Some call frequent travel a blessing, others believe it is a curse. To me, it is neither. Nor is it routine. Spending about 250 nights away from home every year, each trip is an experience with some more interesting than others. Famous people show up in my travels from time to time but a recent trip yielded one of the most famous of all.
For the first time ever, I was staying at the same hotel as the President of the United States. It certainly wasn’t planned that way, just the result of my preplanned business travels coinciding with his visit. Other famous people frequently stay in their rooms so hotel guests rarely see them. As I learned on this trip, you definitely know when the President is one of your roommates.
The first evidence is at the entrance to the hotel property. There, you are greeted by the Secret Service. They want to know your reason for entering the hotel, then perform a thorough sweep of your vehicle. It begins with visual inspection of everything from under the hood to the trunk while another agent uses a mirror to inspect under the car. If this phase is in order, their German shepherd agent sniffs everything.
Then I got a cold sweat as scary thoughts raced through my mind. I am driving a rental car. What if there is drug residue in the automobile from a previous renter? If they find contraband or whatever, will they believe it wasn’t mine? Just how thorough do these rental car companies clean their cars?
Whew, my vehicle passed inspection and I was allowed to enter the property. Driving up the long driveway to the hotel, local police and black SUV’s were everywhere. Much of the parking lot was blocked off, with traffic directed to only one area. Entering the hotel courtyard after parking, there were more law enforcement officers. They were very evident, but not so much that they were overwhelming.
Entering the hotel, guests are met by an x-ray machine and wand scanner by Secret Service. All bags are thoroughly hand checked. My first thought was that this was easier and faster than going through TSA security at the airport. I understand, these agencies have different directives but the President risks exposure to more than just terrorists. It seemed to me the Secret Service would require more security, not less. But there was something I didn’t know at that time.
Having stayed at this hotel many times in the past, I was very familiar with it. Everything looked quite normal, except for the dozen or so Secret Service agents in the lobby/reception area. With each step taken, I learned more about how serious the Secret Service is. While always polite, they never forget their mission and responsibility, and don’t take chances.
Guests have total privacy in their rooms but everywhere else, you will have company. Briefly stepping outside for a breath of fresh air requires a new wand search when you step inside. The restaurant was open and the agents allowed guests their privacy. Well, in the seating area anyway. Stepping outside may invite their company.
A large portion of the meeting room area was off limits to guests this time. The remaining meeting room area also changed. None of the exit doors were accessible. Fortunately we never had a fire. Another unusual requirement: The draperies covering the windows in the meeting room were not allowed to be opened. Restroom breaks from my meeting required a hike back to the front desk area.
While the Secret Service and police patrolled the halls, they never interrupted the meetings. Indeed, all of them were so polite and easy to talk to, you would swear they got their training at Disney, not Quantico.
I mentioned earlier that I was surprised at the level of security. I wasn’t expecting body cavity searches but wouldn’t they want to know more about the guests at the hotel? Well, they did want to know more. I have read that the Secret Service always performs background checks on hotel employees when the President is a guest. I did not know they also did this for all guests.
Personally I had no problem with this. Long ago the federal government received my fingerprints when I first applied for the Global Entry trusted traveler program. It was very easy for the Secret Service to learn that I have no criminal record and that I travel all over the world.
Some of the business meeting guests were not pleased with these unannounced background checks. What if someone had outstanding warrants – for perhaps a traffic ticket or otherwise – would they be arrested? If someone did not meet citizenship or residency criteria, would they be arrested? As far as I know, no one was denied admission but their concerns were valid.
Alas, I never saw the President. Presumably he was staying in the Presidential Suite in a separate wing of the hotel. I have enjoyed some nice hotel room upgrades over the years but this Suite has not been one of them. Nevertheless, I can still say I slept with the President. Well, at the same hotel anyway.
If I had met him, I am sure I would have been as tongue tied as anyone. I would have liked to wish him safe travels, ask him if he would consider answering a few questions for my Traveler series interviews, and it would have been nice to have a photo taken with him and my Business Travel Success book. The latter didn’t happen but thanks to Photoshop, I can see what it would have looked like if it had.
In fairness, our business event was scheduled many months before anyone knew the President would even be in this state, much less at the same hotel. It was very interesting to see the security protection when the President visits but my advice is if you learn about this after you already have a reservation at a hotel, be prepared for some minor inconveniences and accept it as another interesting travel experience, not a curse or a blessing.
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