Tales from behind the press pass

Who would have thought that my improvised student press pass would get me within a few feet of a Senate candidate?

Fetterman+kneels+down+to+talk+to+a+veteran+who+survived+a+stroke.

Fetterman kneels down to talk to a veteran who survived a stroke.

Rhys Hals, Contributor

The day of my senior homecoming is a day I will never forget. Not because of the dance, but rather how I spent my Saturday afternoon, elbowing my way through the crowd at John “Jawn” Fetterman’s rally in the Nether Providence Elementary gym. 

On my way to the rally, I swung by editor-in-chief Julia Gray’s house to pick up my very thrown-together Panther Press press pass in hopes it would get me some access for good photos. 

It did. I was granted access to the risers with all the official news people (Fox, NBC, you name it) to take pictures over the crowd. I could also walk around to my heart’s content.

Clambering to the front proved easy. I soon found myself just six feet from the stage. After watching five speakers come and go, all boasting about how relatable to the common Delco folk they are, I realized that with my press pass, I had access to the three feet of space that was blocked off between the front row of rally-goers and the stage. 

During Senator Chris Coons speech, one of the keynote speakers, I pushed and shoved my way back through the crowd, trying to find the entrance to that strip of space. I tried to walk in front of a man videotaping on his phone and he whisper-shouted at me to go behind him. The people behind him were packed in very tight however, and the quickest route was directly in front of him. I flashed my pass at him and tried to charge past but he shuffled into my path, physically forcing me to go behind him. I can’t imagine that his video of Chris Coons was worth so much struggle, but to each their own. 

Finally I made it to fresh air in the hallway outside the gym. All that trouble and I still hadn’t found access to the front row area. Panicking, I drank some water from the water bottle shoved in my cargo pants pocket, giving me a very professional look. 

After calming down, I once again shoved my way to the front of the crowd. Chris Coons was finishing his speech and introducing the big name. 

The crowd erupted with a cheer and signs filled the air as the 6’7” man fitted up with his hoodie and basketball shorts took the stage. 

I took a few pictures on my dying camera before I decided it was a good time to use my press pass to its full potential and find my way to the base of the stage. I worked my way back out of the gym, this time through the middle of the crowd so as to avoid the Chris Coons fanatic. 

I reached the hallway and, taking a deep breath, adopted my most confident and professional posture, walking up to the policeman standing in front of barricades. He nodded as I held up my pass and I found the double doors that led to the base of the stage.

Getting close enough to stroke Fetterman’s bald head was a successful first use of my press credentials.”

On the other side was a staffer who held them open as I crept in. As I walked past, he tapped me on the shoulder: “Sorry, but you can’t be in here.” 

“I have a press pass,” I boasted, feeling incredibly important. He looked me up and down, but nodded slowly. It was the first odd look I’d received since being awarded my pass. 

I crouched down and shuffled along in front of the masses, trying to get the angle right without blocking the view. I wasn’t there for more than a minute when a staffer came up to me and whispered what I thought was “I need to get out.” 

I said okay, unsure as to why she was telling me. I wasn’t in her way as there was more than enough room to maneuver around me, but she didn’t move. Panic began to wash over me. What was I doing wrong? 

She repeated it, this time I understood. “You need to leave.” I nodded and turned and fled the way I had come. She followed me out the double doors, three photographers on her heels. That was reassuring. I wasn’t the problem. 

“He’s gonna be done soon, we need to clear a path for him,” she informed us. The other journalists nodded. 

She turned to me. “Are you going to want to go back and do role play?” WHAT?? I did not want to role play with John Fetterman. The confusion was reflected on my face. “Sure.” It was more of a question than an answer. 

I expected my ignorance to be met with irritation, but she matter-of-factly told me exactly what was going to go down. “Basically, when he’s done, you guys can go behind and on stage and take pictures as he shakes hands. Just go where I say, you’ll be fine. If you want to get more pictures, hang around here.” 

So I did. But in doing so, I could not hear Fetterman speak, and missed a large portion of his speech. 

It’s okay though, because I spent the time making friends with Hannah, a political photojournalist for the Washington Post. 

“Hey, I’m Hannah with the Washington Post.” 

“Nice to meet you, I’m Rhys with the Panther Press.” 

An eruption of applause interrupted our journalistic conversation. It was our time to shine. We went up a back set of stairs, coming out on the stage. Fetterman was at my feet, shaking hands and posing for selfies. I followed Hannah’s lead, crouching and leaning for the best angles. 

By the time the staffer escorted us back off the stage, I had taken upwards of 1000 pictures, but had forgotten to complete one of my main goals of the day: interview attending high schoolers for a direct way to tie it back to Strath Haven. 

All in all however, I would call it a successful first use of my Panther Press credentials.

I even got to keep my Jawn Fetterman pass.