So I called a good friend of mine yesterday - Gail, who lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. She had met the president a few months ago and she told me...
Wait. Some back story first.
I met Gail back when I was campaigning for Barack Obama in 2008. Initially I went to her church because I was going to be poll watching at that church on the primary polling day (a Tuesday, so two days later) and thought it made sense to meet some people at the church itself. It was a raucous, wonderful time, with singing to the rafters (as the expression goes). I looked essentially like nobody else there (color-wise - it was a primarily African American church), but that didn't seem to matter to anyone. I was completely welcomed and embraced (figuratively and actually, as I remember). Then when Tuesday rolled around, I went and stood outside the church in lawyer mode to ensure that everyone had a chance to vote and have a voice. That's when I met Gail. She was sitting outside as well, also doing poll work. It turned out she had missed me at church because it was one of the very rare Sundays that she hadn't attended. She otherwise was one of the pillars at the place (such a great church - I love that church). She and I hung out all day and became great friends - though that is just the way she is anyway. As her father says, she has never met a stranger. She is a lovely, amazing person. There are few people out there as special as Gail.
When I came back to Greensboro a few months later - in the fall of 2008 - she and I decided we would go out together and register people to vote. I told her I'd take care of everything - get the list of where we would go, etc. When we met to get to where we were going, we decided she should drive and I would give directions. When I told her where we were going, she abruptly stopped her vehicle. Excuse me? She must have said. We are going where? I told her again. She just looked at me. I told her that I had asked for an assignment in a poor neighborhood - that way, we were sure to get all kinds of people who hadn't registered to vote yet. Mm hmm, she said. As we got the neighborhood, Gail (a former police officer) seemed to be holding back as she followed me from door to door but told me that I was the one who had to do the talking (until she couldn't help her gregarious self and would join in each conversation at the tail end). Then her pastor called her on her cell phone and I got a glimpse of what was on her mind: "Beth's got me in the 'hood," she told him. "And me without my handgun. She doesn't know any better, but I've got my phone in one hand and my keys in the other. Anything happens, we'll make a run for it!" I just laughed and chided her - "this place is fine," I said. "Everyone's been so nice!" She just rolled her eyes. As far as she was concerned, I was a babe in the woods - or the 'hood, as it were.
Fast forward to last fall (and yesterday, when I heard the story). Turns out, President Obama decided to work out at Gail's gym last October - a gym near where he was staying at the time. Gail had come with some freshly made pound cake to give to the staff there, saw all the secret service cars, and wondered, what the heck... She got permission first, that it would be okay to talk with him, then waited for her chance and came up when he was in between machines and told him she was a great supporter of his and that she had campaigned for him back in 2008 and then told him that she and her "white, blond-headed girlfriend" from Spokane, Washington had done some voter registration that year in the rougher side of town - she told him, "I should know, I'm former law enforcement and I had clients" from down there. And she told him that we had no problems whatsoever. (And while she was too polite to tell me this yesterday, I'm pretty sure she told him how naive that "white, blond-headed girlfriend" was, dragging her to that neighborhood.) (Except we did have just a marvelous time!) Funny funny. Then she asked him to take the four pieces of pound cake that she had, and he said, "Gail, what are doing to me? I'm here to work out!" but he couldn't turn down that homemade baking (and he shouldn't have - she is one marvelous cook). She ended up getting a photo taken with him and being on Cloud 9 about the encounter.
In fact Gail did more than what she told him, because she also drove people to voting locations at the general election, and spent a lot of time helping one elderly woman in particular get her voter registration straightened out because of some bureaucratic red tape that had been put in her way. Another person would have given up, but Gail knew that it mattered to this woman to be able to vote and she wasn't going to let her down. That's how Gail is. She also took her eldest son to the inauguration, to stand on that lawn with him and know that she was present for that moment in history. It was a great intention that she had. I wish I could have figured out a way to help her get a better seat - or a seat at all - or even just a little bit of a view. But I imagine there was something special for her to just being there at all. And then last fall - did I mention? - she got to meet the president in person and got to give him some of that delicious pound cake that she makes. That likely made up for inauguration day's obstructed view.