Thanks for the Memories, Barack Obama.

US President Barack Obama greets a gallery before departing from Joint Base Pearl Harbor/Hickam, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Honolulu.

As Air Force One rumbles down the runway carrying away US President Barack Obama, the end has finally come to Barack Obama’s eight years of Honolulu holiday vacations.  We’ll no longer gather for ungodly call times at Safeway.  No longer will the house on Kailuana Place be the center of the holiday frat party.  And we’ll no longer sit on that media bus waiting for the President and friends to finish up a round of golf.

And as that plane lifts off and the jet wash rattle us on the riser, we photographers and writers are now realizing how lucky our small community was to have a sitting President holiday in Honolulu for so many years.  And for most of us, these times will never repeat themselves.

US President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama wave to a gallery before departing from Joint Base Pearl Harbor/Hickam, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Honolulu.

Photo comrade Hugh Gentry said “this is essentially closing a chapter in my life,” as Hugh spent many a holiday inside a cramped van with other crusty journalists chasing Barack Obama around the Island.  He told me more than once about the stress it put on his family as they had to plan opening Christmas gifts around whether Obama wanted to go to gym early that morning or stay out late for dinner the night before. Many others who were part of the pool sacrificed large parts of their lives as well to report on Obama’s whereabouts.

Did Hugh or the others regret it?  Doubtful, as neither he, or myself, turned down the holiday work as we knew these coveted jobs would be hard to come by in the future.

But what made any of this Obama stuff so special to us? What’s so glamorous about spending more than 18 hours a day plus inside that stuffy bus waiting for hours on end to photograph and report on the elusive President on holiday?  Maybe it was the camaraderie among the equally bored journalists or the hodgepodge Asian furniture inside the media house.  Free government Doritos and Cutie oranges likely also played a roll but it’s hard to say why we chose to be with Barack Obama rather than our own families.  But it was the only time for many of us to be that close to the White House and a sitting President.

We made our early morning call times.  We downed predawn coffees to make sure our images were focused and our text was factual.  We reported, as meaningless as it may be, the truth.  And whether that truth was about the flavors Obama ordered on his shave ice or how long his putt was at The Kapolei Golf Course, the press pool was there and recorded it.

Fellow writer Kalani Takase stated on his Facebook page, “Despite the long days and being kept in the dark about pretty much everything, I’ve got to say, riding in the presidential motorcade never gets old.” And we all felt the same elation as we watched the passing Koolau Mountains, their peaks heavy with rain clouds, from inside the motorcade bubble ferrying us to wherever destination the President was heading.  There was something special about the motorcade but I guess when you consider how crappy traffic is on Oahu, rolling in the motorcade, as Kalani said, never got old.

We all had those long days struggling with the empty hours of boredom. We snored loudly in the bus, on the beach, or inside the clubhouse. We checked our phones endlessly and tried in vain to read books but failed.  Yet in the end, we cherished our White House press credentials and relished our time wrangled by the gaggle of the secretive, yet underpaid sorority of White House press agents.

So as the plane’s taillights become a twinkle in our collective memories, I sadly hear Bob Hope and Shirley Ross singing…

“Thanks for the memories…”

Bye-bye to Barack and Michelle.  Adios to the Secret Service and their dogs who sniffed through our gear. Au revoir to the media bus and those who snored through the waits. And sayonara to the cold banquet room at Mid Pac.  And when December 2017 comes around, and we’re not waiting for you outside of Titcomb’s or Nobu, we’re not going to miss it and surely, we will not miss you…but in a nostalgic way, we all probably will.

A hui hou…until we meet again.

 

My Last Press Pool Day with President Obama

On the Bus
White House pres pool members waiting for the Presidential motorcade to leave MCBH. Dec. 21, 2016

As Obama is quickly wrapping up his last Hawaii vacation, my last White House press pool day was on Dec. 21st.  The day came with a deep sadness as I knew this type of assignment would likely never happen for me again.  Never would I sit endlessly waiting for the President to finish a golf game nor would I ever have the chance to shout out “What flavors did you have on your shave ice?!?!”

While this sadness overtook me, I have to be thankful as the Associated Press gave me a chance to use a pen over pixels as I worked as a reporter inside the press pool.  While I wanted to be a writer early in my days, the camera topped the keyboard and f-stops replaced verbs.  So it wasn’t a stretch to write a few sentences about where the President was heading and what color hat he wore that day.

