On Wednesday morning, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx visited Mt. Pleasant as part of a tour advocating a new national infrastructure plan. But that, friends, is not the story here. Let me tell you the real story.
It starts with the CisternYard contributor’s meeting last Sunday night. I got the assignment to write about Biden’s visit and was immediately overcome with excitement. So overcome that all the logistical realities that accompany getting close to the Vice President were drowned out by my extreme naiveté zeal.
I researched a few hot button infrastructure and transportation issues, borrowed my friend’s smartphone to take pictures, and steeled myself for the defining opportunity of my six-month journalistic career. I was confident that I could cover the event and be back on campus by noon to take a test. Quick side note, if you grew up in Washington D.C. like I did, feel free to laugh your butt off at me at any point during the following saga.
At 9:00 a.m. I set out for the downtown location of the South Carolina Ports Authority. I had read an article online that stated this address as the location of Biden’s visit. Now, I am not going to call out any names, but seriously guys. I am coming for you. Vengeance aside, I get there and politely ask the front desk man where to go for the Biden event.
I should have known then that something was amiss. I do not know which was more telling – the fact that the front desk man was the identical twin of Geoffrey the butler from Fresh Prince of Bel Air, or the fact that the TV behind him was clearly showing coverage of the event I was trying to get to. Geoffrey’s doppelganger informed me that Biden was visiting a dock in Mt. Pleasant. I thanked him for his help, calmly exited the building, and freaked out.
I sprinted to the ATM inside City Market, in painfully impractical high heel boots, and called a cab. Terrible truth: not all cab companies know where things are. The first two I called certainly did not. But then, a miracle! A cab drives by and actually knows where I want to get to. (Fun fact: There’s a Wando Welch Terminal in North Charleston and one in Mt. Pleasant). I get in, nervously watching the clock. We cross the Ravenel Bridge and the city unravels into highways and marshy pockets of land.
After a period of time that could be equated to the gestation period of the African elephant, we finally arrive at the end of a stretch of road. Being a city girl, I thought it was a highway, but apparently it was just a road. My cab driver then panicked and said he would not go through the gates to the dock complex because he would not be able to turn around and leave. So he did the kind thing, and kicked me out of the cab in the middle of the road, surrounded by 18 wheelers, after confiscating a small fortune’s worth of my cash. As he pulled away he called out the window, “You’re on your own!” Seriously dude? What is this, Jurassic Park?! (Actually, it did feel like Jurassic Park when the trucks started moving.)
Edging my way forward, and waving my arms frantically in hopes of being more visible to all the truck drivers, I finally made it to the security building at the gate. The officer asked to see my papers. When I stared at him mutely for an uncomfortably long time, he tried a different tactic. “Did your organization fill out the forms for the media list?”
Silence… I was not being rude, I promise. My throat was just so full of embarrassment and shame that speaking would have been medically unwise. The officer took one last stab at it, “Maybe you have White House press credentials?” Bless your heart. No, Sir, I’m wearing a backpack I bought in high school…shockingly, I do not have White House press credentials. I declined, thanked him for his time, and began walking away from the gate. It was almost like the turning point in a movie; the heroine has just been dealt the final insult, she will walk away, lulling them into a false sense of security, AND THEN SMITE THEM ALL. I did 3 out of 4.
Scampering to the shoulder of the road and beginning the trek back to civilization, I contemplated my options. Luckily, I had enough money for a cab, but you can’t exactly call and say “Hey, pick me up on the side of the road! Address? No, addresses are too mainstream. Constraints of civilization, man.”
And then, my deliverance! A restaurant in the distance. I sprint to it, and start calling every cab company in my phone. At this point, our sadsack heroine learns that the highway is being shut down for Biden’s motorcade and no cabs will be able to come for about an hour. This, at least, is something I can sympathize with. In D.C., it feels like your entire neighborhood gets shut down for 20 blocks in every direction whenever Bo Obama wants to hit up the groomer’s. #truthbomb.
I settle in on the curb of the restaurant driveway, ready to snap some pictures of the motorcade and wait for a cab. I observe the heavy police presence, noting that there appear to be a hundred South Carolina cop cars. Oh, and wouldja look at that, a few of the state’s finest appear to be walking purposefully toward me. My favorite.
I admit, for a split second I considered just turning my back on them and speed walking into the restaurant, even though this would assuredly be the most suspicious thing I could do. Despite growing up in an extremely safe neighborhood, when I deal with representatives of the government I tend to have an over developed sense of fight-or-flight. The nice gentlemen with the guns asked me what I thought I was doing on the road. After hearing my story and feeling my backpack (Please God, don’t let spiral notebooks feel like bombs), they told me to go inside the restaurant until the road reopened.
After that, the story gets pretty calm. The people in the restaurant very kindly allowed me to hide out inside even though they were not open yet. They even offered me a beer, which I declined, seeing as I am 19. Seriously, did no one in this story think it was odd that I was wearing a backpack? But I digress. Biden went by in a blaze of sirens and black SUVS. A cab was finally able to make it to my location and we drove back to Marion Square in silence. Well, almost.
Somewhere between the Biergarten on East Bay and the bus shed, my driver rolled down the windows and cranked up Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” until you could hear it in Chattanooga. I paid up for the second time that day and bailed out in front of the Frances Marion at 11:45, $60 lighter and no story to turn in to my editor. But instead of beating up the first person I saw (the usual course of action), I felt great.
Why? Well, I will tell you. I was not arrested for being stupid. I was not arrested for being unprepared. I was not arrested for being a writer for a school newspaper, being a woman or wearing a skirt that landed above my knees. And at the end of the day, I felt great because I live in a country where you are not punished for wanting to see a piece of the political system that governs our lives, even if you end up making a fool of yourself in the attempt.