Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time.
That was the case on Sunday, May 1, the night it was announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a daring raid carried out by U.S. Navy SEALS in Pakistan.
There I was in a hotel bar at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C., once again the site of AALU’s annual conference. A few minutes prior, we had been listening to Sunday night’s keynote speaker Dennis Miller, spewing a variety of his trademark obscure-reference similes for the audience of perhaps 1,000 — part of a record attendance of 1,250 at this year’s conference.
As a few colleagues and I were enjoying a drink and catching up (as many of us are located in different states), all of a sudden, a roar went up from the nearby crowd in the lobby bar. Didn’t think much of it at first. Perhaps a goal in the NHL playoff game on TV. But then we saw the headline in big type across the bottom of the screen on another TV in the bar, this one showing CNN. “Osama bin Laden killed.”
Within 15 minutes, CNN was showing a crowd starting to gather in front of the White House to celebrate what had been reported but not yet confirmed by President Obama’s live announcement. It happens that the Marriott Wardman Park is within a couple of miles of the White House. The thought quickly entered our minds to grab a taxi and join in on the celebration. Not something I could normally do from my home in the Denver area, but pretty easy to do when you happen to be in the immediate vicinity. There have been other times in my life when I’ve watched historically significant events unfold on TV and wish I was there to join in the celebration. Being there was something I won’t forget.
About 10 minutes after four of us decided to go, we were dropped off around midnight within a couple of blocks of the White House, where, by now, a few thousand revelers had gathered to celebrate the demise of the most wanted man in the world. It was different than a crowd celebrating their team’s Super Bowl victory in that almost everyone was dead sober but positively giddy — it was, after all, a typical Sunday night until the news broke. There were the regular outbreaks of the “U-S-A, U-S-A” chant, often followed by the spontaneous outbreak of the “Star Spangled Banner”and/or “God Bless America.” We found our way to the front of the White House, settling below the kids who were climbing the trees and waving flags. The crowd definitely trended young, and more than one teen or twenty-something asked us — still in business suits from the AALU dinner — if we were with the Secret Service.
This was definitely one of those unifying events, where it didn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican, Mets fan or Phillies fan — you were first and foremost a proud American.
Pride continued to swell on Monday at the AALU conference, where George W. Bush just happened to be that morning’s keynote speaker. It’s good to be in the right place at the right time.
To read more from Brian Anderson, click here.