While no real breaking news took place while on duty over the years, I still enjoyed zooming through the city within the motorcade.  Those jaunts are likely the most memorial aspect of working with the President over the holidays.  Everything else was a mixture of waiting, eating junk food, and more waiting all set to the theme of Candy Crush.

Hardly did any of us set eyes upon the President other than a glimpse at him through the windows of his armored limo or in the far distance as he crossed the greens at an exclusive golf course.  After his motorcade would speed past us, I’d plead if anyone had seen what he was wearing as that seemed to be the only thing of importance to write about on those sunny winter days in Honolulu.  And beyond that, any other sightings of the President were strictly controlled.  Windows were blacked out by dark tarps taped to the windows or we were kept blocks away and not allowed off the bus.  Those were the worst days.

Blacked Out Windows
White House Press pool cameraman standing in front of blacked out windows at the Kapolei Golf Course.

Obama was very secretive and rarely gave the press pool any glimpses into his vacation life.  Why the White House did so much to block the credentialed pool from view yet allowed anyone outside to have full access to him was mind boggling.  Just tonight, local TV aired smart phone video of the President on a hike.  Where was the WH press?  Back in the bus.

Press pool photographers demanded access and producers pushed for air time but the White House never budged.  For a President who was spawned through social media, he was hardly the model for transparency as he preferred to speak directly to the public via Facebook and released crafted images from his personal photographer.  He sidestepped the media anyway he could, yet the romance went on.

On occasion, the White House allowed whats termed a “spray” where media was given a short window to capture whatever was going on.  In the video above, I captured my colleagues photographing Obama as wrapped up his golf on the 18th green at the Kapolei Golf Course.  The White House handler rushed us off our perch no more than 30 seconds later.

But aside from all the hassle, the press pool bus became a small winter haven for the few years I was allowed in.  The press pool allowed me to work as a writer and gain international bylines.  I am grateful for all those who trusted me to sit inside and report on the daily events of the President.

As I walked off the bus that night, I was hugged and was back slapped by many who had known me over several years for a few days in December.  I shared many a coffee inside the tiny kitchen of the media house and talked endlessly about the strange Japanese bath at the other end.  We fed the goldfish and we all saw G1 jump in the swimming pool at least once.  We all ate the best hash browns at the MCBH McDonald’s and shared a common exhaustion as the motorcade sped out to another late night dinner.  I’ll miss the rush and the companionship…but I won’t miss the painful boredom.  I won’t miss that at all.

 

 

Obama’s Final Hawaii Holiday Vacation

Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama waves at he exits Air Force One In Honolulu.

Friday marked the start and the end of US President Barack Obama’s annual Hawaii vacation.  After eight years of his headlining holiday visits, Hawaii’s favorite son will no longer return to his million-dollar rental home on the east shores of Oahu, at least not as President of the United States.  The ending of his two terms in office also brings an end to this unique time of Hawaii history, where the D.C. limelight merged with the Island’s aloha culture.

Obama vacations brought international attention to many of the islands attractions and restaurants.  He famously body surfed at Sandy’s, dined in some of the City’s hottest restaurants, and walked along the best beaches Hawaii has to offer.  But along with the President came the intense circus of security that surrounds one of the most powerful men in the world. While those who lived near President’s rental home might feel differently, his footprint was relatively small and many locals never realized a world leader was just a few blocks away.  There were unfortunate incidents where his caravan caused gridlock or beach goers were kept away from certain areas, but most locals took his visits with ease as it wasn’t everyday Hawaii had a president sitting on her beaches.

The unique circumstances of Hawaii producing a U.S. President and having his family vacation here every year is likely never to happen again so I’m fortunate to have been a working photographer during this time. From stalking him on the beach to covering his multiple arrivals and departures, I played a role in reporting on his holiday whereabouts. On top of that, I was given the chance to work as a reporter within the secure bubble of the Secret Service and reported on the whereabouts of one of the most important men on the globe.  Although it might seem trivial to witness Obama eating shave ice or making a long putt on the 18th green, his actions made headlines around the globe.

Compared to some colleagues who lost a good part of their lives sitting inside that cramped media bus for the entire holiday season, my role was relatively minor.  Yet I was still was part of the media pack that kept tabs on the president and recorded this unique time in Hawaii history.  My images will be part of a collection that will define Obama’s visual history and I stand proud with my local brothers Hugh, Jamm, Tanner, and Kent.  None of us are full time staffers yet we all sacrificed our holidays for a decade minus a year to record history, as trivial as it may seem, to photograph and report on one of the most popular presidents in modern history.  I grow jealous of my named colleagues who captured more; yet, I salute you, you bastards.

