Thursday, May 23, 2013


I found this display at Big Lots the other day:

Yes, that is an entire shelf filled with various flavors of Tampico, in various sizes.

Tampico is a "fruit" drink sold in West Africa (a French company, I think?). It encompasses basically everything that is wrong with a "fruit" drink, nutritionally speaking, but it's very popular in West Africa, especially Dakar (where we can buy it by the case in little pouches like Capri-Sun). I only like it frozen--it makes a really nice, cool treat on a hot and humid Dakar day (unfrozen it is sort of syrupy and gross).

Incidentally, I have a few former students from DA staying with me for a few days, and my mom had happened to buy a gallon jug of Tampico at Wal-Mart the other day. I was sure that the "kids" wouldn't really want to drink it, but as soon as they saw it, they got really excited. Which is good, because I certainly will not drink it!

 (What I think is the most ironic is that the sign above the display says: "Big Brands." As far as I know, Tampico isn't really a big brand, but thanks, anyway, Big Lots.)

Want to try it out? They have it at Big Lots (for now).

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The President's Parking Attendant

On Friday, I had the opportunity to volunteer (through my job) for a presidential event. (As in, the real President of the United States). It was a pretty cool thing to be a part of!

Someone who works with my job also works with the White House, and as President Obama was coming to Baltimore to speak in a factory as a part of his jobs initiative (which I don't really know much about), we were asked to volunteer for the event. Initially, an email was sent out, inviting us to volunteer for a "really cool opportunity," but the "opportunity" wasn't named (they weren't allowed to say). Honestly, I really didn't want to do it, because I was feeling lazy (we would have to be there early) and just wanted sleep in, since I wasn't scheduled to work. Despite this, my boss called me after the deadline to try to convince me to go, and when someone calls you personally, you usually give in because you feel special (even though I was pretty sure she was calling everyone who hadn't responded by the deadline). So, I agreed to go, despite feeling a bit put out. In no way was it altruistic volunteerism (and I was already feeling guilty for my attitude in anticipation of probably finding out we were going to be serving soup at a homeless shelter or something--I'm really good with anticipatory guilt.)

Anyway, when I went into the office on Thursday, I ran into my boss (who, incidentally I have not seen since starting my job in April!) and she asked gleefully: "Do you want to know what it is??" I agreed and she said: "It's for an Obama event!" I was surprised, considering I was expecting to be guiltily serving soup at a homeless shelter. I then got excited, and then, consequently, felt a bit guilty that I was more excited about getting to volunteer for a who's who sort of event rather than serving soup to homeless people. Apparently, I have a guilt-complex.

I found out before Friday that I would be a "VIP Educator." Friends, this is not nearly as exciting as it sounds. Basically, I was a glorified parking lot attendant.

Suddenly, serving soup sounded a lot more glamorous.

The factory that the event was taking place at was only about a mile from my house, so I asked my dad to just drop me off. I got there bright and early, and the doors were still locked on the building we were supposed to meet (and, incidentally, the address was wrong). Eventually, after waiting outside the nearby local parole office with another woman from my work (yes, the event was taking place across the street from a parole office. Needless to say, it was closed for the day). The other research assistants from my job starting arriving, and there was a general atmosphere of merriment in the air.
A group of some of the SERP volunteers for the day.
(Side note: On Thursday, when I went back the office in the afternoon, I asked if anyone knew what we were going to be doing. I jokingly said: "Are we just there to be the devoted crowd? Adoring Groupies? Throw our bras up on the stage?" Another research assistant nodded solemnly (and completely seriously): "He deserves it, if we did."

There are a lot of Obama fans among my colleagues.)

