Though I work with a great many people who have visited the White House a great many times, I've somehow never been - not since moving to D.C. in 2007, at least. I went once with my parents when I was 7 years old, in a pre-9/11 world that didn't require advance screening or extreme security measures, & longtime readers will recall the devastating time that I got to the White House but couldn't get in. In all my time living here, I've never figured out how to make it happen.
A friend of mine did campaign work a few years ago & has a number of well-connected colleagues who work in places like... the White House. When I mentioned that I'd never been, he quickly set up a tour with a friend who works in the Office of Presidential Personnel. I left crazy early for our 7:45 meeting time in case I happened to get lost along the way (& because I know better than to count on public transportation to be timely). As my bus made its way down 16th street toward 1600 Penn, I had a nerve-wracking realization that spurred me to send this frantic text message to a friend who visits the White House with some regularity:
As I waited for a response, I grew more & more nervous. I texted two other friends. And when the bus dropped me off two blocks outside the White House gate & I still hadn't heard back from any of them, I decided to take precautionary measures.
I sat down on a park bench in snowy Lafayette Park & stripped off my boots & both pairs of socks - the furry rainbow socks that looked like they were made of a skinned Muppet & the tall black knee socks underneath them. (For the record, I was wearing two pairs because A) it was cold, & B) my boots are too big.) I put the Muppet socks on first, then the black ones, ensuring that if I was asked to remove my shoes at White House, it at least wouldn't look like I was wearing half a Fraggle.
And then we went on a tour of the West Wing. And it was amazing, obviously, because it was the West Wing, & I wish I had a better word for it than "amazing" because that's the same word I use for, like, really delicious mac & cheese, or a refreshing midday nap. They only give tours at night, so it felt a lot like a cross between a museum & a movie set - pristine, all roped off, inaccessible, beautiful. I couldn't step foot in the Oval Office - because, you know, it's not a museum or a movie set but the president's actual office - but I did get to lean over the velvet rope far enough to say that I'd been inside.
The West Wing has a strict no-photos policy, so I couldn't share my presidential adventure on Instagram (though I did snap a selfie in the bathroom outside the Oval Office that I'm too scared to post for fear of, like, being reprimanded by the Secret Service). I was able to take two photos: one with my friend outside the entrance to the West Wing, with the seal above the doorway, & one in the James Brady Press Briefing Room, where I was photobombed by an American flag that appears to be a very patriotic wizard hat.
Now if you'll excuse me, I think it's time I tried to get into The West Wing again. The TV show, that is. Because I've already been to the real one.