I don’t want to seem immodest, but I am the most powerful person in America. How do I know this? Because I, single handedly, not just once but twice, elected Bill Clinton, President of the United States of America. Yes, my single vote in 1992 and then again in 1996 kept him in the White House for eight years. What, you say? There must have been others who voted for him! Not so I say! I have tried to find someone, anyone, who would admit to it and none can be found.
Granted, my search hasn’t taken me far out of the circles of my present location and profession, both bastions of extreme right wing Republicanism. Tea Party? Ha! Long before those lightweights came along we had the Beer Party down here. Comprised of mostly white, male, conservative Good Ol’ Boys, these guys wrote the book on “stay outta my back yard” politics. I’ll have to admit, that though my politics swing to the left, I do agree with these guys on the gun issue. You know, the whole “when you pry them from my cold dead hands” mentality? Hey, I am a Rural Southern Liberal Democrat after all.
Most of my co-workers thought that Bill Clinton was evil incarnate. I think that he was one of the best presidents we have ever had and I believe that history will view him the same way. You disagree? Fine I’m up for a debate. Read the last paragraph…I think I can take you!! All kidding aside, wouldn’t it be nice if the biggest news story and the worst problem we were facing in this country were some stains on a blue dress…but I digress.
In 1994 Mr. President Clinton was scheduled to give one of his televised town meetings at a local Charlotte television station. The preparations for such an event are exhaustive. Before any Presidential visit, a team commandeers a treatment room at our trauma hospital and sets up a command center in case #1 ends up there for some reason. They install a bank of secure phone lines that go directly to God knows where, probably every major head of state in the world. These advance teams are always pretty tight lipped about such things. This visit was no different, but included much, much more since this event was to be so open and placed the President in a more precarious security situation.
When the memo went out looking for a crew to man a dedicated ambulance for the event, I felt that being the only openly practicing Democrat in the organization that it was not just my duty, but my birthright to be on this crew. Imagine my surprise when I went in to claim my rightful position and found that two of the aforementioned GOB’s had already snatched up the slots. Now, over the years, I have been known to jump up and down on a superior’s desk to get what I want. That day, I jumped from the desk to the file cabinet and hung from the light fixture, all the while screaming the one hundred and ten reasons why I should be the Charlotte paramedic to personally attend Mr. President Bill Clinton…of course I got my wish. I was assigned as a third on the unit which suited me just fine. I just wanted to be there.
We were to be part of the official entourage and motorcade the entire time the President was in our city. I had been so excited about being a part of this historical event that it wasn’t until a couple of days before his arrival when the advance team did background checks on the three of us, that the enormity of what could happen hit me. What if something did happen to our President? Was I up to the task of performing the skills that were so second nature to me in probably the most intense situation possible? I got my answer when we met with his medical team on the day of his arrival.
We first were assigned a Secret Service agent that was to be our liaison for the entire event and he arranged the meeting with the doctor and nurses that accompanied the President everywhere he went. This affable MD shook our hands, thanked us for our service then said, “You will never touch the President. If he has any medical emergency of any kind, he will be transported in his limousine with his medical team in attendance; you are basically here in case anyone else has an emergency”. I guess not having a bullet proof ambulance was an issue, not to mention the fact that relying on three strangers to attend a sick or hurt President of The United States wasn’t a mistake this thorough team would make…silly me! I’m not sure if the sigh that escaped me was one of disappointment or relief, but I was quickly caught up in the excitement of where I was and what I was doing.
Our Secret Service agent didn’t quite fit the stereotype you see in the movies. He was a tall, gangly and gregarious guy who was eager to help us and answer any of our questions. He wasn’t particularly fond of Mr. Clinton either, and admitted that he didn’t vote for him. When I heard this, I asked him the inevitable question; “Would you take a bullet for him?” It was if I had said the trigger word some night club hypnotist had given him. He got very serious and his eyes kind of glazed over…I thought he was going to start barking like a dog. He quietly assured us that he would die to protect the President of The United States of America without a second thought. Yikes! These guys are for real!
The experience did not disappoint. We traveled through the city in the motorcade, and convened at the television station. There were a couple of hundred people involved in making sure this thing went off without a hitch. We were staged outside and couldn’t see or hear what was going on in the studio, but our agent had radio contact with everyone and gave us a play by play of all of the happenings. At one point he chuckled. The sound men in the studio were complaining that the snipers on the roof of the station could be heard through their equipment…could they be a little quieter please? I looked up at the dozen or so men on the roof toting high powered scoped rifles and thought that I’d let those guys do pretty much whatever they wanted!
I talked our agent’s ear off. I had so many questions and he answered the ones that he could. He explained how the presidential limo was constructed to just about withstand a nuclear attack and gave me an insight into what day to day life was like at the White House. I had been eyeing a large, custom SUV with a high roof and completely blacked out windows that had followed behind the President’s limo the entire time, and was presently parked behind it in front of the station. I asked him what it was for and he got a little smile on his face. He talked into his cuff where his radio mic was hidden, yes they really do that, and then he took the three of us up to the SUV. “Put your face up to the window and look in the back”, he instructed us. We did and saw a friendly guy waving at us from behind a huge anti-aircraft gun. The roof was designed to open up and this dude could shoot down an attack from the air. Nothing like being prepared!
All too soon the event was over and we accompanied the motorcade to the airport where Air Force One was ready for takeoff. They had us park our vehicles and then instructed all the emergency personnel to get out and line up at parade rest, on the tarmac beside the entrance to the air plane. We were going to meet the President! I have often thought of all of the important things I would like to say in such an auspicious situation, but when President Clinton stopped in front of me an shook my hand I was dumfounded and blubbered something inane I’m sure, I can’t remember what I said to him. I do remember looking into his eyes and seeing total exhaustion, but he was gracious and thanked me for my service with sincerity. I was floating; I just wished that I could have had a photo taken to mark this event in my life. I mean, how many people get to meet the President of The United States?
A few weeks later, a package arrived at my home with a Washington DC return address. It was a photo of President Bill Clinton shaking my hand. I never saw the photographer and I never gave anyone my address (like they didn’t already have that), but everyone who had been in that receiving line got a photo of them meeting Bill Clinton. I looked like a goofy, gushing school girl in mine and Mr. Clinton looked…well, he looked Presidential.