Eventually, the White House staffer, Jill, who was going to orient us finally arrived, and she split us into two groups, the larger helping with the press, and the smaller, my group, helping with VIP crowd control. She took the five of us into a back conference room, and doled out our assignments. Vanessa had the most interesting job, perhaps: she was assigned to pick out the most "factory worker" looking employees of the factory to stand on the machinery behind the President while he delivered his remarks.
We thought Vanessa did a pretty good job. The best pick? The man with the Duck Dynasty beard (standing on the end, by the sign).
The other three got to check in VIP guests on two different tiers. And me? I was assigned, as noted, the glamorous job of VIP parking attendant.
Looking official with my fake ray-bans and my White House volunteer  badge. Also, sunburned.
Jill showed us around to our various stations (my parking lot was about three blocks away), and then let us get to our tasks. I walked back to the parking lot, only to be stopped in my tracks (pun intended) by a train that had decided to park itself in the middle of the road for twenty minutes. So, I stood under a tree watching the traffic, the many cops and police vehicles, and chatting with the employees of the closed parole office, who were turning away all the folks who were coming in for an appointment with their parole officers that day.

"You don't want to be around here today!" hollered the woman to one overly persistent man who would not accept that he couldn't have his appointment. "This place is crawling with cops, and secret service!" Meanwhile, a huge armored police hum-v pulled up behind the man's car, but he still did not seem to understand that he needed to leave.

Finally, the train moved, and I headed to the parking lot.

Friends, it was a parking lot. Important people parked there. I gave them directions. It was so, so, so exciting.

My glamorous parking lot.
There were two other volunteers assigned to the parking lot, two woman who worked at the factory that the President was speaking in. The staffer had told me she was putting me in the parking lot because she didn't have a lot of confidence in the two other volunteers. I could kind of see what she meant--they didn't really know what was going on, nor did they give the right directions, but they insisted on being the ones to talk to all the, I mostly just stood there, and when I could get a chance I would say: "Do you have an orange or purple ticket?" Only to be told by the ladies that "We don't have to ask that!" (we did). Oh well! (I think they thought I was a student who therefore didn't know what she was doing: they asked me four times if I was a student, or what college I went to. But, the perception of my age in America is a whole 'nother blog post.)

Apparently, I met a state senator and a city councilman, among other dignitaries. That's not too impressive--Whitney, who was signing in the purple ticket people (the extremely important VIPs who were going to meet with the president before the remarks) got to meet the governor, who sauntered up to her table and said cheerfully, extending his hand: "Hi, I'm Martin." "Yes," said Whitney dryly, "I know."
The man in the suit is Governor Martin O'Malley. He was definitely schmoozing and working the crowd! Vanessa's the one in pink. 
I finally escaped--I mean, departed--the parking lot at 12:15, was stopped by a (disgruntled) secret service agent who checked my ID, and who scolded me for walking up the street "late" (i.e. when I was told to leave the parking lot...) as I headed toward the main building (because the motorcade was coming at 12:25), kept Whitney company for a few more minutes as we watched the motorcade arrive (but we didn't see the President) (people were cued up along the street as if for a parade), and then headed to the Orange ticket table to go into the building with the other volunteers. The four of us went through security, and into the factory where the assembly was being held. The room was pretty full, and we stood in the back, basically assuming that's where we would be for the President's remarks. To our surprise, Jill, the White House staffer we'd been working with appeared, and led us through the group to the VIP standing area (so, basically the second level of importance, other than getting to sit). We were right next to the podium, which was pretty cool.
The podium. Just like the movies. Or the West Wing. Or C-Span.
The President finally came in, dressed for speaking to factory workers with his sleeves rolled up. He delivered his remarks--and, whether you agree with the President's policies or not--he's an excellent orator, (and the man has got charisma!). It was a good speech; more casual than formal. There was a man with Downs Syndrome in the audience who was very (positively) vocal during the whole speech, and I was really impressed with how gracious the President was to the interruptions, and that he even responded a few times to his comments. (At one point, he shouted loudly"Amen!" to which the President laughed and thanked him.)

After the speech, the President came down and shook many hands (including mine!) and headed out the door.
Shaking hands with the common folk, like me. The big burly secret service agent told everyone to put their phones and cameras away, but to no avail.
It was over, and sunburned and tired, I walked up the road to the Burger King to meet my ride.

It was an interesting event to be a part of--it was really fun to be a part of the behind-the-scenes, to rub shoulders with important people (even though I didn't know who they were), and share in the community spirit and excitement. I was proud to help out, proud to get to volunteer for the President, and, quite frankly, proud to be an American. As someone who has not spent much time in my own country doing patriotic things, it was special to be a part of something patriotic and noteworthy.