That fact alone made what happened right before our very eyes so unbelievable.
We received a set (as in several typewritten pages) of emailed pre-visit instructions. These were very detailed. They covered things such as:
- where to park if you were driving in,
- where the nearest Metro station was, if you were taking a train into the area,
- how long you might expect to wait to enter once you were there, etc.
- Bring current photo identification.
- No overcoats. Suit or sports coat, permitted.
- No hats.
- No purses, bags, totes or wallets.
- No cameras.
- No backpacks.
- No weapons, registered or otherwise.
- Be prepared to be frisked and go through metal detector. (I'm paraphrasing here.)
I honestly do not know what more they could have done to make clear what was required to have a successful visit.
Imagine our curiosity then, when the following day, we found ourselves in line behind a husband, wife, and two teenage children with the mother carrying a large tote-type leather bag, in addition to a smaller purse.
K. and I looked at each other as we inched slowly forward, and gave each other a look which said, "This should be interesting." One portion of the instructions which had been bolded and underlined was No purses, bags, totes, or wallets.
The lady in question breezed right up to the table whereupon a security officer - very politely - said to her, "Maam, you cannot take those items into the White House."
She looked at him, only slightly puzzled, and simply shrugged off his comments and proceeded to lay her tote bag and purse on the table, as she moved toward the walk-through metal detector.
Quietly, but deliberately, a second security officer stepped in front of the metal detector before she could step through, his hands clasped loosely behind his back in an "at ease" posture.
She turned to the first officer, who was still behind the table facing her, and said testily, "Is there a problem?"
"Yes, maam, there seems to be. You cannot take a purse or any other kind of bag into the White House. The instructions we sent to you made that clear."
"Then I will leave them here and come back and get them after the tour."
He explained that was not allowed, due to the one-way nature of the tour; no loop-around back was allowed for security reasons.
Now quite testily, she responded, "But that is my purse. And you are telling me that I cannot take it with me and I cannot leave it here. What do you expect me to do with it?"
Now it was his problem? And she fully expected him to either make an exception for her, or provide some other solution.
He continued to reply calmly, politely, but firmly as she became increasingly irate. Now her voice was raised, her demeanor not entirely ladylike, and we could see her husband and children getting impatient.
Clearly they had seen this show before and they knew how it usually ended. Mom threw a hissy-fit, someone made some kind of adjustment or accommodation, she got her way and they all went on with their day.
However, this time, it was not happening.
No matter how many times the officer told her she could not take the belongings into the residence, she continued to act like he was speaking to her in Mandarin. Finally, she nearly shrieked at him, "How am I supposed to take this tour, if I cannot take my purse and bag with me and I cannot leave them here?"
Enough was enough. I imagine that there is either, a) a time limit, or b) a set number of times through the denial loop, after which the officer goes to Plan B.
"You don't understand, maam. You will not be taking the White House tour today. Please step aside and allow the people behind you to move forward."
She spluttered, she huffed and she puffed, but as two additional officers, with side arms in full view, began to move toward her, she grabbed her bags off the table, sharply bid her family to follow, and stomped off.
# # # # #
This living example of people who think the rules are for "other people" has really stuck with me. It was not just her arrogance or her complete lack of consideration for either the officers or those in line behind her, it was the fact that she obviously believed she was entitled to special treatment. It really was all about her.
Sadly, her self-centered attitude meant that her entire family missed out on a wonderful experience that day. I doubt I will ever get to tour the White House again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
# # # # #
I cannot help but ask myself, however, what may I have missed out on, simply because I was too self-involved to pay attention to what was right in front of me? Probably more than I will ever realize or would care to admit if I did know. How about you?
# # # # #
Dear Lord, deliver me from hissy-fits and high drama. Hope you do not witness any such thing today and I'll do my best not to demonstrate one. Until next time, Marsha