Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Bill Clinton stumps in Bend

I was included in the "tight pool" of photojournalists covering President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore during an environmental summit at Lake Tahoe in July, 1997. Since then I have been trying to get this particular image signed by Clinton.

I nearly was successful several years ago when he came to a symposium at the University of California/Davis. He was given two prints to sign but the instructions on who to sign them for were misinterpreted and neither of them was signed to me. I also thought about sending a print to his office in Harlem but I never got around to doing that. Then, last weekend an announcement was made that he was coming to Bend to stump for Hillary. I got a plan in my head and had an 11x14 print made at Costco.

My best chance to get the print to Clinton was to get to the event very early at Bend High School, find one of his advance team members and ask them to have him sign it, rather than hoping for an opportunity in the crush of people after the speech. I drove into the school parking lot just as students were leaving at 3pm. With print and one camera in hand and my old Sacramento Bee press identification card in my pocket I headed to the gym where people were already lining up.

A TV reporter told me where the media check-in was and after securing a spot in the line I walked around to the back of the school where all the TV satellite trucks were lined up. Inside the building was the press table and one advance team woman, Cindy O'Leary, was instructing a few volunteers on the media sign-in procedure. I started talking to her about my quest, showed her the old Bee I.D. and she agreed to take the print with no guarantees. The situation was looking good I thought. I returned to my spot in the crowd and began to wait.

In my years of covering political events waiting for hours is not uncommon. As a working photographer, however, I was able to be inside the venue, warm and sitting. Today I was just another Joe Citizen standing in the line. The number of people that came to event far exceeded the capacity of the school gymnasium. The two-hour wait was difficult, the weather was cold and brisk. One woman said that winter in central Oregon is nature's way of reminding us why there are no cockroaches. Another woman, Cris Woodard wore her patriotic denim jacket with a red/white/blue scarf and brought postcards of Bill and Hillary she hoped to get signed.
Inside the gym I got a seat where I could see the podium and most of the crowd. The people around me were many of the teachers at the school. A woman next to me was an English teacher, a graduate of Del Oro High School in the Sacramento area. Small world. Her comment about the wait to get in was "think of it as waiting in line for a Disneyland ride."
The Bend event was Clinton's fourth of the day so it was not surprising that he was nearly an hour late. When he began his speech the cell phone and point-and-shoot cameras were aimed at the stage. He spoke for over an hour, eloquently and passionately about Hillary's candidacy. The speech, to me, was a down-home "state of the world" address that could only come from a man who has seen the issues from the rare perspective of having had the most important public service job in the world.
Flanked by three Secret Service agents Clinton worked his way slowly and deliberately through the crowd at the edge of the podium. I was able to get as close as I wanted to photograph. Since I wasn't "media" my access was better than most any other situation I'd been in as a working journalist. I also got to do something I would never have done before: I called out to him, shook his hand and asked if he would be sure to sign my print. He looked straight at me and said," I already have." I made a few more frames of him in the crowd then got out of the crush. It took nearly another hour for the gym to clear and the Clinton motorcade to leave for the Redmond airport. I found the woman who had my large envelope and print. I pulled out the photograph and sure enough the signature was there. "For Jay Mather. Thanks. Bill Clinton."

I left the parking lot after a five hour episode of waiting, laughing with folks, meeting teachers and a most helpful advance team member, Cindy O'Leary, and 15 seconds with President Clinton. I call that a great day.

1 comment:

Karen said...

What a great story, Jay. I can't wait to see the signed photo.