I can't help feeling that taking this wire service job is the best
thing I've ever done. The phrase "it's not just a job, it's an
adventure" isn't just an Army slogan any more. The people here
are great. At yesterday's photographers meeting the chief told me
that he was going to let me cover the President next month, even though
I've only been here a week. One of the older guys said, "Sure,
let the new guy do it" and everyone agreed. It's gong to be an
exciting month because not only so I get to cover the President Of
The United States (or POTUS as we call him) but I get to go with him
on a trip to his ranch in Texas! I'm told that his ranch is in the
Texas Hill Country and that August is probably the best month to be
there. It'll be good to get out of Washington for a while because
it can get really hot here in the summer. I'll write to you again
Today I got to fly on Air Force One. It was a little smaller than
I thought it would be and the food wasn't quite as nice as I thought
it would be but the important thing is I got to fly on Air Force One.
I checked in early and asked one of the flight crew if I could have
a look at the Presidential escape pod (all the guys at work told me
about it) but he told me that it was "top secret." One of
the other crewmen must have told him a really funny joke when he went
back to the galley because the three of them laughed until they were
almost in tears. Now you know I don't smoke but I did manage to take
a few of the matchbooks with the Air Force One logo on them. They
might come in handy and look very impressive. I'll write to you soon.
We went with the President to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. I didn't
actually get to go on to the ranch because the President's on vacation.
I'm sure we'll see him tomorrow when he goes jogging. We're staying
at a motel in Waco, Texas, which is about 30 miles from the ranch.
I don't have to rent a car because the White House has vans that can
take us anywhere we want to go. Waco's kind of interesting. It's the
home of Dr. Pepper and the Snickers bar and there's even a Dr. Pepper
museum! I'm going to go and see it when we get a free day.
They got us up early today. We had to be up and ready at 4:30 in the
morning for a trip to the ranch. This is something they call "protective
coverage" and the other photographers tell me that it's very
important. We were at the ranch by five o'clock. The Secret Service
agent told me that the President was going to go running but he must
have gone out the ranch's other gate because we didn't actually see
him run. I'm glad that the vans they use have good air conditioning
because it started getting warm at around 8:00AM.
I have got to remember to buy myself a good paperback book when we
get back to Waco tonight. So far we've spent all day, every day, sitting
in a van at the entrance to the President's ranch. The van's air conditioning
is still working but with all the seats filled with members of the
press it seems a little crowded. I had to move from the front seat
to the back because on of the writers kept putting his arm around
my shoulders and rubbing my back. I didn't think much about it until
he asked me if he could show me the nightlife in Waco. Believe me
Jackie, there is no nightlife in Waco.
Everyone in Waco drinks Dr. Pepper. They drink it cold. They drink
it hot. They mix it with rum. Some people even wash their hair in
it because they think it makes it more manageable. If I have to taste
Dr. Pepper one more time I think I'm going to vomit. Same for the
Snickers bars that everyone seems to eat all the time. I've seen people
eat Snickers like a cigarette smoker chain-smokes Winstons. Everyone
here has the breath of an elephant and complains about being constipated.
Well duh! Snickers bar! Peanuts!
Another 4:30AM pool call. Another day sitting on my butt in a van.
We can't even run the air conditioner all the time because the President
has ordered all Federal employees to conserve energy. The van driver
is taking this very seriously and will only run the air conditioner
for 30 minutes every hour. It's been getting up to 130 degrees during
the day here! We've started taking bets on which of the roadside animals
will spontaneously combust. I've seen a prairie dog and what I think
was an armadillo burst into flames while they were trying to cross
the road. One of the local bartenders in Waco has invented a drink
called the Bourbon-and-Branch Davidian. It's served in a square glass
and you light it before serving.
We finally got to see the President. We got into our vans at 4:30
this morning, drove out to the ranch and then waited around for a
few hours until it go good and hot. They we were driven on to the
ranch so we could take pictures of POTUS chopping wood and clearing
brush. The only problem was that I'd forgotten to charge the batteries
in my brand new digital cameras so neither of them worked. The only
thing I had with me was an old Leica loaded with black & white
film. I can't tell you how angry they were back in Washington when
they heard that. I didn't have any way to develop the film and nobody
in town processes black & white film any more, so I had to get
a cab to take me to the airport so I could put my one roll of Tri-X
on a plane bound for Washington. It won't get there until late tonight
but at least they'll have something.
The lab screwed up. Really. That roll of black & white film made
it to Washington okay but the lab technician ruined the film. Evidently
the guy had never seen a roll of Tri-X before so he put it in a batch
of old color chemicals and it came out blank. I've been begging the
White House staffers to let me do some other pictures of the President
but nothing's happened. They've "taken my request under advisement"
and will "get back to me as soon as possible" but so far
What I thought was a small trailer park at the gate to the President's
ranch turns out to be some doublewide trailers where his staff is
living while he's at the ranch. There is a pile of what has to be
400-500 beer bottles just sitting in a pile behind one of them. We've
heard that they're going to get naked and dance around a bonfire the
night before we leave the ranch "to celebrate."
We're going to be leaving in a few days and heading back to Washington.
I've already been told that my job is in jeopardy because of the black
& white film thing and quite frankly I Don't Care! I've been trapped
in a living hell-on-earth for almost a month and if I never see the
Texas Hill Country again it'll be too soon. And by the way, there
are no hills in this "Texas Hill Country," unless they're
talking about the 8-foot tall dirt mounds that all the fire ants live
in. How anyone can live in this God-forsaken wilderness is beyond
We leave tomorrow and it's not a moment too soon. I've sat on my ass
for almost 30 days in a van that could have been used as an oven.
I've learned that chicken-fried steak contains no chicken, in fact
I've seen things fried in oil that I won't even tell you about. The
staffers had their bonfire last night and it got a little out of hand.
A little? They wound up torching the trailers. We got there at 5:00AM
like we do every damn day to find a bunch of 20-somethings sitting
by the side of the road with very little on and scorch marks down
their backs. Some of them had daubed charcoal on their faces and a
few had shaved their heads. I took some pictures of them and they'll
probably the only thing I've shot this month that will have an ice-cube's-chance-in-hell
of winning anything in next year's Picture Of The Year contest.
We got back last night and I found out that I'd been fired. I'm going
to be moving back home in a couple of days, assuming, of course, that
I can get my car out of the impound lot that the DC police put it
in. My landlord is refusing to give me back my security deposit because
the air conditioner that I left running at the apartment caught fire
and ruined the bedroom. When we got to the airport in Waco they had
to spend an hour or more sweeping dead crickets from around the plane
before we could take off. It's a "Texas summer thing" those
crickets. On the trip back we saw that old movie "Fargo"
and everyone but me knew EVERY word in the script. It was like being
at a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. People were
jumping up and throwing imaginary bodies into imaginary wood chippers.
I can't take any more. I'm coming home.