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President Biden Visits Sac

SACRAMENTO, CA, U.S.A. – SEPT. 13, 2021

Press pass, pretty please…

Ever wonder what it takes to get into the press pack for a spot when President Biden Visits Sac? Well, still not in possession of the press request email through the Governor’s office, I tracked down a press number at the White House. I was trying to cover the event for Outword Magazine, our regional and wonderful queer paper. (To whom I regularly contribute.).

They called me back within 20 minutes to direct me to the domestic press secretary’s office. I called, got through right away to someone who emailed me the RSVP request (they had to be in by 10am). I got the request done, got an almost instant reply and was good to go. Yay!

The right stuff… or not

Except that after reading the info, I realized the “throw” (distance) on the tarmac from Air Force 1 would be 150 feet. Meaning I would need to drag out my 200-400mm f4 mega lens (7 pounds) that I hardly ever use. As I was setting up at home to be sure the bracket and mount were good, I discovered that one of my tripod leg clips had broken. #$%@#@! Just how fast can Amazon deliver? I left early for a quick stop at Best Buy in Folsom.

They had one Manfrotto tripod with the correct thread size screw on top to take my plate mount. It was a little underbuilt for the weight it would need to support, but I figured it would be functional enough for today. With $150 on my credit card bill, I headed off to Mather Airport .

Checking in and the dogs…

Press checkin was 11:30, but I was there a little after 11:00, so I just chilled in my car, made sure my gear, i.d. etc were good. I was lugging two camera bodies, three main lenses, my computer, some food and water, bandaids (I’d already cut myself once), and some other things I would not end up using. I had a roller bag, backpack, waist harness, lunch bag and tripod.

Once they let us into the Sac Jet Center building we all left our gear in rows on the floor for security checks and waited outside. It was only in the upper 80’s in the shade, I think, so not too awful. I enjoyed chatting with various regional journalists and met Jeremy Marciniak, one of the people running for Governor, who had just stopped by. Interesting. Various hunky secret service guys went in and out, some dressier than others.

At 12:00pm, the K-9 unit guys brought two different German Shepherd dogs in, and around 12:30 or so, we queued up to show our press badges and photo ids. They checked us with their RSVP list and asked if we would be covering arrival and departure or arrival and remarks (logistically we could not do the remarks and then the departure). I chose to do arrival and remarks, so I got a plain red wristband. I had been hoping for some kind of Air Force 1 or White House bling-designed pass, but noooo…

Holding…

President Biden was scheduled to touch down around 2:15 after his visit to Boise. That meant we had a nice break in the air-conditioned hold area prior to being taken out in shuttles to the tarmac around 1:30. There were about 36 of us, from AP to Bloomsburg, to Kaiser Health News to San Francisco Chronicle, to Stockton folks, the local news tv, and more! As we headed out, a group of about 30 protesters had gathered with anti-Biden and pro-Trump signs. They desperately wanted us to take their pictures and report on them. I took one.

Tarmac time…

They had three pop-ups set up inside a barricade area. We all go set up, and I took what I hoped were some establishing, setting-the-atmosphere shots. Then, right on time, the big blue and white Air Force 1 plane flew in from the east and landed on the runway. At the end, if turned around, and slowly taxied toward us. Chocks were put into place, the front and rear steps moved in, and the press pool on the plane descended from the rear. Major General Michael T. Brewer first appeared at the open front door, and then President Biden came out. Here he was – President Biden really visits Sac after all! At the top of the stairs he removed his black mask before heading down the steps. By this time, most of us had sweat dripping into and burning our eyes it was so hot out there!

Meanwhile, Governor Gavin Newsom (whose recall election is tomorrow) hurried out, putting on his jacket while the press pool looked on. I actually love that photo! They shook hands, but President Biden was standing behind the black Suburban motorcade car, and we could not see him from our vantage point. Oh well…

Air con please…

Next we returned to the press hold, while. the President went to get debriefed on the firefighting efforts in the state  by the Office of Emergency Services. At about 3:30, they told us to get our stuff to shuttle over to the hangar, where we would wait while the President and Governor Newsom went out on an aerial tour by helicopter to El Dorado County to survey some of the Caldor Fire damage.

The hangar oven…

I will say that, at first, the hangar was actually fairly shady and there was even. a bit of a breeze. We all got set up and then started chatting as the sun gradually found its way in and it became ovenlike. Why we had to be there an hour before the return of. the chopper was a mystery, but hey, at least everything was running on time. One journalist friend noted that she had been on presidential stops where the schedule ran two hours late!

At last Governor Newsom and the President arrived through the back door. They walked out together around the Cal Fire truck and fire charts that had been put on easels for backdrop visuals. Governor Newsom made various remarks, saying essentially that President Biden “gets” climate change, he cares about this issue, and has for a long time.

“I’ve been around this business long enough to note the distinction between the people that are interested in things, and people that are committed to solving things,” Newsom said.

Here come the Prez…

After that, President Biden stepped up to the podium. Some of us were starting to feel pretty shaky and out of sorts from being cooked in there for so long, and notably, the President’s first remarks were thanking us for being there and noting just how toasty the hangar was. Gracious and empathetic and totally unnecessary. I liked that.

He did seem a bit weary, but mustered some passion and energy as he spoke for about ten minutes. He talked compassionately about the effect the fires have had on our community, and about his infrastructure reconciliation bill, which includes billions in funding for the USDA Forest Service, which owns nearly half of California’s forestland.

The President also talked about his effort to increase federal firefighters’ pay to no less than $15 an hour, a number he said still needs to be higher. He acknowledged that “decades of forest management decisions” have led to dangerous conditions for wildfires in the west. 

“But we can’t ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change,” Biden said. “It isn’t about red or blue states, it’s about fires — just fires.” After he spoke, a few reporters called out questions to him, but he did not answer.

Shuttle hell…

We waited until the motorcade was back on the tarmac, then got into a shuttle. Sadly, this shuttle apparently lacked working air conditioning and we sat cooking for about ten minutes while we waited for everyone to board Air Force 1 before the plane took off. President Biden is appearing at a rally opposing Governor Newsom’s recall election in Long Beach tonight.

A happy ending…

So, President Biden visits Sac, briefly, and no news broke. However, our president did see for himself some of the terrible and dramatic destruction that we have all been dealing with in one way or another for months. The timing was obviously geared to coincide with supporting Governor Newsom in the recall election, but for this photographer, drenched and heat stroky as. I was, wouldn’t have missed it! It says a lot about how the press works in this country that a small-time, local journalist can get a seat at the table with the big boys and girls of press world.

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All photos are copyright Chris Allan 2021 and cannot be used without my permission. Please contact me for usage rights. Thank you for reading my blog post “President Biden Visits Sac”. To learn more about me and my work, please see my About page. 

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