One Observation Circle in Washington D.C.
September 29, 2011
It was a beautiful, calm and temperate evening in the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C. on Thursday, September 29, 2011. Rush hour was in full swing, and the shops and open air restaurants were a buzz as my wife Sheila and I slithered with the local traffic through the historic narrow 18th-century streets to arrive at our dinner destination, One Observation Circle in northwest Washington D.C., the home of the Vice President of the United States, where I had been invited to represent Veterans Green Jobs in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and American Hispanic Veterans.
As we pulled up to the main gate, there was a short driveway with an official stopping guests’ cars in an unloading zone in front of four steel drop gates and a guard house that sits one thousand yards in front of the beautiful Victorian style home, adorned with white and pistachio green trim that was heavily enveloped by a beautiful black wrought iron fence, many different shrubs and beautiful trees as well as manicured lawns around the circular block.
We exited the car and walked toward the main gate entering a line where a guard rail was placed three feet from one side of the decorative wrought iron fence. It was meant to hold the guests in single file in front of the guard house, while no fewer than fifteen secret service police and suited gentlemen stood steadfast at several posts nearby. One uniformed officer walked in and out of the guard rail taking guests’ IDs into the darkened glass guard house and reappearing about every ten minutes, yelling out the name of the approved guest, then handing the ID back with a wish of good evening to unofficially let them know they had passed and would soon be allowed to enter the complex. Excited guests mingled, talked, shook hands and hugged hello while waiting to make that short walk through the wrought iron gate and enter the compound into the Vice President’s residence.
We heard sirens faintly at first, from a distance but getting closer and louder. Within thirty seconds, each of the steel ground gates slowly disappeared into the ground and the heavy traffic on the street flowed to a trickle, then eerily disappeared as the first of six motorcycle officers stopped across the street in front of a sign-holding protester on the corner of the Naval Observatory, causing chatter and excitement within the ranks of the guests. Less than ten seconds later, the other five motorcycle officers with lights and sirens blaring came into view. Each turned into the driveway in front of the guardhouse, making a 180-degree half loop, and faced back toward the street on the other side of a barrier that broke up the driveway.
Right behind the motorcycle officers, one white secret service police car moved fast up the drive and through the gate. It was followed by two limousines moving too fast for me to recognize the occupants, and two black Suburbans following the motorcade into the gate, which then closed immediately following the final vehicle. Each of the motorcycle-riding officers then quickly rode away in the same order they arrived, and the second set of the four gates rose out of the ground to the exact security that was there before.
At approximately six-thirty one of the Vice President’s aides walked to the front of the line and about twenty five to thirty well-dressed couples started to filter through the gate into the paved drive way. They walked first toward a building with numerous garage doors that appeared to be a renovated old carriage house with living quarters above it, and directly in the road beside that, a black unmarked Suburban with SWAT clothed officers holding back dogs and touting machine guns waved the group away from the dwelling and back toward the residence, finally ending at yet another guard house and gate for a second bag and ID check, this time only thirty yards from beautiful shrub- and flower-encrusted walkways and a wrap-around back porch.
As we were checked-in at the final guard station, we could hear the wonderful sounds of a trumpet, heavy acoustic string bass, piano, acoustic guitar and conga drums playing Carlos Santana music, and the people gravitated toward the sounds. Only ten feet from the gate, one of the Vice President’s aides stepped out and waved us to an opening in the shrubs near the back steps of the house. As we got within ten feet of that point, another aide pointed us through a vine arched entry into a beautiful pool area enclosed by eight- foot shrubs and surrounded by tall tables with silver and purple table cloths.
On the north end of a twenty foot long swimming pool, a five piece Army band, in blue uniforms, played while the trumpet player sang the Latin song verses confidently and beautifully. Directly beside the band was a fifteen-foot wide by ten-foot high full glass door to a white with pistachio trim pool house that contained awesome historic official photos of the Vice President and family holding other gatherings by that same pool. On the opposite end of the pool, there was a single podium from which the Vice President would later address the assembled guests.
