Amid all the celebration of our nation’s transition to the Biden administration, one news story in particular caught my attention. It was a Washington Post article entitled “Five frantic hours in the White House: How to move a new president in and the old one out.”
The five hours start ticking from whenever the outgoing family is finally out the door — usually about 10:30 a.m. but this year more like 8:30 a.m.— and the new one arrives. This year the Bidens came up the driveway at 3:50 p.m.
At that time, the new president and First Family walk into a home which is all set up and waiting for them. The new pictures are all on the walls; any personal furniture — or their choices from White House collections — all in place; their books and knick-knacks all on the shelves.
This is an achievement of which the White House staff is justifiably proud. And it boggles my mind.
Five hours! That’s about how long it takes me to wrestle one unruly duvet cover into place on the bed.
That’s how long it took me to pack up a cabinet’s worth of coffee mugs, when I needed more room for pandemic soup cans, and then get that box safely to the basement.
Five hours is almost enough time for me to dust everything in my living room. After that, I’d need another five hours to vacuum — complicated by the fact that some of the attachments are missing and the machine keeps running itself into table and chair legs. That probably doesn’t happen at the White House.
Of course, there is a staff of 90 or so at the White House. Still, they pull off an incredible transformation.
After the outgoing family leaves the building, a team from the National Archives swoops in to cart off and preserve any documents left behind (except, of course, that letter for the next president to read). How I wish I had people for that. All the napkins I’ve scribbled on, enshrined in the Judy Epstein Archival Library!
Back in the day when travel existed, my husband always insisted we do a sweep ourselves. As soon as we thought everything was packed and in the car, somebody went back to the hotel room to open and check every drawer and closet. It turned up everything from murder mystery books under the pillow (“Who could have left that there?”) to priceless stuffed animals to toothbrushes left in the bathroom.
One time our younger son helped and came out triumphantly with some cash he thought we’d forgotten from the tip envelope near the TV. And let’s not dwell on the time I forgot all about my own winter coat, hanging patiently in the closet — possibly because I seldom bother with closets at home, when there are chairs or sofa arms nearby. Oops!
Then follows a deep cleaning that’s even more thorough than usual due to coronavirus. Remember, the White House was the site of at least one superspreader event, with a patient who insisted on returning from the hospital before he was cleared of infection.
When the sweep and the cleaning are done, that’s when the staff gets to work personalizing the residence for their new family. There will not be a scrap of bubble wrap left anywhere.
That’s because they don’t just move boxes out and in; they unpack them, too. They put the socks in the drawers, the books on the shelf, and, yes, the coats in the closet. As the Post’s Bonnie Berkowitz wrote, “Unlike pretty much everyone else who has ever relocated, the president will not have three unopened cardboard boxes left sitting in the back of his closet.”
The staff even make sure the White House is at the new family’s preferred temperature and humidity — something we have never once achieved at Casa Judy —and that their favorite foods are waiting in the private quarters refrigerator.
All of that would be reason enough to try to get elected president of the United States.
But if that isn’t motivation enough, try this on for size: You’d never have to cook another meal — unless you really wanted to — for the next four years.
I would do just about anything to achieve that state of Nirvana. I would even be willing to talk to Mitch McConnell.