Thursday, January 22, 2015

Reporter's Notebook: Barack Obama, Bullet-Proof Limos and Mayor Bieter Hitches an Impressive Ride

Posted By on Thu, Jan 22, 2015 at 8:05 AM

click to enlarge JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri

I woke up at 4:30 in the morning on Jan. 21, thinking about my camera lens. It's a cheap telephoto lens I bought online a few years ago, and it doesn't have an autofocus feature. I laid in bed for an hour, worrying about messing up that iconic picture of President Barack Obama stepping out of Air Force One at the Boise airport and giving a wave. 

I'm young and new at this, relatively speaking. I've worked at the Boise Weekly about a year now, but Wednesday would certainly be my first time covering a presidential visit. When my editor assigned me to cover Air Force One's landing a few days ago, I called my mom for advice.

I called her because in 1996, she was doing the same exact thing. At the time, her name was Tiffany Murri, and she was a young reporter for Boise State Public Radio. After major flooding in North Idaho, President Bill Clinton flew into Boise—Gowen Field—on a cold Valentine's Day evening. My mom spent four of five hours waiting for his plane to land. I was five years old.

"I remember being cold to the bone," she told me. "I was wearing a dress and dress shoes and it was absolutely freezing. A photographer actually took off his coat for me and let me borrow it."

click to enlarge JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
Of course, almost 20 years later, I made the same mistake. I put on tights, a dress, and some little leather shoes. Even in my peacoat, I was absolutely freezing. But it was fun, and it was exciting. Dozens of Boise police and military personnel swarmed Gowen Field while a bomb dog sniffed my camera bag and I pinned on a "White House Press Pool" paper media badge. 

A colonel escorted me and a few other reporters onto the tarmac, where half a dozen television cameras and live trucks were already set up. We waited for an hour and a half for Air Force One to arrive, and when it did, I started taking pictures. I couldn't feel my feet and I wondered if my shivering would make my photos blur. I didn't bring a tripod—I don't even have one.

The plane sat for a long time with the door open, but no president. I took photo after photo of the presidential seal next to the door, making sure it was in sharp focus, so that as soon as Obama stepped out, I'd get that shot. I would not let my fear from earlier in the morning come true.

After several minutes, he did step out, but I was so excited and nervous that I twisted my lens to zoom in and completely ruined the focus. He waved—a blurry mess. I frantically twisted the lens back and forth to bring him into focus and about half way down the staircase, I captured him and Mayor Dave Bieter in sharp clarity. 

click to enlarge JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri

By the end of the staircase, Obama was shaking hands with Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Col. Sherrie McCandless, commander of the 124th Fighter Wing. My view was obscured by one of the president's limos.
click to enlarge JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri

Obama walked across the tarmac towards a crowd of 100 or so, friends and family of deployed soldiers, followed by an entourage of national press and Secret Service staff. He didn't even glance over at the local press, which made my cold toes feel a little silly. 

click to enlarge JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
Then, minutes later, he turned and was led into his bullet-proof limo, complete with Washington D.C. license plates. The motorcade of 30—including four vans of press corps, several Idaho State troopers, some mysterious-looking Secret Servicemen and an ambulance—drove away. 

All the hours of waiting for just a glimpse at the president of the United States. My mom remembered her experience the same way.

"After all that time of waiting, [Clinton] stepped out on the stairway, waved, walked down the stairs, straight into a meeting in a building, and I spent half the night in the basement of the capitol building, editing stories for the next morning's news," she said. 

click to enlarge JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri

When  I saw President Obama—for about five minutes—he was nearly 100 yards away. It was a big deal, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, sure. But it was also a little anticlimactic. 

By 4:30 p.m., it was wheels-up for Air Force One as Obama winged his way to Lawrence, Kansas to give a similar speech to the one he delivered at Boise State University. The last press club pool email I got said, "Motorcade uneventful back to the airport. Smaller crowds. ... Obama back on Air Force One at 4:17. Boarded alone. Paused at top of stairs to wave."

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