They Stand Out Like, Well, the Secret Service
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
So I’m driving down Hwy 89 in Paradise Valley near Point of Rocks. It’s August, but freakishly cold and wet. I see a small fleet of identical silver SUVs parked at the fishing access. At 80 mph, I fly by, then turn around, drive back to the entrance, and roll down the gravel road to the access.
Slowly passing the SUVs, I observe what had to be an elite security detail, probably Secret Service, because who travels with a half dozen shiny new vehicles like that? —Not even Marlboro Ranch, and that’s the Shields; this is Paradise Valley.
I do a once-around, down to the ramp where there’s a circular turn- about at water’s edge, come back to the SUVs again, then park next to one of them. Getting out of my car, I walk over to a fairly young guy with a shaved head, who is, again, to my mind, a Secret Service agent.
“How’s it going?” I ask.
“Good,” he says.
“Would it be a problem,” I ask, “if I take a photo when he comes off the river?”
“How did you know we were here?” he asks.
I shrug. “You know, it’s a small town.”
The fellow gets that, and we casually chat, though he’s concealing as much as me. He asks who I am, and I tell him, and what I do.
“Do you have a card,” he asks. “I’ll phone it in to staff.”
I fumble around, no card handy, so I show him my driver license, and our masthead (see left) which also has my name on it .
He asks if it’s okay to pass along my info. I say it’s okay, and he walks down toward the water talking on his phone, while I wait, staring at the gun metal sky.
It’s August, but cold, in the 40s. A sprinkle of rain spots my glasses and windshield, really odd weather. I wonder about water on my camera.
When the agent comes back, it’s to say he’s “contacted staff.” Their priority wasn’t dealing with me, obviously, but there was still the question of how I knew their guy was on the river, and where.
Let’s suppose I did know who was on the river that day, because he often comes to town, and the number of people with Secret Service protection, who fly fish, can be narrowed down to a few. You do the algebra, and x equals so-and-so, pretty easy, and it sure wasn’t Hillary Clinton.
But how did I know about that spot, at that time? —Maybe luck, maybe not, maybe that’s my business, literally.
So I stood there with the Secret Service guy in the cold, which he didn’t like (the cold, not me). “I come here from DC,” he tells me, “and this is what you give me.”
“Sorry,” I say. “It should be 90 degrees.” Then I tell him about other Secret Service details we’d come across here, those with Gingrich when he was digging up fossils with Jack Horner and Peter Fonda in the 90s. The guys with Rumsfeld when he was having pizza in town. And Obama’s were here when he fished with Dan Vermillion. Then of course the poor guys with Rahm Emanuel, whose visit here went viral after I snapped his photo and that so called $140,000 bottle of wine.
But this time I wasn’t feeling the desire to accost a man third-in-line from the presidency and stick a camera in his face (actually, I never feel that way), a guy who was just trying to relax and catch some fish. Rahm Emanuel, on the other hand, who deals in four letter expletives and threats about using the power of his office against guys like me, was another matter. That story made the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the Chicago Sun Times, USA Today, and Time magazine.
This wasn’t that. The stars were not aligned, and on that gray day you couldn’t have seen them if they were. Besides, cold and wet, I wanted to crawl back in bed. After 20 minutes in the drizzle with the Secret Service, I thought, maybe I’ll pack it in.
But the Secret Service have no such option. Upriver, they had blocked off Carbella early that morning, placed a guy high in the rocks overlooking the Yellowstone, and discreetly stowed AR-15s and other hardware in two of the four driftboats, as about 15 agents that day did everything in their power to live up to their motto: Non in Noster Vigilia (for a translation, consult a ninth grader in a charter school).
And then the agent asks again—”So how did you know we were here, was it the trucks?”
“They’re a dead give away,” I said (trade secrets being trade secrets). “And I’m always hearing he’s in town, at the Chop House, or wherever. It’s a small town.”
He takes that in, and we just stand around. It’s what Secret Service do. From the hills over the river, and near the access, you can see everything, any threat. Nothing’s going to happen out there anyway, so these guys are relaxed, although later there would have to be a discussion about my presence there.
“I think I’ll take off,” I say. “Nice to meet you.” I extend my hand and we shake.
“Nice meeting you, too, sir.” A respectful response that, in all candor, made me feel honored.
Weather aside, it was an uneventful day, the kind those guys like. Speaker Boehner fought the cold all morning, then jumped into a warm SUV parked a few steps from the river. Someone had alerted him a reporter was at the access, but the guy was already gone. Back to bed.