The Artist Formerly Known as President

I interviewed a Point Loma resident who had crashed 20 Super Bowls. What surprised me more than his success at crashing the games was that he once crashed an event for President Clinton. He got close enough to have a photo taken with the commander in chief...and a six-hour visit with the Secret Service. When I found out the former president was going to be at a dinner sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of San Diego, I figured I'd try to crash it. I wasn't going to pay the $250, but the thought of trying to sneak into the downtown Hyatt, getting tackled by the Secret Service, and given a colonoscopy didn't sound like fun. I opted for an alternative way in -- I called and convinced them to give me a press pass.

When the girl I was dating expressed interest, I decided I'd try to sneak her in.

I checked the surroundings trying not to look obvious. The Secret Service men were everywhere -- big guys, tiny ear pieces. I'd occasionally see one talk into his sleeve.

I approached the media table and said, "A woman is going to be showing up in half an hour. Can I put her name on the list?" They asked me if she was media. I said, "She'll be my photographer for this evening." They said "Okay, sure. What is her name?" As I was spelling it out, they said, "And she'll show us a business card and I.D. that proves she is press?" I nodded yes but knew the plan was scrapped.

I called and told her, but she didn't seem bummed. Maybe it was because she got her fix of seeing a political celebrity earlier in the day. She was at a restaurant that Rudy Giuliani came into. I made a lame joke about not wanting her to get too close to Clinton anyway.

I had debated whether or not to wear a tie to the event. I ended up just going with slacks and a blazer, and I was glad I did. I saw one guy in jeans and Nikes.

After the cocktails downstairs, we were escorted to the upstairs event. Someone with the Secret Service appeared and told me I'd need to be at a certain location by 8:00 p.m. so they could check out my camera equipment.

Right before I went to have my gear checked, I saw an ex-girlfriend's parents and said hello. The father was a bit upset with me because of a quote I used from his daughter in a story; he said it ended up costing her a job. I tried to explain my point, but he lectured me on the power of the media and how it was my job to realize this.

We all had to put our cameras in the middle of the floor. Talk about feeling inadequate. There were video cameras from several major news organizations, and the various print media presented sophisticated gear. I had a small digital camera. As the Secret Service dude walked around the circle, he noticed my camera a few feet away from the rest and kicked it as if it were a Hacky Sack into the pile.

A German shepherd was brought in to sniff the cameras, I assumed for bombs. A guy who reminded me of Dean Martin stumbled up next to me with a drink in his hand. In an intoxicated voice, he leaned in and said to me, "If that dog pisses on our stuff, we got a big lawsuit." He laughed uncontrollably at his own joke. I replied, "I think dog slobber is all we're going to have to worry about."

When we were allowed to get food, there were few places left to sit. One woman said, "I can't eat standing up. This is ridiculous." Two Latino employees were walking by at the time, and one said, "For Shnizzel." I was wondering if that was the first time this phrase had been uttered in the same room as a president. I asked one of them how many people they thought were here. "We heard there were 1800. But it's a lot less up here by the food."

I overheard another woman complain to an employee, "What should I do? Eat my food sitting on the floor?" She then stormed off.

I saw a chair in the lobby near the elevators and placed my plate on the table next to it. At the other end of the table there was a second chair that a woman snapped up. After she placed her food down, her mother and husband came over. I offered up my chair. At first they refused, but I insisted. I brought it over to them and ate standing up like everyone else.

When I went to the hall where Clinton was going to speak, I was told media was in the back. I asked someone in the Secret Service if I could take a picture during the speech. "Absolutely not," I was told. I asked the agent if I could take a picture of him, and he said, "Can't you just find some good-looking guy and say he's Secret Service?" He went on to explain that he works investigations here in town and didn't want his face plastered in the paper. I mentioned that I once talked to a retired agent at a party and he said, "Oh, yeah. Well, those guys are free to talk and do whatever they want."

A woman sat down in the press section, and the agent told her that she couldn't sit there. She snapped, "Why is it you can tell me where to sit?" He said, "I can yank you right out that door if I want! Now move." She then said sarcastically, "I suppose I should just sit on your lap." He responded, "It isn't my job to save you a seat."

When the national anthem was sung, the agents watched us. I thought they'd be suspicious if we weren't singing and I sang louder.

"Ladies and gentleman," the former president of the United States came out. I wondered if anyone ever did anything funny such as announce him as "The Artist Formerly Known as the President."

He made a few jokes that got big laughs, one being that his mother was the only one who thought he could win the election and that "even Hillary and Chelsea were undecided."

His other joke came when he talked about the environment. He referenced the Al Gore movie: "I saw whatever that documentary was that...some guy did."

When Clinton started talking at length about North Korea and other international issues, my eyes glazed over. It was like a boring history class. I was kept from falling asleep by the idiot in front of me on his cell phone. I counted eight people who looked back at him hoping he'd get the message. At one point, he put a finger in his ear as someone went "Shhhh!" I wondered if he said into the phone, "Sorry, I can't hear you. There's some president talking."

He got off the phone, but it was only a matter of minutes before he made another call and started talking again. Unbeliev-able.

The news cameramen started breaking down their equipment while Clinton was still speaking. A few of them talked about getting back to the studio so that they could air the footage that night.

I thought about how much pressure they had in their jobs, and here I am writing about the event months after it took place.

Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.

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