A trip to see the Leader of the Free World

I told my family I was going to cover President George W. Bush today when he visited the Stockton fund-raiser for Rep. Richard Pombo and they were appropriately impressed. It’s not every day that someone they actually know sits a few hundred feet from the Leader of the Free World.

But it’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds when TV personalities like Diane Sawyer mention on the air that they have “covered presidents.”

It’s actually a real pain in the neck.

For security purposes, I had to send the White House in advance my social security number, date of birth and the whereabouts of my eldest child. (Heck, they can have the child; maybe Barbara Bush can convince him to go to college.) Wait aminute, doesn’t the government already know this stuff about me? If the government can’t find my social security number, I doubt they’ll have much luck spotting a terrorist.

That’s only the beginning of the aggravation.

The parking sucks because the Secret Service has shut down all the adjacent streets.

You must arrive two or three hours before the president even appears.

They stick you with an ID tag and tell you not lose it or risk being thrown out.

Security involves a frowning man in an expensive suit rifling through your messy purse and that oh-so-unladylike spread-eagle stance while another equally dour guard passes the metal detector wand up and down your body. I just hope it’s not an X-ray machine. I couldn’t remember if I wore my nicest panties.

They corral you like cattle behind those poles linked together with canvas strips — like they use in the bank or amusement parks — while secret agent types wearing lumpy, dark suits who have little microphones wedged into their ears hover along the perimeter to make sure you don’t escape. They even insist on escorting you to the bathroom lest you deviate from your assigned position.

I suspect they listen to the reporters’ conversations, too, which gave me pause after I told the Contra Costa Times photographer via cell phone that it looked as “though there’s a clear shot of the president from the press riser.” I was talking, for anyone who might be confused or monitoring this blog from the White House, about photos.

By that time, I was regretting my earlier decision to skip former Congressman Pete McCloskey’s invite to a pre-Bush breakfast where he was going to feed reporters mimosas and Krispy Kreme donuts. I didn’t want to lapse into a glycemic shock and no matter what you see in the movies, most reporters don’t drink on the job, or at the very least, before lunch.

From our little roped off prison, we could only watch folks chowing down on their eggs and bacon.

But after the speech was done and the story was filed, it all felt worth it to come home and tell the family all about how I, too, “cover presidents.”

It’s too bad presidents don’t visit California more often. Next time, I think I’ll try the donuts and the mimosas. (Just don’t tell my editor.)