When I first came to DC, I did all the touristy things - the monuments on the Mall, the Smithsonian, the National Zoo - and, once they were out of my system, never thought about doing them again until I had out-of-town guests. The White House tour was part of that group of things you do once and never again, particularly after 9/11, when they stopped allowing just anyone to line up and get in but instead forced you to get tickets through your Congressperson.
But when my friend PQ started working at the White House and offered to give us a behind-the-scenes tour, that was an offer I couldn't refuse.
So Sunday G&T and I met up with PQ after her shift was over and started our tour of the West Wing. Now, most times I can keep this under wraps, but under certain circumstances, my inner Camera Nerd is unleashed, and this was one of them. I think I snapped a picture every three feet of the grounds (no pictures are allowed inside).
Outside the front of the White House, which oddly is what most people would recognize as the back of the building, we got to sneak up on the permanent enclave of camera equipment set up for TV news channels. While we were there, a woman from NBC news was working on her line signing off from a story. Took her a few tries, so we killed time while we were waiting (didn't want to ruin the shot) by watching the public on the *other* side of the metal bars in Lafayette Park. It's a weird perspective.
Next, we visited the White House Press corps room, which looks nice on TV but is rather dingy up close. I mean, my god, when was the last time they cleaned that carpet? The press corps sit in verrry close auditorium-style seats (seriously, they're like ass to cheeks in there) with the names of their organizations on brass tags on the chairs, I'm assuming to avoid scuffles over seating arrangements. Conspiracy theorists please note that the Fox tag looks different from the others. G&T and I took turns having our picture taken while we pretended to address the press corps from the podium. There were actual cameramen in the room rolling their eyes at our dorky behavior, but you know what? Not going to see them again.
Then we had to put our cameras away as we walked through the West Wing (or at least parts of it). We got to see the Oval Office, which was surprisingly airy and cheerful-looking. The Cabinet Room looks pretty much as it looks in movies. The Rose Garden was just lovely. It was so green and peaceful, you felt like you were in the middle of some country estate, not right in the heart of Washington.
In one of the hallways was an interesting three-paneled drawing that Norman Rockwell did for the Saturday Evening Post
about the President's waiting room. He camped out there for a week or so and did this illustration of the kinds of people lining up outside the President's office. They apparently never ran it as he had labeled several Secret Service types "S.S. Man," which, given the time (1943), had a different and negative connotation.
Also adorning the hallways were gigantic pictures of Bush doing various presidential things. While there were the typical shots of him clearing brush and playing with his dog, there also were a handful or so of Katrina-related pictures. Didn't take them long.
We completed our tour with the Old Executive Office, which used to house the Departments of War, State, and the Navy, and still houses the Vice President's office. It's in the process of being renovated, so you walk in and are greeted by a tile-less, uneven floor. But the rest of the building is gorgeous. Particularly note-worthy is the Indian Treaty Room, which has stunning tiles and a cool view looking over the rooftop of the White House. The building is crowned with a beautiful royal blue stained glass window that I think domes up and out.
My only regret was that because it was a Sunday night, the gift shops were closed. But PQ has promised to snag us some Presidential M&Ms, so I'm all good.