On a whim, I decided to visit the Queen the other day. My coworker, Cathy, and I walked over to the World War II Memorial on the National Mall during lunch, where Queen Elizabeth would be paying her respects on the anniversary of VE Day.
I’ve had a few encounters with celebrities over the years. There’s the Hollywood variety: I waited on crooner Bobby Darin and action star Charles Bronson when I worked at an L.A. department store during college. And my brief time as a photographer for the tabloid The National Enquirer put me in very close contact with many of The Stars. Then there’s the politico group: I’ve run into a few politicians walking down DC’s streets; plus I once saw President Clinton leave the White House in his limo. And, ultimately, you have the iconic crème de la crème, where we find Queen Elizabeth at the top of the list.
Cathy and I weren’t sure what to expect. But being grounded DC federal workers, accustomed to multiple levels of security and station, we didn’t expect much. At least we’d get some exercise walking over.
We were surprised by the small number of fans already waiting for her (in the hundreds). We weren’t surprised by the distance the Secret Service and other police agencies kept us from where the Queen would be. Not knowing her exact itinerary, it was hard for us to place ourselves at the optimum vantage point.
We were close to the road she would take as her entourage of highly fortified limos and SUVs made their arrival. As her motorcycle escorts began to arrive the audience started to get restless and jockey for position. A blind man was standing right in front of me and kept asking for visual updates. Suddenly I was a T.V. reporter covering the event in that particular way T.V reporters do. I heard myself repeat “Someone’s approaching…” and “No, nothing yet” over and over.
As the vans began to arrive we looked closely at each window. “Look! There’s Mrs. Bush!” everyone cried in unison. “Laura Bush?” the blind man asked, “Laura?” “No, Barbara in a nice turquoise suit,” I replied, taking my sudden responsibilities seriously.
We had planted ourselves under a tree with a direct line of vision to where Elizabeth would walk as she made her entrance some 300 meters away. And it was immediately clear my camera’s paltry 3X optical zoom would be totally inadequate to see her closely. But suddenly it dawned on me: I didn’t want to see her with a zoom. I wanted to see her close up and real. And then I asked myself: but why?
Last fall, my family and I were sitting in a coffee shop in Gilroy, California when Jason Lee entered the restaurant. Gilroy, about fifty miles south of San Francisco, is best known as the Garlic Capital of the world. No stretch of the imagination can bring it close to Hollywood. So his appearance was totally unexpected. My sister went ga-ga and couldn’t wait for him to sit down so she could get his autograph on the only paper available, a restaurant placemat. When I asked her if she watched his sitcom, My Name is Earl, she said “no, not really.” So why all the hubbub?
Somehow people feel connected when in close proximity to those we see on T.V. and in the movies. Television and film have extended our lives into a much larger realm. And, when given a chance, we want confirm the reality of our greater lives by somehow interacting with these icons. It is a verification that what we experience via these media are real. (How’s that for a quick quasi-academic critique?)
Even I, the social critic, am not immune.
Only invited guests could see the Queen as she toured the Memorial. And when her visit was over she walked back to her car the same way she walked in. A police officer asked us to move back ten feet from the picket fence they had quickly erected to keep us commoners at a distance. It was our clue the Queen just might come closer. Her motorcade drove off in the other direction yet we wondered whether she might double back this way.
“Yes, here they come.” Cathy turned to me and said “I’m going to wave to her so it’s your responsibility to take a picture if you see her.” I agreed. As the Queen’s car approached I waited to see if she indeed could be seen, my camera in position. Yes! There she was. Instinctively, I waved too, forgetting all about attempting to document the moment.
There she was, framed nicely behind her thick bulletproof glass window, waving to the crowds with her special side-to-side wave. It was exactly like watching her on T.V.