Ronald and Nancy Reagan aren't the only ones relaxing in Santa Barbara this weekend. For members of the White House press corps, some of whom remember spending days on end in Plains, Ga., covering the Reagans in California is vacation-like.
"I love it," says one White House correspondent. "It's a lot of fun. The weather is great. You get a lot of rest. It's one of the nice perks of covering Reagan."
Except for a 10 a.m. routine press briefing, the approximately 50 members of the press (that number includes television crews) have little other work to do. While the press stays in the oceanfront Sheraton Santa Barbara Hotel and Spa, all the president's men have slightly more luxurious digs at the Marriott Santa Barbara Biltmore Hotel. Because there's a minimum of communication between the two groups, there's little chance of a news story developing. And unlike Jimmy Carter, who would stroll around Plains on the spur of the moment as reporters dutifully followed him, Reagan prefers to stay on his mountaintop retreat, Rancho del Cielo, which is inaccessible to even the most enterprising reporter.
Which leaves plenty of time for tennis, volleyball, sunning or that favorite press corps leisure-time sport, softball. The coach of the press team is Robert Manning, director of the White House Office of Transportation and Telegraph. Judging from his team's record, it's a good thing Manning has another job--in four games, his team is winless.
"It sure does get rough out there," says Manning, whose team has been humiliated by the Secret Service, the local Santa Barbara press corps, the hotel staff and a local pickup team.
His team's strengths?
"Gosh," says Manning, "I don't know. Could I get back to you on that next month?"
His team's weakness?
"When we show up."
With such a poor record, why doesn't Manning replace the pitcher, Larry Speakes, deputy White House press secretary?
"Because," says coach Manning, "he's my boss."
Footnote: The Washington-based press corps was most appreciative of the Reagans for spending last August in California. It was during that sojourn that the Reagans hosted an off-the- record party for the press, replete, remembers Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews, with smoked salmon, tenderloin fillets wrapped in bacon, escargots baked in French dough, oysters, scampi au pernod and fettucine Alfredo.
"You'd never see a spread like this in the Carter or Ford administration," remarked one reporter. An affable Reagan even did an impromptu drunk scene, a bit from a 29-year-old movie that NBC correspondent John Palmer told the president he'd just seen rurun on television. Reagan delivered the slurred dialogue verbatim to the astonishment of the assembled journalists.