At the U.N., the wait begins

People (read: my mother) were pretty impressed I got assigned to cover the pope’s speech at the United Nations. Sounds pretty cool, right? What they don’t realize is that much of a reporter’s life is spent waiting around.

When my alarm buzzed this morning at 4:17, I concluded once and for all that God did not intend for any of his creation to wake up that early. I’d love to be able to say that the predawn hour at U.N. headquarters, located on the East River, provided me with some sort of inspiration, but all it did was threaten renal failure as I waited outside the gate for the promised 6 a.m. opening, regretting the four cups of coffee I drank before setting off on the subway.

Security was just beginning to ramp up, with bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling the plaza and police officers setting up barricades and traffic closures. Only TV trucks and photographers were there at that point. The other print reporters must have gotten the memo that 4:17 was, in fact, an unconscionable hour for an alarm to go off.

Finally, close to 6:30, we were allowed entrance. “Just go straight back, down the stairs, and to the right,’’ the guard told us. I followed the pack of about 10 photographers. Suddenly we were inside at the visitors’ entrance, unsure of where to head next and nary a soul around. The only sound was a vacuum cleaner. Somehow despite the apocalyptic predictions of heightened security we got to the conference room that was to serve as the press center without meeting one guard or x-ray machine (don’t tell the Secret Service).

Then the real waiting began. With Pope Benedict XVI due to arrive at 10:45, there wasn’t much to do but look forward to the 7:30 opening of the cafeteria so we could pump more caffeine into our bodies. People grabbed spots at the semicircular tables outfitted with earpieces, microphones and various audio channels. The room was intended for U.N. delegates, not reporters, but because of the expected crowds, officials had squirreled us away in this larger space. We pulled out our Mac laptops (media people tend to have an Apple fetish), water bottles and bagels. A U.N. staffer half-heartedly announced that no food or drink was allowed in the room. The screen behind the dais was dark. No one would be in to set up the video feed of the General Assembly Hall until at least 9:00. A few more people trickled in.

And we waited.

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