Friday, February 14, 2014

At the White House ...

part III of a series
(part I of this adventure is at dorucak na granici , 
part II is at Boom and there will be yet more to follow)

By now in this narrative you have probably concluded that I am a member of two minorities in the United States.  I am a hyphenated - American, Croatian-American to be exact and I am somewhat physically disabled.  My doctors tend to think the later is due to late arriving aftereffects of polio long ago.   That puts me in an elite group because there aren't many of us polio survivors.  The former may be a mystery to some readers who know my more famous shirt sleeve relative Eric Byler who is Asian-American.  Eric is the creator of  "Charlotte Sometimes," which if you haven't seen, you simply must because its a masterpiece.   

                             I got to meet Nenad Bach in person for the first time!

In Washington, the Croatian - American group passed through the second check point at the White House in spite of the fact that all we had was State issued driver's licenses and that the White House had urgently emailed us that out identification had to be "US Government issued."  

On the Texas border with Mexico when the authorities want to see US Government issued documents, they want to see a passport or a border crossing card.  Your Texas driver's license or other State issued ID will not do at all in those cases.  You look around and see tall fences surmounted with concertina wire and armed men everywhere and you produce your passport.  We know what "US Government issued" means. Apparently the White House officials do not.   English.  Perhaps some ill feeling and confusion could be averted if Federal officials learned to write on english.

I was exhausted by the time we reached that second check point.  My back was announcing to me in no uncertain terms that it wanted no part of the excursion we were about to embark upon. When I relayed that information to the security people they were quick to furnish me with a wheel chair.  Chach was kind enough to volunteer to push me around and so off we went.

Around the corner, to our consternation, there were concrete steps.  We couldn't see any way around them but suddenly out of the bushes, in a flash like something from a James Bond movie, there appeared a Secret Service type fellow who guided us through a hole in those bushes we had not seen.   As we passed through a gate which reminded me of gates in various prisons where I have visited parishioners (yes, even Lutherans sometimes run afoul of the law), the thought occurred to me that we might be on our way to Guantanamo never to be seen again.   Blessedly, our adventure was not quite that eventful.

In a few moments we were actually in the White House, a wonderfully appointed place - which has within it more steps, beautiful steps, but steps.  Another splendidly uniformed Secret Service fellow appeared and led us on the tour of a lifetime. Chach and I were whisked through store rooms and work rooms and cloak rooms and finally we passed the highlight of our whole tour - the kitchen.  I could see the spotless stainless steel appointments of the room and that there were leeks on the table, all sized exactly alike.  We saw some finely appointed rooms and such but nothing compared to the kitchen.

At that moment I was elated. First of all, I do like cooking and seeing such a kitchen was a fantastic delight.  All these years since 1959 I thought the "Kitchen Debates" took place in that kitchen of the White House and I thought I was seeing the very place where East met West.  Sigh, this morning I learned that those debates took place in an entirely different venue.  Still, it was a tour which, according to our Secret Service guide, only one in about 600 ever gets to have.  That is special.

We rested a while afterward and took some photos outside.  Nenad has most of these photos and when he makes them available I will attach more of them here or over on Crown Croatia somewhere so you can find them and see them later if you like.   As we left the grounds, the officers retrieved the wheel chair and I faced the walk to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building unaided.  

      L-R:  Dragan Chach Cacinovic, David Byler, Steve Rukavina, Anne Pavlich and Nenad Bach

It was a long and painful walk during which my back complained vociferously, but as it turned out,  we Croatian - Americans had brought along  with us our own nurse, Anne Pavlich, who made sure I stopped and rested sufficiently along the way so I didn't hurt myself.  According to the intern assigned to our meeting, the Secret Service had a wheel chair available but it was not released to us until I had made the trek to our designated entrance around the corner about three impressively  large Washington DC blocks away and was seated inside the auditorium where the White House had planned a briefing for us.  At sixty, none of this would have been a difficulty.  

Perhaps the White House needs a reminder that some of us actually do live past sixty and that disabilities occur to some of us.  All the politicians in Washington from the President down yammer on and on about how disabled folk should have open access to everything everywhere but there in Washington DC itself, the Capitol of the United States, at the White House, this was my experience.  

I was determined to attend the briefing and Anne was determined to help me so at last we rejoined the others at our entrance.  I was out of breath and in pain as I looked for a seat.  A Serbian gentleman graciously yielded his seat at the end of a row to me.  I know, I know, for a Croatian to use Serbian and 
gentleman in the same breath is anathema to some of my Croatian brothers but I'm just reporting the facts as they lay on the ground in that room on that day in that place.  I did not catch his name, but he was a gentleman and I am appreciative of him.  

That moment would not be the last time during that meeting that Slav - Americans of various sorts demonstrated a measure of solidarity. That would not be the last moment that immigrant Americans and hyphenated  Americans of various kinds demonstrated solidarity.

More on this next time ...

do sljedeći put, blagoslov - until next time, blessings,
David Byler a.k.a. Canovals
14. veljače 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment