Auckland, New Zealand – July 18, 2016
My calling to Auckland was to assist with the impending visit of Vice President (VPOTUS) Joe Biden to Auckland. My assigned duty was baggage assistance. I was used to the task, having done the same thing for the VPOTUS and Secretary of State’s visits to Madrid when we lived in Spain.
I arrived at the Crowne Plaza hotel shortly after 11:00 and reported to our work area. It is truly amazing how much work is required to make such a high-level visit successful.
The next day, Tuesday, I took part in the walkthroughs of each portion of the VPOTUS visit. I paid particular attention to the planned activity at the airport.
Around noon, the buses dropped us in the Newmarket area of Auckland. Two others and I opted to lunch at The Lumsden Freehouse. It has the look of an Irish pub. They seemed to specialize in craft-brewed beers. On a future trip, I will have to return and try the beer. I ordered the Campfire Chili. The serving was huge. I could not eat the entire thing.Later that evening, two colleagues, and I dined at Tony’s Original Steak & Seafood Restaurant. It is just around the corner from the Crowne Plaza hotel. In this location for some 50 years, the restaurant has a very inviting ambiance. The restaurant is large, but it seems quaint and inviting because it is broken up into several small seating areas.
It was busy when we arrived. However, even without reservations, the host seated us within moments of arriving. I ordered the fillet steak, steamed vegetables, and chips. During our pre-meal conversation, I ordered a glass of Toi Toi Sauvignon Blanc. It is a delicious local wine. When my steak arrived, it seemed to melt in my mouth. I was incredibly happy with my meal. I will return in the future.
Wednesday was game day. The Vice President was due in the early evening. I arrived at the pre-appointed location at Auckland International Airport around 14:00. The three others helping me, our Air Force contact, and I ended up staging about 300 yards away from where Air Force 2 would stop. His plane arrived at about 18:15. We did not get access to the aircraft for 30 or 45 minutes. During that time, people prepared the aircraft for the Vice President to emerge, when he finally emerged from the plane with his granddaughters, the camera flashes when wild.
After the greeting party finished and the motorcade departed, we approached the plane. It is pretty cool to stand below Air Force 2. We loaded the luggage into a box van and left for the hotel. As a token of his appreciation, our Air Force contact gave each of us a box of “Presidential” kisses. They were Hershey Kisses in a “Presidential” box with a likeness of the signature of President Barak Obama. It was kind of him to be so considerate.
At the hotel, we worked with the hotel staff to deposit the baggage in the correct rooms. After that, our driver took us to our hotel. It was around 21:30. I was hungry since we had not eaten dinner, but I was more tired. I went to my room, had a glass of wine, and crashed for the night. The following morning, all of us working the VPOTUS visit were to gather at his hotel for a meet and greet. The plan was to have individual photographs with the Vice President. Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues, the individual photograph idea degraded to photos with groups of 10 or 12 people. Regardless, I was happy for the opportunity. On the two other visits mentioned above, I did not get to meet either Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton. I had assumed this visit would be the same.
When Biden approached our group, he did not immediately step into the group, wait for the camera snap, and then move on. Instead, he stopped and faced the group. He expressed his sincere appreciation for all of our hard work to make his visit a success. Then, he allowed each of us to introduce ourselves, and he shook each person’s hand. He was genuinely nice.
The Vice President’s plane was to depart around 15:00. We worked with our contact to retrieve the passenger’s luggage from the hotel, loaded them in the box truck, and returned to the airport. While we were loading luggage, our contact said he would check to see if he could get us a tour of Air Force 2. That was something else that had not happened on the previous two visits I worked. This time, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to board the plane for the tour. We saw everything from the cockpit to the rear galley. The highlight was probably the private suite for Biden. The tour is a memory I will cherish.
After loading the aircraft, we returned to the same area in which we had staged the evening before. Once Air Force 2 took off, we departed the airport. Having missed lunch, we decided to stop at Carl’s Junior for something to tide us over. Then it was off to our hotel for the “wheels-up” party. That allowed all of us who worked the visit to unwind a little.
Friday morning, I took care of a few bits and pieces, helped pack up some of the control room, and then departed for the airport.
I changed to an earlier flight, ultimately surprising Leslie with an early arrival.
High-level visits are a lot of work and stressful. But I know I am fortunate to be able to participate in such visits.