Thursday, April 02, 2009

Hunting cherry blossoms, we see the Commander-in-Chief

By Claudia Ricci

Cherry blossom season has hit its glorious peak in DC this week, so on Monday, my husband and I decided to head downtown after work to see the pink majesty of the trees.

We saw some wonderful trees, all of which reminded us of the soft fluffy skirts of ballet dancers. The sun was setting, and we were strolling along Pennsylvania Avenue, beside the National Gallery, when suddenly the police sirens started squawking (there is a lot of that here in DC, but that's another story.) Suddenly, there were cops everywhere. They all wore fluorescent green vests and they were directing traffic out of the intersections. Instantly, it seemed, all the cars vanished, as if some giant wind had swept through the street and whisked them all away.

"What the heck is going on?" I asked my husband.

"I think we are about to see Obama," he replied.

Within minutes, it started. About a dozen cops riding motorcycles buzzed by us. And then came the phalanx of black shiny cars that constitutes the President's motorcade. I had my camera hanging around my neck, because I'd been shooting photos of the cherry blossoms, but honestly, the cars came on so quickly, and roared by us so fast, that it never even occurred to me to raise the lens to my eyes and shoot. Of course, one of my friends later pointed out that if I had taken a photo, a cop might have confiscated my camera.

There must have been a dozen cars in all. There were two or three stretch limos, and in the back of one, my husband says he saw the slim dark man sitting alone in the back seat. (But was that him? Or was that a decoy? Apparently, there is the MAN, and then there is the second car, with the decoy man.) Then there were all those big black bulky SUVs, filled with men looking intense and straight ahead. In one of those SUVs, I swear I saw a man holding what looked to be a bazooka gun. My mouth dropped. My heart hammered. In that second it hit me: the security detail provided for our President provides for the worst case scenario: some kind of a rocket directed at his car? A bomb embedded in a vehicle that blasts through the streets and hits the motorcade?

It was over in a matter of seconds. The cars were gone, and the streets were opened once again. But both my husband and I couldn't stop thinking about it. Or talking about it. There was something so... sinister in that motorcade, something so powerful and dark and mesmerizing.

Both of us realized too that it must be a total drag for Obama to have to leave the safe confines of the White House. Imagine having to ride in that kind of a formation every time you went somewhere? Whoosh.

As a DC native pointed out to me a few days later, my reactions to seeing the President's motorcade were typical of a "first timer."

"Yes," said Maria Ochoa, a student in my grad seminar at Georgetown. "The first time you see it you are amazed and thrilled. But then, it starts to happen when you need to get somewhere, and the streets are closed off, and you can't get where you need to go, and then, it's like, 'oh what a pain this is.'"

I guess so. But honestly, I am dying to see the motorcade come whizzing by again. And when it does, I promise I will run the risk and shoot a photo.

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