On April 3rd, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton travelled to Norfolk, VA to tour NATO’s Allied Command Transformation headquarters and to afterwards deliver a policy speech at the World Affairs Council 2012 NATO Conference Dinner held at the Sheraton Waterside hotel. I had been lucky enough to snag three tickets before the event was completely sold out. WOW , I said to myself, as a person interested in world affairs, this is going to be really interesting and exciting ! And so it was, in both expected and most unexpected ways.
The first thing I decided was that the occasion was a good excuse to treat myself to a dressy new outfit. Life on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is wonderfully casual and most of the time I’m attired in a sporty pair of comfortable cotton or corduroy chinos, blouse or sweater. So I combed Macy’s and Nordstrum’s for a zippy new outfit to wear to the dinner, finally found something I liked, not perfect but quite satisfactory. Next, deciding on a plan for the day itself. The Sheraton has a lovely dining room overlooking the water at Norfolk’s Waterside Festival Marketplace and I thought that since the formal dinner in the ballroom would likely not be well underway until about 7:30 it would be fun to have lunch there. So I got the agreement of Husband and Eldest Daughter to leave the Eastern Shore by 1:30 pm which would put us at Waterside by about 2:30 pm. Plenty of time for a very relaxed lunch and a little walk around the promenade before the reception began at 5pm, with the Secretary’s speech scheduled to start about 6pm. Well, guess who just getting into the shower at 1:30 ???? Not me, not Hubby…. yes, it was Eldest Daughter. Needless to say, her tardiness threw the entire timeline off kilter so instead of enjoying a nice relaxing glass of wine and lunch at Waterside, watching the boats cruising up the Elizabeth River as planned, we ended up with a fast tuna cosmo at Zeros Sub Shop ! I won’t say more about that except that I could have bitten nails in half with my bare teeth……… And little did I know it was but an omen of what was yet to come.
Arriving at the Sheraton, which looked grand, flags flying, water shimmering in the background, I pulled out my camera, took off the lens cap, focused, depressed the shutter button and ….. nothing. Tried again, still nothing, looked at the screen, plenty of battery life, and anyway I always carry an extra hot battery. Oops, a little message… no DS card inserted, then remembered that I had given my currently in-use chip to my assistant to download some property pics the previous day. Obviously I had neglected to retrieve it. Now, for the first time in memory, I was at a function that I very much wanted to photograph but no way to do it ! OK, OK, not to panic, rummage, rummage through my camera bag for another chip because I always carry an extra chip. Well, apparently not always because, unbelievably, not one was to be found. Now, time to panic ! The nearest place to buy an SD chip was at least a mile away, the car had already been whisked off to heaven knows where by the valet parking guy, it would be at least a 30 minute ordeal to reclaim the car, run to the mall, park, buy the chip and get back to the hotel. My husband thought we should try the Sheraton’s gift shop before leaving the hotel, so trot, trot, fast walking to the gift shop. And there it was, hanging on a peg board, all by itself, the very last one, wrapped in the usual impenetrable packaging, a shiny new 4 gig SD card, to my rescue. The irony of all this is that I am a person who at all times, well apparently not at all times, has at least one extra brand new camera chip on hand because I never delete photos, I just pop in a new chip. Only problem that day being that all the extra chips were apparently sitting in my photo case, in my desk drawer….. back on the Eastern Shore. ( I will leave it to your imagination to guess how many blank camera chips I now have tucked in reserve in my camera bag ! )
Because of security reasons, all registration for this event was on-line and the tickets were not mailed out in advance but had to be picked up at the event. Security for the Secretary was clearly very tight, the hotel was filled with lots of uniformed officers, a bomb sniffing dog was on patrol and a slew of plain clothes Diplomatic Corp Security Service types seemed to be everywhere. By the time we finished at the gift shop, two lines were already forming in front of the ticket pick-up tables. We got in line, quite a long line, for those whose last names began with A-K, picture ID’s in hand, ready pick-up our tickets and progress to step two which was a new line to move up the stairs, through the metal detector, complete a bag search and then on to the reception. Kapow ! More bad news struck — they couldn’t find our tickets. First, no relaxed lunch, then no camera chip and then, NO TICKETS !!!!!
