Magazine article The New Yorker

Step on It

Magazine article The New Yorker

Step on It

Article excerpt

Two Fridays before the Inauguration, Sophia Lear, a twenty-three-year-old editorial assistant at The New Republic, was at her friend Isaac Chotiner's apartment in Dupont Circle, watching the movie "Cocktail," when she got a text message from a number she didn't recognize. "It was, like, 'Do you want to take Monday off work to drive in Obama's motorcade?' " Lear recalled. "I went, 'Yes, absolutely. But who is this?' " The sender turned out to be Jonny Dach, an acquaintance from the Yale New Journal, who was working on the Presidential Inaugural Committee. He told her to e-mail her Social Security and driver's-license numbers. Lear did, and she e-mailed her boss to ask for the day off. He wrote back, "How could I say no? It's a fine Washington adventure."

At ten-thirty on Monday morning, Lear, who has long brown hair and an unfussy, hippie-ish demeanor, reported for duty at the Obama transition office, on Sixth Street. She was wearing jeans and carried a copy of "The Mill on the Floss." (She had been warned that there would be downtime.) After passing through something like airport security--bag screen, metal detector--she was sent to a basement garage, where there were rows of black Chevy Suburbans and about ten Secret Service agents holding automatic weapons. An Obama aide handed her the key to her vehicle: a rented blue Dodge minivan. She had been told that she'd be transporting high-level staffers. (Before the swearing in, volunteer drivers were often used by the P.I.C., to save money.) At first, no one could get the key to work. A staffer appeared, and he asked if she could drive for the rest of the week. Lear told him, "I have a job," but he pressed her. "I was, like, 'What's going on here? How could you possibly be so desperate for somebody to drive in the motorcade?' "

The Secret Service guys told her the drill: it would all happen fast; the Suburbans would pull out, one of them with Obama inside, and she would follow right behind. One of the agents had a Starbucks drink, and he offered Lear a sip: six espresso shots on ice. "He told me he gets it three times a day," she said. They gave her one piece of driving advice: "Don't hit anything, and drive like you stole it."

After an hour and a half, Lear's passengers arrived: General James L. Jones took shotgun; Lawrence Summers and two men she didn't recognize got in back. No one spoke. "The ride there was so awkward," Lear said. "I was racking my brain about some introduction I could make. …

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