In Philadelphia, A Close Encounter of the Presidential Kind

Posted By Mike Padgett

July 6, 2011

PHILADELPHIA – He was in guard dog mode, this man in a suit ordering me to stay in the hotel lobby. He was part of the Secret Service effort establishing a protective bubble around President Obama.

Our encounter with the presidential entourage started after lunch June 30. We were moving from the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown to the Hyatt at The Bellevue.

The Hyatt at The Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

As my Best Friend and I stepped from our taxi at the Hyatt, we learned the historic hotel was going into lockdown because Obama was arriving in a few hours. A bellman started to take us to the hotel’s main entrance. When he learned it was restricted to the President’s entourage only, he turned us around on the sidewalk. He led us to the brass-and-glass revolving door for the mixed-use historic building, part of which is filled with offices. The Hyatt occupies the top floors of the Bellevue building on Broad Street.

The bellman led us across the building’s lobby to the glass doors leading to the hotel lobby and registration desk. But two Secret Service agents in dark suits blocked our way. A hotel employee with them stepped forward. She said registration was being moved to the 19th floor during the President’s visit. But to save us some steps, she offered to register us on the spot.

We gave her a credit card and waited with the bellman and our luggage. He shared with us some of the building’s history. It dates to 1904. A few minutes later, the hotel employee returned with our credit card and room keys, apologizing for the inconvenience.

Our patient bellman led us to an elevator and took our luggage and us to our room. We overheard someone in the lobby complain that the security procedures were interfering with dinner plans.

We learned later that hotel registration had been moved to another floor so the Hyatt lobby could be kept clear during Obama’s arrival and departure.

Demonstrators on the sidewalk across the street from the Hyatt at The Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia during President Obama’s arrival for a speech. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Soon after we arrived, but hours before Obama’s scheduled arrival, demonstrators began gathering across the street from our hotel. I grabbed my camera bag and headed for the elevator. I wanted to get out on Broad Street for photos.

I stepped off the elevator and headed for the lobby exit to Broad, but another agent blocked my way. He was big enough to be a defensive lineman. I’m not sure what he said. It sounded like it was all one word, something like, “Pleasestayinthelobby.” Wraparound sunglasses hid his eyes.

We could see, through the glass doors, demonstrators gathering behind barricades across the street. My goal was to mingle with the crowd and get photos. I asked the big man with the sunglasses if I would have trouble re-entering the hotel.

Pleasestayinthelobby,” the man said again, with growl. Maybe aggression was slurring his words. He leaned in my direction and pointed behind me.

I thought he was a little too aggressive. Until I learned that authorities across the U.S. this summer are on higher alert because of the approaching 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Or maybe it was because of 32 shootings – including five deaths – in this city during a three-day period just before the President’s visit.

I turned from the agent in the lobby. He didn’t offer a suggestion for another exit. I found it around the corner from the elevators and down the hall.

On Broad Street, the crowd was almost shoulder-to-shoulder in places. Police standing in the street motioned to bicycle riders on Broad Street to use side streets. No cyclists or pedestrians were allowed in front of the hotel. Police vehicles were parked along the street and in the median. Several bicycle officers stood nearby, as did a K-9 officer and his dog. A police officer on an upper floor of the hotel parking garage was a lookout.

The demonstrators were kept behind steel barricades across the street from the hotel. Some demonstrators waved placards while a young couple used a bullhorn to keep the crowd chanting. One demonstrator kept a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag waving.

Obama landed at the airport in Air Force One. On the way to the hotel, the motorcade stopped for a few minutes at John’s Water Ice in South Philadelphia. Obama stepped out and ordered a cup of lemon ice.

The motorcade, which included several motorcycle officers, arrived at the hotel at 4:58 p.m. Inside, Obama spoke to the crowd of nearly 800, according to press reports.

The presidential motorcade from the Philadelphia airport to the Hyatt at The Bellevue was led by several motorcycle officers. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

With Obama safely inside the hotel, the crowd outside began disbanding. After his speech at the Hyatt, Obama headed for a fundraising event at the home of David Cohen, Comcast Corp. executive vice president.

My Best Friend and I didn’t see the President, even though we were in the same hotel. The last time we were in the same vicinity was when we attended the 2009 Inauguration.

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Jul 6th, 2011

One Comment to 'In Philadelphia, A Close Encounter of the Presidential Kind'

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  1. Carol Romley said,

    Hi Mike:
    This is exciting! I love these kind of things. I would have been right there with you mingling with the crowd.
    Great story and photos.
    Thank you for sharing this experience.
    Carol Romley

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