The ticket issue was truly serious because everyone had been advised in their confirmation email that absolutely — NO ticket, NO entry. The World Affairs Council charge d’ affairs, a lovely calm lady named Gabrielle Blake was summoned. She re-confirmed that all three of us were on the computer print-out list of attendees, had all the remaining envelopes reviewed again, then had the envelopes for the L-Z line searched to see if our envelope had gotten mixed up with their batch. No such luck…. We were asked to step out of line and wait to see what could be done. ( While waiting, Eldest Daughter spotted Kathy Lewis, the hugely popular and respected talk show host from WHRV, Norfolk’s NPR station, went over and introduced herself. Ms. Lewis was kind enough to pose for a picture with her. In fact, she was pretty funny, said she hoped that my photo would make her look skinny, as like many of us, she is fighting the Battle of the Bulge. )
About 10 minutes later, Gabrielle was back. Let’s speak to the security folks, she suggested, see if they can waive the “must show a ticket” requirement since you clearly are on the computer attendee list. So, trot, trot, trot over to the line by the stairs. Gabrielle spoke with the guard at the bottom of the steps, who then radioed for his supervisor. The supervisor came, listened to the explanation, indicated he would be right back. In the meantime, one other couple in the same ticketless situation was joined up with us to wait for the resolution to the problem. The five of us waited patiently. In the meantime, Gabrielle had to leave us to go deal with another issue. Finally, 2 gentlemen from the Diplomatic Security Service detail came down to speak with us but they needed to also speak with Gabrielle and get her assurances as to our bona fides. So…… Radioing for Gabrielle, the return of Gabrielle, the re-check of our ID’s. Finally, one of the Diplomatic Corp Security Service fellows came back, motioning for us to follow him. Follow the leader as the 5 of us wound behind him, through the lobby, around to a set of back elevators where he zipped us up to the reception floor, stationed us at the head of the metal detector line. There we were finally processed through, then wanded, purses searched and at long, long last, released to begin to enjoy this special evening.
But was that the end of our travails ? No indeedy, once we left the reception and moved into the ballroom to our pre-assigned table we immediately realized that one of the other people assigned to this table had either the flu or a terrible cold, he was just coughing almost non-stop, politely into his napkin, but much coughing none the less. My husband is quite susceptible to getting serious lung complications from respiratory aliments and I just didn’t want to take any chances. So, off to ask if somehow, someway, somewhere, could someone possibly get us moved to a different table ? Located a hotel manager who, after telling us that only Gabrielle could authorize a move to another table , made a quick call to her. Like the Fairy Godmother, Gabrielle quickly re-appeared. Athough I know she probably couldn’t even believe that she was dealing with yet another issue involving us, Gabrielle was once again super nice and very understanding. Fortunately, she had 3 extra tickets ( out of the 780 total event seats) that she had been holding back for emergency use and so was able to switch us from our current table to the table designated for those tickets. Absolutely perfect, problem solved.
Since the tale of this mini-adventure has stretched on and on, with regard to the remainder of the evening, I shall merely say we had a great time. Secretary Clinton’s speech on the on-going role and importance of the transformation of NATO and its role in America’s security was interesting and very well received. Norfolk, VA is the important location of the Supreme Allied Command for North America for NATO and the audience was jam-packed with military, political and local dignitaries, all dressed to the nines. Dinner afterwards was surprisingly good given that 780 guests had to be served simultaneously, kudos to the Sheraton banquet manager. Our other table mates, ( nobody coughing in this group) including a fellow who previously had been commander of a submarine, were quite interesting, all and all, a very good ending to an unexpectedly adventurous day.
(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134 Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)