I started out young. Very young. My first newspaper assignment came about when I was just 15 years old. Two years later, I was on staff and eager to prove myself. When word about President Gerald Ford coming back to his home state to speak at the University of Michigan, I convinced my editor we should cover the event. A few phone calls, a letter to the Secret Service and it was game on.
On the day of the event, I arrived extra early to get my credentials and go through the bag check line. Once approved, all the press photographers were herded into a holding room to wait for the time we could enter the hall and take our positions on the photographer platform.
The room was very crowded. We were elbow to elbow. Seemed like every newspaper in the state, no matter the size sent a photographer, and of course, the most prominent papers sent more than one. And here I was, a teenager with a press pass and my bosses Leicas around my neck. My eyes must have been as wide as saucers with excitement.
Eventually, an older, veteran news photographer loaded with multiple Nikon cameras and long lenses came up beside me. He stared me up and down, smirking at the limited gear I had. Finally, he snarled, "Kinda young, aren't you?" Naive doesn't even come close to what happened next. In response to the old photographer's question, I beamed, "Yes! This is the first time I've ever shot a President!"
Oops. OMG, what did I say!
I can imagine what the parting of the Red Sea looked like based on the mass of news photographers in that room who, upon hearing my response, immediately stepped back, leaving me alone in the center of the space. Well, not entirely alone, there was one other person, an enormous person, dressed in a dark suit and talking into his sleeve. He looked down at me, now shaking in my shoes, and said very sternly, "Son, we don't use that kind of jargon around the President of the United States." Gulp. I'm not sure at that moment if I turned snow white or beet red, but I know some color change occurred and time seemed to stand still as the immense Secret Service agent stared into my almost weeping eyes. Then, almost as if on cue, muffled laughter circled the room. The rest of the press corps thought it was quite amusing how far the new kid stuck his foot down his throat. With that, the agent gave me a slight wink and walked away. Lesson learned. And while this was my first time photographing a President, it wouldn't be my last.