Although many will not miss Obama or his annual visits, his last days on Oahu as President will bring a bittersweet end to nine years can never be repeated.  The Hawaii history books are closing, but I’m glad, along with my colleagues, that someone will be looking at our images for a long, damn, time.

White House Press Passes
White House issued press passes collected during the many Obama visits to Hawaii.

 

 

Tulsi Gabbard saved my wife!

Tulsi Gabbard saved my wife!

“Tulsi! You saved my wife’s life!” I declared to US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard as she arrived for our photo shoot for Du Jour Magazine via Getty Images this past July in Kailua. “I’ve heard this from several people,” she replied as she warmly hugs me in the twinkling dawn hour before our shoot. “But I really didn’t do much,” she modestly states trying to play down her role in the Black Hawk Down rescue of my wife from the grips of a deranged homeless guy.

But she did run to the defense of my wife. And I always tell that story when the subject of Tulsi pops up. I told the photo editor at Du Jour Magazine. I told the assignment editor at Getty. I’ve also told my neighbors, my friends, and the guy parked next to me at Safeway. I’m always telling that tale because it is a great story.   Tulsi Gabbard did rescued my wife!

Now of course, I’ve been known to embellish a story here and there but what fable is completely accurate? Would you want to believe that Prince Charming was slightly balding and only 5’4? We all like the taller tales as they do make us feel better.

But as my wife, Yukako, tells the story, it goes something like this:

“I was walking back home from work late in the afternoon when I saw Tulsi and a group of supporters waving campaign signs before the (Nov. 2012) elections at the corner of Nuuanu Ave. and Vineyard Blvd. As I got closer I noticed a crazy homeless man had approached the group and began screaming gibberish straight at Tulsi but she never flinched. Despite none of her supporters coming to help her, Tulsi didn’t back down, she didn’t move, and never showed fear. She kept her cool and kept on campaigning. Once I got to the corner where everyone was standing…

This is where her story line becomes more of my creative tale telling…

“…the homeless man then turned quickly towards me and before I knew it, Tulsi jumped in between us and commanded the homeless man leave us alone. He was coming straight at me and Tulsi protected me from him. I gratefully thank her and rushed home.”

And like all good stories, they quickly change as they are whispered from ear to ear. And in my case, the story was immediately transformed into a butt kicking, City Council Superwoman in a red cape rescuing a petite damsel in distress.   Did Tulsi karate kick the homeless guy? No. Did she flip him over her shoulder all the while wrestling a baseball bat from his hands? Again, no. But do you really want to hear that Tulsi did something really boring? Absolutely not and regardless of the “actual truth,” Tulsi did intervene thus protecting my wife from what might have been a terrible afternoon. And sure the truth might not be so heroic but that’s the narrative I’m sticking with…despite complaints from Yukako after she read the first draft of this story.

I’ve always been impressed with Tulsi. I’ve seen her make a difference in Honolulu’s City Council as well as turn into a star Congresswoman for Hawaii. She used to live in our building in downtown and we’d frequently see her in the elevator or lobby. Tulsi always had a smile on her face and she was always willing to listen and talk to her neighbors. Her presence was powerful and she’d often wear this red suit, quite similar to the red cape I’ve made her out to wear at times. Tulsi is a fantastic person and I’m glad I can call her a friend.

When I landed the Du Jour Magazine job, I knew we’d have no trouble capturing a great image of Tulsi for the publication.   The team at Blue River Productions did much of the groundwork and secured a beachfront home in Kailua to be used as our background for the shoot. Incidentally, the location is just a few doors down from the home President Barack Obama stays in during the Christmas holidays.

We opted to meet super early at 5am Sunday morning before the sun rose so we could take advantage of the beautiful dawn light. Tulsi had no problem meeting us that early as she scheduled a live interview with a national Sunday morning talk show that would be shown live on the East Coast that day.

Once Tulsi got dressed for the shoot, we made our way down to the beach right as the sun rose over the horizon. The dreamy warm light draped over Tulsi and wrapped around the entire scene creating a surreal scene of magical proportions. Tulsi looked perfect! The image picked for the article was our first scenario and we nailed it right at the start.

I doubt Tulsi dreads hearing my tall tale of heroism, as it is a good story. She did rescue my wife and she will continue to rescue Hawaii with her progressive and innovative policies. She is something else. I am proud to know I captured her in the perfect light as well as knowing I, no we, can count on her as a friend.

