All Photos Taken by Richard Noble

A Valentine from the White House

By Judith Salkin

I try not to gush, but the chance to get up-close and personal with President Barak Hussein Obama is a whole different planet for me.

On a fluke, I had the opportunity to make contact with the White House press office recently and that ended up leading to – gasp! – become part of the press pool when the Air Force One landed at Palm Springs International Airport on Valentine’s Day.

First there was the email requesting an RSVP for credentials for the landing. Amazed that it had come to me, I forwarded it my day-job boss, Stephanie Greene at FG Creative, where I work as the Public Relations Manager.

“Do it!” she said. “And make sure you have an FG press pass!”

With that ringing endorsement in my ears, I forwarded it Tracy Dietlin, my publisher of Coachella Valley Weekly. “Are you covering this exclusively for me?” “Of course!” “OK, I’ll send it in and see what happens!”

According to the official instruction I had to get to the airport at 5 p.m., go through several checkpoints before getting to the area where the press bus would be waiting. If it hadn’t been for previous visits and knowing which streets would be blocked off, I might not have made it.

And if you have any qualms about cops, SWAT trucks, military in full battle regalia (OK, so they were in camos and just had sidearms, but still…) and being thoroughly scanned by TSA agents, this wasn’t the assignment you wanted.

Creds checked by PSPD at the entrance to the blocked off Kirk Douglas Way; creds checked again near the entrance to the parking lot (OK, so I went the wrong way a bit and Marines were doing their job) and after parking and walking to the cargo area of the airport, creds checked one more time by the White House press guys at the desk.

From this point on it’s a waiting game. Get on the bus, catch up with your press brothers-in-cameras (local TV and news shooters and reporters like Brooke Beare, Blake Herzog, etc.) that you haven’t seen in a while before getting told to get off for the “official” security check that includes bomb-sniffing dogs, emptying your purse and any other bags and being wanded by TSA while a line of Highway Patrol, Riverside County Sheriffs and military Police stand around in case they’re needed.

When we finally get to the press box around 6 p.m. It’s a raised platform that’s probably 10 feet by 20 feet, and now filled with 30 or so people with cameras, mics, tripods and not much room for the people to stand and wait.

Stand around and wait, jockey for position so that we can get clear shots of the plane when it finally arrives and, more importantly, the President of the United States. I realize that under no circumstances will we be anywhere near the plane.

There is a cadre of local officials – 36th District Congressman Raul Ruiz, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Tribal Chairman Jeff Grubbe, Rancho Mirage Mayor Richard Kite and Palm Springs Mayor Pro Rick Hutcheson. No pre-landing interviews, we just get to see them milling about, chatting and waiting.

And then there is Lee Simmons, a gentleman of some history waiting to greet the president, too.

Simmons has lived in the Coachella Valley for nearly 40 years. He came here to serve as steward for President Gerald R. Ford, and did so until Mr. Ford’s death. Before that Simmons served as the first African-American steward on Air Force One, serving presidents Kennedy and Johnson to Nixon and Ford.

To Simmons, seeing the president back in the Coachella Valley and using Sunnylands as a conference center is historic.

“I’m very proud of the history that’s being made here,” he said. “I think the President is carrying on the legacy that Mr. Annenberg wanted. He wanted this to be a place where people could solve the world’s problems in a peaceful way.”

Following that brief respite in the hurry-up-and-wait atmosphere of the press box, it was time to wait again. Especially after being told at 6:20 that Air Force was nearly an hour late taking off from Fresno.

A little more waiting and we finally hear Air Force One is flying over Cathedral City and will touch down in about 10 minutes. Everyone checks their equipment and we finally hear the roar of the 747’s engines.

And then it comes into view – blue nose, the lighted United States of America along the side as she rolls to a stop 100 feet from the press box.

The steps are rolled up, the door opens and we wait for Obama. He emerges, gives one wave and with head down he descends the steps to the waiting motorcade. There’s no chance to watch him make his way down the steps as we all try snapping shots of him before he disappears at the bottom of the steps where he’s greeted by the waiting dignitaries and the White House press pool that has been disgorged from the rear of the plane. They’re 20 feet from him, while all we got was the wave.

Into the car and the President is gone. It’s over.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. I almost cried, but stopped myself. It’s the closest I think I’ll ever be to him and even if I didn’t get to shake his hand, it’s a closer than many of us will ever get to person who wields such power with (in my opinion) such measured strength.

And yes, I’d certainly do it again.

 

The President’s California Visit

By Richard Noble

Earlier this month it was announced that President Barak Obama would make his second visit to California in less than year to talk to Gov. Jerry Brown and state officials about the severe drought that is affecting more than 91 percent of the state and for a state visit at Sunnylands Retreat for a conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

The visit began on Feb. 14 with a stop in with a round table discussion with Jerry Brown, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, California Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, several water district general managers from affected areas of the state, farm owners and California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger.

In statements made during the Fresno visit, the president committed to a number of actions to help alleviate the pressures brought on the farmers, ranchers, small businesses and communities impacted by the lack of water.

The actions will include:
$100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers;
$15 million in targeted conservation assistance for the most extreme drought areas;
$5 million in targeted Emergency Watershed Protection Program assistance to the most drought impacted areas to protect vulnerable soils;
$60 million made available to food banks to help families economically impacted by the drought;
Provide 600 summer meal sites to be established in drought stricken areas;
$3 million in Emergency Water Assistance Grants for rural communities experiencing water shortage.

Air Force One lifted off nearly an hour behind schedule from Yosemite International Airport in Fresno. During the hour-long flight from the Central Valley to the Coachella Valley, the onboard press corps were informed by Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz Mr. Obama would “probably play golf during his stay at Sunnylands,” in addition to the talks with King Abdullah regarding Palestinian refugees and the state of the Middle East.

Greeting the president when he touched down at Palm Springs International Airport just before 7 p.m. were Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Tribal Chairman Jeff Grubbe, Rancho Mirage Mayor Richard Kite, 36th District Congressman Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Rick Hutcheson.

In less than 10 minutes, Obama has descended the plane, which would sit on the tarmac through his departure on Monday, Feb. 17. In less than 10 minutes, Mr. Obama was in his official motorcade on the way to Sunnylands, the former estate of Ambassador Walter Annenberg that now serves as a neutral site for international conferences, where the president greeted the king of Jordan to begin the weekend of talks “to bring Israel and Palestine closer together.”

With Jordan now having received over 600,000 refugees from Syria, Obama announced that the U.S. would provide $1 billion in loans to help develop Jordan security and renew a five year Memorandum of Understanding.

According to statements released during the weekend, “President Obama has great faith and see’s great opportunity with the Kingdom of Jordan to working and resolving many of the hardships in the region.”

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