On Sunday morning, March 4, I awoke to a phone call informing me that I had become the newest member of the press volunteer group for President Barack Obama’s visit to the Mount Holly truck plant, which produces Freightliner Business Class® vehicles. Equally confused and elated, I asked for more information. The Presidential visit had for the past several days been kept secret for security purposes, and no one was quite sure what he would be speaking about. Twenty-four hours later I boarded a plane.
We arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina late on Monday, March 5. I learned I would be responsible for press check-in at the event and posting information and updates about the Presidential visit to LinkedIn and Twitter. President Obama visiting one of our plants obviously presented a huge opportunity, and we wanted to make sure we documented the action. I was also given charge of an HD video camera and instructed to film “stuff.”
Tuesday, March 6, passed in a blur. As the first shift ended on Tuesday, hundreds of employees from the plant and corporate offices alike lined up for one of the coveted tickets to hear the President speak. I took videos and interviewed Mt. Holly employees about their feelings on the event and working for Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA). Energy abounded and I had no problems convincing people to talk to my camera. Tuesday included some less exciting tasks, as big events usually do, but the next day proved all our hard work was well worth the effort.
On Wednesday, March 7, the line began to form at 9am. The event was not scheduled to begin until almost 1pm. All cars were checked by K9 squads trained to sniff out guns and explosives, and everyone submitted to a metal-detecting wand scan. Access to the main plant entrance was completely cut off. Police officers and secret service were everywhere. Although the scenario looked chaotic, my morning was surprisingly straightforward. I took my place at the press check-in desk promptly at 9:30 and greeted journalists and photographers for the next two hours without incident. At noon the real fun began.
Once the President was en route to the plant, everyone was herded inside the building and the doors were shut. We then began to slowly bake under the rows of lights and body heat of hundreds of excited employees, journalists, government officials, and dignitaries. I snapped a few pictures and tweeted updates, but mostly I just stood around. Finally, a plant associate led the pledge of allegiance and another sang the National Anthem before Juan Smith, a Mt. Holly employee for 32 years, took the stage to introduce the President. At that very moment, my video camera informed me that the video memory card was full. Luckily my iPhone goes wherever I go.
President Barack Obama took the stage right on time. Before he appeared the off-line section of the Mt. Holly plant where we were gathered had the atmosphere of a cattle call. As soon as he began speaking, however, the atmosphere transformed into something resembling a Baptist Church on a Sunday morning. He spoke about the importance of plants like Mt. Holly and the future of alternative fuel vehicles. The crowd was enraptured and yelled their support proudly. President Obama touched on several topics, including oil prices, American manufacturing, and of course, the upcoming election. In the end, the politics weren’t important. The day was significant because of what it meant for our employees and our company.
The speech ended after about 20 minutes and I rather unceremoniously worked my way into the VIP section with my mind set on a great picture and a handshake. As luck would have it, our CEO noticed me with my camera and expertly shunted me to the front of the crowd. I got a few fantastic pictures of the President greeting employees, and I even got my very own handshake. As one emotional employee put it, “Until the day I meet my maker, that’s pretty much as good as it gets.”