When I first heard that the most famous person on the planet was planning to visit Ottawa on February 19th, 2009 I knew I couldn’t miss it. If our generation has a voice à la Dr. King or Winston Churchill then Obama is it. The man is a masterful orator and if he was going to speak I certainly wanted to be there. I immediately called my Member of Parliament and booked tickets to Question Period in case the President were to address the house and I eagerly marked the date on my calendar.
As media updates trickled out and it became apparent that there was to be no public speaking engagement I lost my enthusiasm and pondered whether or not to brave the inevitable winter chill on the grounds of Parliament Hill merely for a chance of seeing the man from a distance. I spoke to my dad about it the day before and we came to the conclusion that in addition to being the world’s most famous person Obama was also the world’s biggest target and why would I go out of my way to try to be near such a dangerous entity? So I decided to give it a miss.
Then I woke up the morning of Obama’s arrival a bit earlier than usual and after a coffee and a bit of internet I found myself twiddling my thumbs with forty minutes to go before Barack was scheduled to arrive on Parliament Hill. I couldn’t believe that I was just sitting there wasting time when with just a modicum of effort I could be a witness to the day’s biggest news story. Living as I did just a few metres from the President’s route along the canal parkway and a reasonably short walk from Parliament Hill I decided to set out to see what I could see after all.
Walking out the door of my house I immediately came across a bevy of police. I mean, within a hundred metre radius of my house there must have been at least fifteen cops. At the parkway I could see that with Obama scheduled to drive by in just a half-hour nobody was being allowed to walk across Colonel By Drive. I soon discovered that with all the perimeters the police had set up it was going to be virtually impossible for me to get to the Hill. After a few inquiries it was suggested that I should wait with the others at the intersection of Main Street and Colonel By. I’ll admit I was a bit miffed about having my movements as a citizen restricted just because a car with a guy in it was going to drive by in twenty minutes or so, but I decided not to argue with anyone so heavily-armed and I joined the fifty or so people that were waiting patiently for their glimpses of the man.
I noted that the street had been lined with flags, alternating between Canadian maple leafs and the American stars and stripes. This was standard whenever any visiting dignitary travelled between the airport and Parliament Hill; the light poles would be hung with flags, half Canadian and half honouring the guest. Living next to the route for over fifteen years I saw it quite often and I think it’s a pretty cool gesture. I also noticed tons of cop cars and OC Transpo buses marked CHARTER in pretty much every direction. It boggles my mind to think how much Obama’s visit must have cost the city.
Just as I was considering giving up and walking home to watch it on tv the guy beside me saw on his phone that the motorcade was on it’s way. We heard the helicopters first; soon we could see one hovering high above Colonel By Drive. Soon, down the road came a pair of Ottawa Police cars two-wide along the empty street, then another pair, and another. In all I think fourteen or sixteen local cop cars went by at thirty second intervals. Up next was a long Hollywood-esque parade of all-black mysterious-looking vehicles; weird shaped vans and small buses and SUV’s and RV’s, all black as night and all with expensive looking diodes and radars and antennas and cameras sticking out of them.
Then came the official Presidential limos, with a second, Rambo-like helicopter following along about fifty feet above them. There were four limos in total – clearly Presidential with clichéd flags on the front fenders – and each of them with a single black man riding in the back waving to the crowd through darkly tinted windows.
That’s right folks, it was Barack and the Fauxbamas. Of course it’s quite possible that none of them were actually the real President. Regardless, the four limos were followed by another equally long and intimidating barrage of jet-black official vehicles.
I’d say there were about forty or fifty vehicles in all, plus the two helicopters and frankly it was pretty darn impressive, especially that battle-chopper that hovered low and close to the limos. That was some straight-out-of-the-movies stuff, and that’s just the kinda stuff I dig. Even if the vast majority of my values were screaming bloody murder at the absurd expense of such an over-the-top display of not-so-passive aggression.
With the police barricades buttressing my apathy and paranoia I didn’t end up going to Parliament Hill after all where I didn’t hear Obama not give the public speech that he never gave anyway, and in addition to not hearing the great orator orate there’s a good chance that I didn’t even actually see the real President either.
But really, for the three minutes it took for me to walk from my front door to the motorcade and for a guy who tries to make a point of checking out unique events whenever possible, it was well worth it.