Crowds gathered in downtown Anchorage this afternoon to await the arrival of the president. KSKA’s Anne Hillman waited behind the Denaina Center, hoping for a brief glimpse.
People trickled slowly toward the corner of 8th and F. Lorraine Estell walked up with her seven-year-old granddaughter, Amaris, in tow.
“I wanna try to get a selfie with him,” Amaris stated with confidence.
“With who?” Estell asks her.
“The president,” she replies as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
“What do you think is so cool about seeing the president?” I ask.
“Umm… We’re both black, I guess?”
“That’s it?” her grandmother presses. “What else?”
“I like the president. I like his daughters, too,” she says with more thought. “I learned from them to be yourself and be unique.”
Estell smiles in agreement. “Awesome.”
As the crowd grew and airplanes flew overhead, police gave directions, nudging people away from the street.
“I’d like your cooperation if I could, please,” an officer addressed the crowd as he set out neon green collapsible barriers. “It would make it nice for everyone if we could get back up on the sidewalk. I’m sorry.”
As time inched by rumors flew – did they move the cones to let the president’s car through? Did they block off the Hilton? Is that his car? What did the secret service say?
“Kinda weird down here,” says Steve Benzler, who waited for more than four hours for a glimpse. “Kind of a carnival atmosphere with helicopters and jets above. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it would be different and special, so I had to come down and check it out.”
The waiting continued, and Amarius grew restless. Her grandmother points out members of the secret service.
“Where? I can’t see anything,” she whines.
Then – eventually – Estelle sees movement from the garage at the back of the convention center, far from where our section of crowd waits.
“Three people…” she says. “Wearing plain clothes. They’re wearing hats with a little jacket on. And a bullet proof vest. Oh my gosh!”
“Did you see them?” I ask awkwardly trying to peer over the crowd as screams erupt around me.
“That was his car! You saw the seal? You saw the seal?” Estell shouts to everyone around.
And with that, the president was inside, his press pool walking past. All Estell saw was a small bit of his vehicle, but it was enough…for her.
“So what do you think? You just saw it from a distance, but was it still cool?” I ask, having seen nothing.
“Still awesome,” she nods. “Still awesome. Yeah. The fact that he’s here is great.”
Her granddaughter nuzzles up against her. “I didn’t get to see the president,” she says, voice filled with disappointment.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Estell says hugging her close.
But Amaris was not going to let the moment go by without some sort of splash. As the last of the press walked around the corner, the crowd started to chant. “Obama! Obama!”
“Welcome to Alaska!” Amaris belts with all of her might.
The crowd erupts in laughter. “What a girl!” Estell says. “You tell him.”