There are some days in your life you think are going to be momentous, but just aren’t. There are days that you have no idea will be momentous, which surprise you. Then there are the days that you know will be just incredible, and they don’t disappoint.
And my, February 22nd was definitely a day that didn’t disappoint.
Through a wonderful and very fortunate set of circumstances, for which I am both in no way responsibly and eternally grateful, I was able to get a tour of the West Wing. The son of a colleague of my father’s works in the Obama administration, and was incredibly generous in meeting up with me when I got to DC, and offering the chance to see the West Wing. And not just me: three of my friends as well! I tried to be generous in the way I distributed them, and not laud them as prizes for those who won my affection, but others will be able to tell you better than I whether I succeeded in that task. Eventually, I decided that Clara, Jonathan and Ben would be fine company, despite the fact Ben is a…. wait for it…. Republican.
To say we were excited is the understatement of the century. Clara was supposed to go to Chicago the weekend of our tour, but arranged an early flight back so that she’d still be able to make it. I think I spent about a week picking what to wear- not that it really mattered, but it was something to do as the day approached. I swear, I was so nervous I was ill the morning of the tour- again, not that there was any reason to be nervous, but I was.
We got there really early. Like, REALLY early. We wound up standing outside the security shack for about an hour. We were so excited, we got our photo in front of the sign that read “Pass Holders and Appointments Only” because, you know, we had an appointment. The guy we asked to take the photo- who was wearing very good pants- had a bit of a chuckle, but was also really nice, and made sure he took two, just in case one wasn’t good.
We had a few nervous moments at security, because one of the details was wrong, but it all got sorted, and my friend met us to show us around. We went through more security then, finally, up toward the West Wing.
I honestly can’t describe that feeling, walking up the road where Joe Biden’s car drives every day, having the situation room, and Joe Biden’s office both pointed out to us. It gave me goosebumps, certainly, but it just didn’t feel real. Here’s me, little ol’ Erin Riley, from OAK FLATS, walking into the West Wing of the White House. How?? How can that be?? It was a moment of joy, but more than that it was a moment of pure, unadulterated disbelief.
There are all these beautiful big photos taken by the White House Photographer on display in the West Wing. They’re called Jumbos. It’s hard to resist the temptation to spend the whole time there looking at the pictures. Yes, sure, there’s the dining room that looks like a ship, but LOOK AT THIS GORGEOUS PHOTO OF OBAMA PLAYING IN THE SNOW WITH HIS DAUGHTERS!!! And during our snowmageddon!
And then out to the Rose Garden. The ROSE GARDEN. Walking down the portico, for a second I was CJ Cregg. Not much of the rest of the building resembles the TV show, but the portico does. And we stood there. Looking at this spot:
We were there for a good while, just looking. I swear, my breath quickened. I think, at some points, I hung back. Not because I wasn’t wildly, WILDLY excited to be there, but because it was just too much. IT WAS THE WEST WING.
Inside, up some stairs, around another tour group, and quick as you like, our guide is telling us we’re at the Oval Office. And there it was. Just there. The OVAL OFFICE. It was real. There was a bust of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and a bowl of apples. It was bright, much brighter than I expected. There were family photos behind the desk. And it was real. And my head, though not the rest of me, could probably technically be considered to be inside it.
The cabinet room and the Roosevelt room followed. After 6 weeks in DC, I thought I’d become slightly immune to grandeur and the thoughts of things that had happened in these places, but no, it struck me once again. To consider the decision that have and are and will be made in these rooms is just incredible.
Then we went to the Press Briefing room, which was smaller than it seemed, and before you knew it, the tour was over.
There were lots of squeal and OMGs- at least from myself and Clara- on the way home. We were all on top of the world. So we went to the World Market, bought some beer and wine and food, then settled in for a long night of watching the West Wing to critique its accuracy. And to pause, occasionally, or not so occasionally, to relieve what had truly been one of the most amazing hours of our lives.
And now I’m home, and as I wrote earlier, it’s hard to believe little ol’ me had memories of the Oval Office in her head. It’s hard for this to be real life again, after what seemed a dream was, for a time, actually real.