thrown out.  It worked.  I went on the tour.  The White House is much smaller than one envisions it in his or her head.  I think it is trumped up in American culture so much as the home of the leader of the free world that we forget it is just a house, albeit a big one, built in the late 16th century.

I had a great time on the White House tour.  The candid photos of Presidents and their families were especially delightful.  The tour is more geared towards kids, so it was not the most informative or intellectually stimulating experience I have ever had.  It is a pretty powerful feeling to look up at the ceiling and know that the President of the USA is sitting in the Oval Office right above your head.