I Met the President

The first time President Obama stopped in our neighborhood, I happened to be walking home from the hair salon. Secret Service agents stood guns ready on rooftops near the coffee shop and a crowd was gathering outside the Dairy Godmother, our small custard shop with a national reputation. 

Today, I'd just finished with the dentist and crossed the street to start my two-block walk home when I saw the first Secret Service agent. Standing outside the coffee shop, he looked sharp and focused. He wore a large earbud and small, coiled wire that gave his position away immediately. 

I slowed and looked to the other corner in front of the pizza shop where more agents were standing. Then circled to see another and another rounding out coverage on all four corners of the intersection, so I walked through the coffee shop and said, "What's up?"

Nobody knew but everyone speculated it was the First Lady. At the pizza shop? I asked, incredulous. It's good, but not that good (no offense, guys). 

I saw Nora, the coffee shop owner outside and went to talk to her. "It's the president," she said. One of Obama's aides was telling passersby that if they wanted to get pizza, they better get over to the shop now. 

A family walked up and the aide escorted them across the street. 

When Obama took his daughters for custard, it unfolded similarly. Tipped off by the unusual presence of agents in our tiny neighborhood, a crowd gathered outside the shop, and the agents wanded people who wanted to go inside. By the time I decided I'd better get in the shop, it was too late. The agent stopped the line just as I got to the head. 

The president's motorcade stormed up the Avenue, stopped outside the store, and I watched him stride inside with Sasha and Malia for a Father's Day treat. I got to wave from about 30 feet away and scream "Happy Father's Day!" but I missed the chance to mug for a photograph with him. 

So, today, I thought I'd better get going now and as I ran to cross the street behind the family, the aide barked me back. Foiled again!

I stood on the corner with Nora and another neighbor and the motorcade drove up Del Ray Avenue this time, right past us until it stopped in front of the pizzeria. The president jumped out, but only after his dog, Bo. 

"Come on over for some coffee," Nora shouted as Obama waved. 

Instead of going directly into the restaurant, though, he put Bo back in the Suburban and walked toward us. And oh my God, the president of the United States is standing in front of me with his hand outstretched and a smile a mile wide.  

"Hi!" I might have said. I'm not sure. I shook like a leaf and Nora told him that I'd just visited his house. 

"How'd you like it?" he said. 

"It was great, thank you. I was disappointed Bo wasn't there."

"Well, he's here today," he said. 

(That's how I think the conversation went down, anyway. The details may be lost given how surreal the moment was.)

Obama proceeded down the line and shook hands with folks and walked back our way again to shake hands with others as the crowd steadily grew.

"Merry Christmas," he said. "Merry Christmas," we all shouted, then he walked in to the pizzeria to pick up three pizzas to go: a sausage and pepperoni, a supreme, and a green pepper and onion.

He is tall and very slim. His smile is large and warm. He's relaxed and gentle. If he wasn't the president of the most powerful country on the planet, I'd even call him normal.  

I hugged Nora and jumped up and down. People who know me recognize this as behavior beyond the realm of ordinary. But oh my world, wow. The president! We kicked ourselves after for not taking pictures of one another with him. It was the furthest thing from my mind, though. It was all I could do to hold my phone steady and snap random shots. It was all I could do to speak clearly. 

It wasn't until a few hours later at home when I remembered my life list: #39, invite the Obamas over for pizza night. It would have been the perfect opportunity. He would have finessed his way out of it, but at least I could have claimed life list victory. 

After he went inside, I assumed he was staying for lunch. I needed to get back to relieve my mother who was watching the kids so I left as the crowd continued to swell. Facebook, Twitter and phone lines were ablaze with the buzz that Obama was in the neighborhood. 

On his way back out, Obama shook hands with even more people including the children of friends of mine. Can you imagine? They're going to remember it the rest of their lives. 

Me too.

Dana blogs at Feast After Famine. 

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