Saturday August 4, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The Secret Service doesn't like surprises, no matter how well-intentioned.

Representatives from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's office arrived at the Colonial Theatre on Friday with a gift bag of locally manufactured products for first lady Michelle Obama.

Sorry, they were told by an agent. No unauthorized material inside the theater.

"Well, the mayor got in, the gift bag didn't," shrugged Donna B. Mattoon, a spokeswoman for Bianchi. "It's no biggie. We'll get it to Mrs. Obama somehow."

Indeed, Bianchi, his wife, Theresa, and two children strolled into the Colonial Theater about 2:45 p.m. to cheers from onlookers.

After the federal rebuff, Mattoon brought the bag over to a media contingent, which immediately latched onto it as a prime photo op.

The bag, explained Mattoon, "is a celebration of Pittsfield's art, industry and history."

The bag itself features a drawing of Mrs. Obama swinging in front of a stage with a banner that proclaimed "Mighty Michelle." Manufac tured by Blue Q of Hawthorne Avenue, it is made of 95 percent recycled plastic.

In fact, when Mattoon displayed it to a reporter, a half-dozen onlookers immediately wanted to know where to buy one. Mattoon explained they are available online at www. blueq.com.

Inside the bag were various goodies for the first lady, President Barack Obama and their two children, including books from Big Head Books, a picture frame from Museum Facsimiles and T-shirts with quotes from Herman Mel ville's novels "Moby-Dick" and "Bartleby the Scrivener."

But the Secret Service was unmoved. The bag was not cleared, so it didn't get into the theater.

Pre-event preparations for the visit were extensive, but low key throughout the afternoon. At about 1 p.m., dark-suited men in sunglasses, presumably government agents, were seen walking around on the roofs of buildings adjacent to the theater. By 2 p.m. bomb-sniffing dogs were seen behind the theater.

Several emergency vehicles arrived at about 3:10, taking the service road to the Colonial's rear entrance and parking. The crowd of about 150 applauded and cheered, even though it was clearly not Mrs. Obama.

Police officers did not discourage photographers.

"No, no problem," said John Bedard of Lenox. "I even offered to dismantle my camera, but they didn't mind. In fact, I'm kind of surprised they're letting people walk up and down in front of the theater."

At about 2:30, a woman came out to the crowd stationed at the north of the theater. She asked if anyone had tickets.

"What, is she scalping them?" asked an onlooker.

As it turned out, no. The woman was a volunteer who wanted to make sure everyone with tickets knew the door was open.

It was Bedard who noticed a police officer step out on the median that separates the north- and southbound lanes of South Street at about 4:20. At about 4:30, the contingent of local police began facing south, and 10 minutes later, a host of motorcycles and vehicles roared up from the south, took a sharp right onto East Housatonic Street and disappeared behind the theater.

Although a large part of the crowd was stationed at the north end of the theater, there was still applause and cheers as the motorcade passed.