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Saturday, 21 July 2007

Hold the Phone!

Nixon on the Line

By Richard Carreno
Rochester, New York (Monday, June 14, 1971):--
Seeking press credentials to Richard Nixon's upcoming press conference, I called the FBI and the Rochester Police Department for direction. Neither outfit was overseeing security for the President's visit, and I was told that my best bet would be the Secret Service, at its office in Buffalo.

In the early afternoon, I telephoned. 'Call back at 5 PM,' a pleasant, female voice said. 'We'll give you the name and the telephone number of the press relations man at that time.'

On the nose, I phoned back.

'Cowler. Mr Dooey Cowler at 546-3300 at the Flagship Rochester [Hotel] in Rochester,' the same voice told me.

Of course, I'm not sure of the first name spelling. I figure it's probably the same spelling as Donald Duck's nephew Dooey -- he of Huey, Dooey, and Louie fame. I record it as such, and the voice confirmed that I got it right.

I call the Flagship Rochester.

'Mr Dooey Cowler, please.'

'Oh, yes, one moment please.'

I'm connected to another disembodied female voice.

'I'm sorry, no Mr Cowler is here.'

'Mr Cowler of the Secret Service,' I responded.

'Please hold.'

Crackling on the line.

Female voice again, 'How might I help you?'

'Press credentials for the President's press conference.'

'The Rochester Journal...?'

'It's a community newspaper,' I said, pre-empting any further enquiry.

'Oh, yes,' she said. 'You're the people who put out the Flower City Conspiracy edition.'

'Yes.' With sinking heart.

Apparently, not all was lost. Still she accepted my name and telephone details.

'Mr Cowler will call you back,' she said.

Next, I called my Journal editor.

'Be cool if the Secret Service calls. It means my press ID.'

I then called a colleague Julie, who was covering Mrs Nixon by getting credentialed by the local Republican Committee.

I put down the phone. I waited.

Rochester, New York (Tuesday, June 15, 1971):--
I called Cowler again.

The hotel operator stalled, and transferred me to the Front Desk. I'm done, I'm sure. I asked for 'Mr. Cowler' again. There was hesitation. 'Mr Dooey Cowler.' After all this accenting of his first name, I reckoned that 'Dooey' was surely the necessary code. Besides, I figured, there was no 'Dooley Cowler' anyway -- at least, none who I would get to meet.

'Oh, yes,' the Front Desk clerk said. 'Yes, Mr Dooey Cowler. He's the man with the Secret Service.'

Are you supposed to say that? I thought.

'He's in Room 331, 332, 333.'

Never mind that's actually three rooms.

'I'll transfer you back to the hotel operator,' she continued.

'Mr Cowler,' I repeated, when connected.

'Oh,' the operator said. 'You're one of them. They have a special switchboard.'

I'm transferred, and a male voice answered.

'Wrong room,' he said, before I could sputter 'Mr Doo...' I soldier on,' 'I'd like to speak to Mr Dooey Cowler of the Secret Service.'

Again, I'm transferred. I'm back to the same female voice that I recognised from yesterday. She was now pissed. Curt.

I leave my details again. I hear the clicking of a t-writer.

'He'll get back.'

'That afternoon, same voice called back. She was sweet again. 'Please call Pam Robinson at 546-8040,' she told me.

'Republican Headquarters....' What!

'Call back,' I'm told.

An hour later, after returning the call, as ordered, I heard, 'Miss Robinson....' She again requested my details. Plus, 'You are a male? You're not impersonating, right?'

My credentials still need to be cleared by the White House, she told me. But if all goes according to plan, I should have my clearance confirmed by Thursday afternoon, delivered by mail. I'll be told then where to pick up the actual press pass.

'If there's a problem, call me back,' Miss Robinson said.

Rochester, New York (Wednesday, June 15, 1971):--
This morning, I heard from Julie -- not Cowler, not Robinson.

'Pick up your press pass at 1:30 PM tomorrow at Republican Headquarters, Four Corners. See you there.'