Waiting for POTUS

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]OW many iconic photos of presidents have been taken in front of some generation of Air Force One? How many were taken before the image stopped meaning much? At least a dozen members of the press assembled this afternoon to wait for President Barack Obama’s ride to touch down on a special air strip south of Denver International Airport. POTUS is in town for a whirlwind, 20-hour mostly private fundraising and economic speechifying tour of our capital city.

Though the president’s speech in Cheesman Park tomorrow morning is closed to the public, your trusty columnist Mike Littwin and I will be reporting and live tweeting from the event. Later, when the president goes to fundraise for embattled Senator Mark Udall at a more private soiree intended to keep him away from opposition SuperPAC lenses, we’ll loiter around outside like most everyone else and get you a sense of the conversation inside as best we can.

The evening of the president’s arrival was a cool one, the way I remember summer nights growing up in Colorado — full of dry wind and sun shifting through fast-moving clouds. All but a handful of the press present were photo and video teams waiting for The Shot.

Air Force One touched down with a scream and made several photo-opish turns on the tarmac before the critical moment when Obama disembarked alongside Congressman Ed Perlmutter, who represents District 7 in northwest Denver and was the only member of the Colorado delegation running for re-election this fall to position himself in a photo limelight with the president on this trip.

Obama stepped off his plane facing west toward the Rockies, which he couldn’t see because it was kind of a smoggy day. You can’t have everything you want — even, and perhaps especially, if you are Barack Obama. The president gave a brief wave, too small and too real to photograph well. Even the serious camera jockeys with long lenses complained. Most memorable, though, was the way Obama walked down the stairs. It read like a single gesture full of ease and confidence. One of the pool photographers told me that Obama always walks down the stairs like that. She’s been trying to capture it for years.

And just like that it was over. He was gone in a motorcade, the way the presidents do.

On the way back to downtown Denver, I-70 was a parking lot, as highways all over the country are that time of day. I thought, “That’s the closest I’ve ever been to the president.” But for some reason the feeling wouldn’t stick. I wished Air Force One had landed close enough for us to feel a gust. I wished the president had waved hugely, even clownishly for the cameras. I wished I knew what to do with the memory of the homeless guy I passed this afternoon on the way to wait for the president. He was standing just before the intersection of 14th and Colorado with a very timely sign that read, “Obama wanted change, I still need change.”

[Photo of President Barack Obama disembarking from Air Force One with Congressman Ed Perlmutter. They don’t let you get very close.]