Its standard procedure, that wherever the president goes, there is a small contingent of media in the motorcade with him. Anywhere in the world, motorcades, on Air Force One, everywhere. Even on vacation.
Today was my day – well, it was CBS's day as the networks rotate, so CBS is travel pool every fifth day. We started at 5 a.m. local time and drove from the press hotel to the neighborhood where the president is staying on the island of Oahu. We went through security and then accompanied the president to the local marine base where he goes to the gym. Then we took him to the tennis club where he and the first lady played tennis. All of this was done, mind you, closed, or out of the eye of the press.
We drove back to the neighborhood, where the president changed clothes and we proceeded to the base where he was giving his the first public statement of his Hawaiian vacation, an update on the terror incident in Detroit and the government's response. From there, we went to the golf course.
We were sitting in the van, just parked near the golf course waiting for the president to get past the first few holes so we could then move into the clubhouse to wait for the round to be over. That never came as the motorcade vehicles started to line up and very suddenly, it looked like we were about to go somewhere.
A White House staffer came running back to the van, as one is always with the press group, and we took off. Fast. After less than an hour of golf, the president took off speeding urgently from the golf course. Holy crap! What was going on? No one knew, but all we knew was that he was in a hurry, a major hurry to get back home. The press aide was able to tell us that the President was ok and this was not a matter of national security. Whew! Well, then what was it? A personal matter, they said.
We all feared the worst – that something had happened to a member of the first family at the beach or something tragic.
The urgency and speed at which the motorcade sped out was startling to many of the veteran members of the press corps who were in the press pool today. The motorcade even sped away so fast it lost the press van, though we quickly made it back to the checkpoint near the president's house. There, secret service agents who were in the motorcade paced around our van. The tension in the air was palpable. It all felt bad. Really bad.
Our van moved to a cul-de-sac where we waited. We saw an ambulance drive down the street toward the First Family's house. We were worried, but didn't know what it was there for. Not 20 minutes later, the ambulance drove out, slowly, but with lights flashing. There was one government car behind it, but no secret service or police escort. That was a sign that maybe the ambulance wasn't as big as a deal as we first thought.
Soon thereafter, our press aide told us our drive to prepare to leave our parking spot to rejoin the motorcade as it drove by. We did and proceeded back to the golf course that we had sped away from not more than an hour before. We were told that the incident involved a child of a family friend who the president was playing golf with (thus the urgency leaving the golf course). A White House person informed us that the child was injured at the beach, in fact it was later described as a run-of-the-mill beach injury that required stitches.
As we made it back to the golf course, we were told that in fact the child was okay and didn't need stitches after all. The all the chaos and urgency of the previous hour had melted away and we quickly returned back to vacation mode, retreating to the golf course clubhouse as the president continued his game.