It was a late Thursday night when the phone rang. My girlfriend looked at me with pleading eyes not to pick it up. It was just this morning that we’d flown home from Mt. Hood,OR and I’d been going non-stop. The phone had been ringing all day with calls from people who knew today was my first day back. I had already done three photos shoots today, there was a contest in Oceanside this coming weekend and after that I’d be on the road again for another month. If there was one day to reach me, today was it.
I reached over the stack of Fed-Ex envelopes that had appeared on my desk while I was gone and told myself this was the last call I would be taking tonight. On the other end of the line was my agent John, he asked if I could change my current plans which were to Germany. Apparently, he just got off the phone with the White House and stated that they wanted me to introduce President Clinton at a press conference on Monday.
I’ve been involved with the Partnership for a Drug Free America ad campaign since the Fall. The press conference was meant to introduce the third phase of the campaign. My first thought was that it would be great to meet the President and that it would be easy to introduce him with just a simple, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States”. As it turned out that’s not quite what they had in mind.
By the time Sunday morning had rolled around I had changed my travel plans and had somehow been talked into making a five minute speech at the White House before introducing the POTUS (President of the United States- as I’d now learned to refer to him via E-mails from the White House). As is usually the case, the only problem was that I had no time. That and the fact that I’ve never done any public speaking in my life, never mind in front of the POTUS. Well, like any skateboarder might say, “If you’re gonna go, go big.”
Before I left for the contest on Sunday morning I asked Rebecca to go over the speech I’d stayed up until 3 in the morning working on . As much as I tried, the whole way up to Oceanside I couldn’t get my mind off the speech. I was supposed to be thinking of skateboarding today. Somehow I managed to get my mind straight enough to make the vert finals and enjoy yet another battle with Bucky Lasek. I finished in the second pot again, congratulated Bucky on his win, and headed for home without stopping to pick up my check. Rebecca had made of copy of my revised speech and I read it over while I drove 85mph South on I- 5. I still had to get home, pack a bag for Germany, and catch a red eye flight to Washington DC.
All night on the plane practiced my speech- even going into the bathroom to try it out loud in the mirror. I wasn’t doing very well. I couldn’t get through the whole speech without tripping over my tongue. I kept at it and started timing myself to make sure I didn’t go too much over the five-minute mark. My flight landed in DC at 6 in the morning, after meeting John’s flight, we caught a cab to a big White House on Pennsylvania Ave.
From the moment we arrived I realized this was serious. Between the airport and the White House, I don’t think I’ve ever been through more metal detectors in my life. There was someone to meet us at the door, someone to escort us to the elevator, and a security guard to check our I.D.’s. We had to get clearance before we walked from room to room even after we had the computerized visitor passes around our neck. Silly me thinking we’d be all set after I E-mailed them my birthdate and social security number for a background check a few days ago! As I walked through the White House I couldn’t help but be excited. I was sure that I was the first person to have ever walked through the front door with a skateboard under my arm. I just couldn’t resist the urge to through it down and glide down one of the smooth marble hallways. The three secret service agents that passed by weren’t nearly as happy about the notion as I was.
Next came the harst part, the waiting. I sat in the room that you always see the President retreat to after a press conference. I practiced my speech and tried to make jokes with the others to calm my nerves. By this time Mr. President was almost a half-hour late, I was trying to rally the others to bail out of the whole thing with me. “Lets just leave, I mean the guy’s twenty five minutes late. Who does he think he is, the President?” Just then the door opened and in walked Bill Clinton with an entourage of secret service agents and assistants. We all shook hands and exchanged greetings. The discussion that followed seemed very stiff and political, which makes sense I guess but it made me a bit uncomfortable. I decided it was time to change the pace a little and direct the subject to one of my favorite topics, skateboarding. I presented the President with an Andy Macdonald T-shirt as well as a signed board with my new Powell graphic on it. We talked about my graphic which depicts a sort of satire of the “American Dream”. Suddenly the door leading to the stage flew open, somebody said “show time!”, and I felt my stomach to back flips.
I was about to walk out onto a stage in front of about 350 reporters, media and assorted other television types I was scared. Everyone there had some kind of involvement in the workings of the US government. What am I doing here? I’m a pro skateboarder. The room and stage was full of men and women in expensive designer suits. I had on a pair of cargos and a Split shirt. As I sat down next to Clinton I tried to remind myself to relax. It was of no use. I got more nervous as each speaker in front of me finished. The speaker that was to introduce me was up at the podium now. I was busy thinking to myself that I didn’t even get this nervous after I fell on my first run at the X-Games. Bill nudged me with his elbow, took a beep breath and exhaled- suggesting I should do the same.
As I stepped up to the podium I had a little trouble pulling my speech from the pocket of my pants and unfolding it. I made a funny face exaggerating my troubles and a few people laughed. Then, as I had planned, I filed a little disclaimer stating that I was probably the furthest from a public speaker or orator that one could possibly be. I reminded my audience that I was a professional skateboarder and not too used to this “meet the president stuff”. To my surprise and relief, everyone began laughing and clapping. It only bought me about 30 seconds but for some reason that’s all I needed. Just seeing that I could make these people laugh put me at ease. I realized then that they were just people and not some strange government breed with which I could not relate.
When I finished my speech and introduced the President, I was glad it was over and felt it had gone better than I thought it would. The first thing he said was: “And you said you were nervous! That was great Andy, maybe you should go into politics after you’re done skateboarding.” I don’t think I’ll ever take him up on that suggestion, but I happy about the compliment. He went on to make a wonderful speech about the anti-drug campaign. I always knew our president was an awesome public speaker but it was a whole new thing to hear and see him in person. After he finished, we all watched a few of the new Partnership PSA spots, mine included. When we were back safely in the “waiting room” Clinton and I talked for a few minutes mostly about the falls I’d taken in the making of my PSA. He seemed impressed and stated that he tripped jogging once and limped for weeks. As he left and walked down the hallway by himself, followed by his contingency of secret service, he clapped his hands together and said out-loud: “Now that was fun!”
Before we knew it, John and I were being escorted off to the White House front lawn for a round of interviews. Finally, having said our thank you’s and goodbye’s, we were set free and handed in our visitor’s passes. on the way out the front gate, it started to sink in what had just transpired. I got the feeling that it might be a very long time, if ever, that I walk through those gates again. I was glad to have gotten the opportunity that so few ever will. I had pulled off the speech of my life and was even complimented on it. I felt like I’d done something important speaking out against drugs for the youth of today and my so-called “X-generation”. But most of all, I felt I did something special to help pave the way for future generations of the sport that I love so much… skateboarding. Which was more important, speaking against drugs or for skateboarding, didn’t really matter. Anyway, I had a seven hour flight to Germany that night to think about it.
For more information on Andy and his campaign against drugs Click herearted to sink in what had just transpired. I got the feeling that it might be a very long time, if ever, that I walk through those gates again. I was glad to have gotten the opportunity that so few ever will. I had pulled off the speech of my life and was even complimented on it. I felt like I’d done something important speaking out against drugs for the youth of today and my so-called “X-generation”. But most of all, I felt I did something special to help pave the way for future generations of the sport that I love so much… skateboarding. Which was more important, speaking against drugs or for skateboarding, didn’t really matter. Anyway, I had a seven hour flight to Germany that night to think about it.
For more information on Andy and his campaign against drugs Click here