27 August 2007

Touring the White House

This past weekend I toured the White House. Toured the White House. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Well, I thought it sounded impressive. Unfortunately, the actual tour turned out to be rather anticlimactic, especially after all the anticipation and excitement generated by having to arrange the tour five months in advance.

When I play tourist I have two basic requirements to make the trip worthwhile: ability to take pictures and something interesting to see. Truthfully, it doesn’t even have to be all that interesting as long as I think it’s picture-worthy. White House prohibited items include all recording equipment, so one of my criteria was out right off the bat, and I didn’t find the White House interesting beyond the fact I could say, “I was there.”

The tour consisted of peeking—not entering—in to four to five rooms (two other rooms were undergoing renovations behind closed doors), walking through a state room, a dining room, and then out the door. There were displays of dinnerware, paintings of several presidents and former First Lady Clinton, and a small sculpture of four cowboys riding on horses, but that’s pretty much it. Oh yeah, and Secret Service personnel.

Let’s see, speed-walking, I’d say the tour takes 5 minutes, tops. Deliberately walking slowly and staring for minutes at what normally would only interest me for a few seconds because - I - swear - I - waited - five - months - for - this - tour - and - I’m - darned - tootin’ - not - going - to - finish - it - in - less - than - 10, 15 minutes.

The day of my tour turned out to be hot and humid, with temperatures reaching 40°C, so the fact that the White House prohibited bags, water, cameras et cetera, with no coat-check or storage area, meant that my trip was restricted to the tour itself—no exploration of other DC sights. It was 40 minutes on the Metro, the tour, and then back for another 40 minutes on the Metro. Ugh.

Here are the prohibited items:

“the White House PROHIBITS visitors from bringing any of the following items with them while they are on the tour: handbags, bookbags, backpacks, purses, food and beverages of any kind, strollers, cameras, recording devices such as video recorders, tobacco products, personal grooming items (including make-up, hair brushes, combs, lip balm, hand lotions, etc.), any pointed objects (including pens, knitting needles, etc.), aerosol containers, guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size. Coat and package check facilities are NOT available.leave all unnecessary belongings at home on the morning of the tour… visitors carrying any of these items will NOT be permitted to enter.”

At first I wasn’t too disappointed about the prohibition of cameras but afterwards I couldn’t help think, what was the point? The area for the tour was so limited and restricted; pictures of the White House rooms are already on post cards… why bother prohibiting cameras? You can’t tell me taking a picture of something I can see on a post card is a security risk. Mystifying and frustrating.

Would I recommend this tour to anyone else? I guess, as long as you aren’t expecting very much. Definitely stop by the White House Visitor Center across the street for another security check, the live, interactive “Are you smarter than a 5th grader Park Ranger?” game, rest rooms, post cards, recipe books, a little history on the White House, various displays including one on… presidential pets. Eh?

No comments: