“There he comes now, gentlemen.”
I glanced over at the news photog beside me as a stretch limousine with the familiar seal swooped up to the curb. Before it could even park, a burly man in a no nonsense suit jumped out of the front passenger seat and ran around back. When he opened the rear door, the leader of the free world popped out. Except it wasn’t the 43rd president, but just some out of work actor lucky enough to heavily favor him. But that was of no concern. All that mattered was his image on my tape, a tricky feat since he was already striding down the crowded sidewalk flanked by fake handlers and assorted well-wishers. The chase was on.
October 2001. Still reeling from the attacks of 9/11, America was locked in patriotic fever and for a brief honeymoon, madly in love with his awkward new leader. Jingoism aside, it was an especially savvy time for a publicity firm to put a “W” Impersonator to work, especially when a furniture making client wanted to draw cameras to the ir new Presidential line of recliners at the International Home Furnishings Market. As I sprinted through the crowd-choked streets I could hear the P.R. flacks high-fiving each other in my head.
Catching up with not-President Bush and his growing entourage, I ran ahead of them before turning around for a little one-eyed back-pedal. On the tiny screen jostling an inch from my eye, I studied the man’s features. Damn if he didn’t look like President Bush, at least in a sketch-artist kind of way. To sharpen the effect, the glad-handing actor had apparently studied “W”, for he loped along with the same stiff-armed shuffle already familiar to millions. Outside the viewfinder, I caught a glimpse of countless Market goers doing double-takes at the two cameramen orbiting the fast-moving Presidential party. Fact was, I wasn’t giving my competitor much room to bag his shots. Trailing just to my left side, I could hear his own feet shuffling backwards as he cursed under his breath.
‘Too bad’, I thought as I pulled out to a wide shot. I considered the other TV news photog a brother-in-arms, but all is fair in love and camera combat. Besides, I’d give up my sweet spot as soon as I got one more close-up. That’s when the man himself looked straight into my lens and began talking. ’Sweet’, I thought - a little voice work to sweeten the effect. But as he spoke, I couldn’t help but notice he sounded nothing like the former Governor of Texas.
“Hey buddy, you may wanna--”
Every neck on the packed sidewalk swung in my direction as thousands of out-of-town eyeballs poured over the stupid cameraman who’d backed into a light pole. Shaking off the blow, I could hear snickers as my vision slowly returned. Luckily, everything in my viewfinder still appeared operational. Not so luckily, I’d lost my place in front of President Clone. Of course my camera-swinging colleague had taken my place and as I watched him back up heel to toe, I thought I saw him chuckling behind his eyepiece. This was WAR.
The next few moments passed in a blur. Summoning strength I hadn’t planned on even bringing, I dashed ahead of the crowd, brushing past a clutch of visiting retail weasels before almost body checking a stooped over lady in horn rimmed glasses. The expression on their faces revealed their thoughts. ’What’s up with this crazy cameraman, and hey - is THAT President Bush?’ But I had no time to answer as the flank of furniture lackeys ushered the actor towards the entrance of the International Home Furnishings Center. Inside that behemoth, the better part of 70 thousand furniture salesmen stood shoulder to shoulder, exchanging business cards and call girls’ phone numbers. I’d fought that crowd just hours earlier and wasn’t about to re-enter the fray, so I did what any self-respecting photog would do, I bagged my losses, resigning myself to whatever footage I could obtain over the next few seconds. Spinning on my heels like the most agile of quarterbacks, I framed up a half dozen shots at five seconds at pop.
Too bad a flood of distributors, buyers ad exhibitors chose that exact moment to exit the building en masse. As a sea of shoulder padded suits and over-priced perfume swallowed me and my camera, I hoisted my toy above my head to get one last shot of all the President’s men. When I did, the exiting crowd looked in the directions of my lens and cries of excitement filled the air. Pushing past the overdressed strangers, I caught one last image of the actor as he waved to the crowd before entering the building’s double doors. Ahead of him, I saw my fellow cameraman being involuntarily sucked into the vortex of thousands of Furniture Market salesmen and women. The poor guy never bailed in time, now he was at one with The Sea of Sleazeballs.
With the Presidential Impersonator safely out of sight, I dropped my camera to my side and began weaving a thread through the crowed streets. Though I tried to avoid eye contact, I did catch a few questioning glances from the crowd I‘d just barreled through moments earlier. ‘Wasn’t that the guy who just ran down three old ladies chasing the President?, they all seemed to ask themselves.
“Not me’ I tried to project as I transformed from wild-eyed cameraman to ordinary citizen. Tucking my shirt back in and running a finger through my hair, I couldn’t help but snicker at the absurdity of it all. ‘The things I do for thirty seconds of television‘, I thought, ‘the things I do...’