Guests filtered into the pool area, talking, shaking hands and sharing stories about ourselves and how we had arrived at this point. Drinks and Cuban-style foods were served by well-dressed wait staff mingling through the crowd.
The Vice President and Dr. Biden arrived at about seven-fifteen to address us. Standing at the podium on the south side of the pool, the guests grouped in front of the Vice President and Dr. Biden to listen to their speeches.
Dr. Biden wished the crowd well and expressed her gratitude to each of the guests for having traveled from near and far, and invited us to have a wonderful time at the residence during the evening, as it belonged to each of us. She added that, as citizens of this great nation, we all deserved to have a wonderful night along-side the second family and to enjoy the evening. Dr. Biden then announced the Vice President who took the podium.
The Vice President began by expressing his gratitude for all the guests, and recognizing their accomplishments in helping to further the lives of the Hispanic communities and assisting veterans in so many numerous ways. He thanked the Hispanic veterans and enlisted soldiers who were guests for the evening.
He then spoke about how his family was an immigrant family from Ireland and how, “We all are from similar circumstances.” He said that it is all about strong family ties and faith; very basic things that hold this country together. “The contributions being made to this country by Hispanic Americans are well over 400 years old,” Mr. Biden said, adding, “We (Americans) are acting like it is brand new, but we know that America is much richer and more vibrant because of these contributions.”
The Vice President also recognized the continuing sacrifice of Hispanic American Service men and women by saying, “Latinos have fought bravely in every war the United States has engaged in since the Revolutionary War, and there are more than 29,000 Hispanics and Latinos serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, risking their lives for us right now, and 1.3 million serving in the armed forces of the United States of America… Their pride is absolutely unmistakable. Their heroism is not only worthy of our notice, but worthy of our admiration.” He again followed up with gratitude to all guests for their service to the country, strengthening the fiber of the nation.
Ending his speech, the Vice President invited the guests to enjoy the food and drink, and invited us to come into the house to take commemorative pictures with himself and Dr. Biden.
The Vice President and Dr. Biden were followed into the residence by aides who lined up the guests and gave instruction as to where the group could enter the house, and how each was to stand during the photos. Standing for about five minutes, we were rushed into a library room. While setting up for the picture, I politely shook hands with the Vice President and spoke for less than two minutes about Veterans Green Jobs in Colorado, what our organization’s programs are, what regions of Colorado we work in. I proudly told him that our company is an ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) program success story.
On behalf of Veterans Green Jobs, I invited him to visit us if he travels to Colorado in the near future. Mr. Biden remembered our organization from previous conversations, agreed he would see about a visit in Colorado, and thanked me for making the effort to come to the dinner. Sheila and I moved back through the house to the pool area, back to the food and drink, and toward the Latin music.
All of the guests moved about, mingling and talking, exchanging business cards, and talking about how each could help the other’s causes and situations. Soon it got dark, and guests started to filter out of the pool area to exit the grounds at about eight-thirty, as Mr. and Dr. Biden finished up the pictures and greeting guests. We finished our dessert, said our goodbyes to the fewer than twenty guests that remained, and exited the pool area.
As we headed in the near darkness toward the guard house closest to the residence, I noticed a silhouette of a man who was playing ball with a large German Sheppard. The dog was running back and forth into the gate of the guard hut, when the Vice President’s voice reassured us that the dog was nice and wouldn’t bite. He stepped into the light so we could see his face. I stopped and petted the dog and during this time again told the Vice President that I was very appreciative for the opportunity to represent my company at the function, and we would love to have him come and visit the organization to see the wonderful things we are doing, not only for veterans, but other citizens in the area. He shook my hand and told me to keep up the good work, and said he would have to see how his schedule worked out.
We were escorted back through the grounds to the main gate where our car was waiting, and we headed back to our hotel to finish our wonderful evening spent at One Observation Circle.
By Charlie Sanchez
Veterans Green Jobs San Luis Valley Weatherization