In a Room with the President

Rare and inevitably odd, encounters with notable people are always entertaining.

The accidental encounters are often the most fun, just because they are so random and usually free of much pressure or awkwardness. My inauspicious start was realizing I was standing next to Sinbad, the standup comedian, in a college bookstore. Years later, I heard a voice that sounded familiar near a resort pool and turned to see Kelsey Grammer in shorts talking to his kids. Another time, I sat across from Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer as they held hands and whispered to each other at an Austin cocktail bar.

The first time I went out of my way to meet someone was a book signing with P. J. O’Rourke. Envious of his life as a full-time writer, and eager to demonstrate my familiarity, I handed him a book and said, “So, do you and your wife still have the farmhouse in New Hampshire?” He stopped writing, looked up, and replied, “Well, the wife is gone, but I still have the house.”

Which is why it’s probably best that I didn’t actually meet President Obama when he visited my co-working space. During a trip promoting entrepreneurship, he stopped by to see a few demos and give a short talk. I sat in a room with about 100 people and spent a grand total of 10 minutes not far from the President.

Since I have a thing for how politics works, I had a lot of fun watching the Secret Service, both during and in the days leading up to the visit, the press secretary, and the reporters and photographers. It was the closest I'd been to that world.

The President’s remarks were quick and unremarkable, but there was something very different about the experience. Later that night, I realized what it was.

We always see and hear celebrities, politicians, musicians, athletes, and assorted newsmakers through a screen. Even if we attend a speech or event, everything we hear is through a microphone and speakers.

When the President spoke that day, though, he wasn’t wearing a mic. It was just his voice bouncing around the silent room. In fact, I remember how strange it was to have to work to hear every word.

There's nothing quite like the unfiltered, unamplified voice of a person.