And if she ever got tired of my embellishing of her tale of rescue, I’m certain I’d know due to the feel of pavement on my face or the cracking of my bones.

 

 

 

A dip in the Obama pool

A dip in the Obama pool

I won’t start ringing the bells just yet and start selling off the cameras but my professional writing career is taking off.  We should take my statements lightly as  I’m not sure if my authorship can cut the mustard, let alone pay the mortgage; however, we have liftoff.  With the first published article on Nimitz in the Star Advertiser to two major bylines worldwide with the Associated Press, I am off to a good start…a GREAT start and end to 2013.  I am soooo grateful to Associated Press news editor who happens to share my last name as he put his trust in me to report on the big news.  And that big news was following Obama and la famila around during their annual Xmas vacation in Oahu.  I also have to thank Audrey-san and cuz Jen as they might have been the ones who put my Nimitz article in front of hermano Garcia which convinced  him I was the right hombre for the job.   Señor Garcia (no relation at all) assigned me to cover POTUS and my reporting seemed to do very well and was sent ’round the world.

My assignment placed me inside the media circus that follows the President around.  Permanent staffers from all the major media are assigned to cover the President wherever and whenever he travels or just stay put.  The coverage, sometimes affectionately referred to as death watch, needs to ensure every minute of the President is accounted for.  It is one of the most taxing assignments any journalist is assigned as you have to be ready to capture that moment.  Sadly, you have to sacrifice your life as you live for POTUS.  Vigilance through the lens or the pen is crucial to this job as anything can happen at any point in time.  A slip in concentration could mean missing the assassin’s bullet or the angry Iraqi’s shoe.  No telling when that slip will occur or when the aliens comeback to reclaim their property.  The truth is you never know when you’ll have the Zapruder film or classic bloopers from the Bush years.

Sadly Obama strongly disregards the professional media and his administration would rather use social media than independent media to get his message out.  He routinely uses hand outs from his personal photographer and fiercely guards his image from the press yet; as he keeps back the pros, regular citizens and paparazzi get much better access.  The Obama Administration is one of the most unfriendly administration in history towards the media and clearly lacks the transparency he campaigned on.

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My above video shows the view the media bus gets of Obama and it really never gets any better. Some might argue that the President owes the media nothing; however, the media is needed to ensure the government stays honest.  If you allow the government to police itself, there will be very few arrest.

Some of you might recall my so called paparazzi encounter with then Presidential candidate Barack Obama in August of 2008 when I parked myself on Kailua Beach waiting for the future POTUS to make an exit and walk down the shore.  For three straight days, Obama stayed away and I figured his security detail just kept him informed of my existence.  So I took a gamble and left the beach and snuck around to a different beach access point opposite his hoping he’d think I abandoned my assignment.  Sure enough, as I walked from the opposite direction, Senator Obama and his two kids left the house and strolled down the beach, hand in hand, with nary a though to where I stood.

Obama, Sasha, Malia,
Obamarama

 

I took some of the most intimate pictures of the Senator with his daughters which I feel defined him as a father and made him human.  So many times, candidates fake their photo ops and try to pretend they are just like us.  They roll up their flannel shirts and help wash dishes, serve food at a homeless shelter, eat at McDonalds like the rest of us.  I’ve NEVER believed these people really were who they are.  It was fake.  Always fake…Romney and Kerry with their millions, Bush with his dynasty.  Obama, on the other hand, was caught off guard, and it shows.  I caught him being human.

When the Senator actually realized he was being photographed, he got pissed.  He waved his sandals at me and yelled at me to leave.  Sorry, Senator, its a public beach and you’re a public figure.   Secret Service said nothing.  I stood next to them and showed everyone respect and dignity.  The future President might have been really upset but he signed up for the whole public image thing.  In my view, a politician is owned by the public.  We demand to see him.  His kids are off limits but whenever the parents are out and about, they are fair game.

As far as the writing assignment went, it was beyond boring.  It was a tedious exercise in hours of playing Candy Crush, being pestered and pestering others on the media bus, not to mention snacking on really bad vanilla creme cookies and other terribly unhealthy things Michelle surely wouldn’t approve.  Obama kept the media completely away, as in many ways, he should as his vacation is somewhat private but we are not there to paparazzi him but to ensure we cover his every move in the inevitable…well lets leave it at that.

I’m extremely thrilled to have more writing under my belt.  I’m aiming to continue to add more bylines and stories to my every growing career.