CHICAGO — The first family’s mode of arrival to their Chicago neighborhood Friday evening was the first sign that things had changed since they were last in town.
President Obama, his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law boarded Marine One at dusk from Chicago’s O’Hare airport. A helicopter carrying reporters tailed behind as they flew beside city skyscrapers and over highways clogged with rush-hour traffic.
The choppers landed in a park along Lake Michigan in Chicago’s South Side, a seven-minute motorcade ride from the Obamas’ Hyde Park home.
The rest of their first trip home since moving to Washington in early January was a three-day study in requited affection between a president and his home city.
Obama’s proximity was the talk of Chicago. “If you see the streets blocked off and big flashing lights,” a bartender at The Grill on Michigan Avenue explained to a customer Friday night, “you’ll know it’s him.”
A local news channel ran a report on how the Obamas’ Hyde Park home has become a magnet for tourists—some of them venturing out to the neighborhood this past weekend to try to catch a glimpse of the president.
Small crowds gathered on street corners to watch his much-lengthier motorcade whiz by. Local restaurants feature menus listing “President Obama’s Favorites,” and an ad on V103 boasts that it’s “the president’s radio station”—followed by a sound bite on the R&B station from Obama circa when he was a senator, saying he listens to the V103 because he’s over 40.
The Obamas relished their time at home, too.
The president was back at his old workout haunt, the gym at Regents Park, the luxury apartment complex where his friend Michael Signator lives.
Obama stayed at home his first night in town. But he and Michelle Obama had Valentine’s Day dinner at a restaurant owned by Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef. And the president stepped out in jeans and sneakers Sunday night and traveled a few blocks to his friend Marty Nesbitt’s house to watch the NBA All Star game.
Obama had recorded a message set to air during half time, where he asks Americans to get involved in their communities by fixing up local basketball courts and public parks, or writing to troops stationed overseas.
Obama’s visit was not without work—his is a round-the-clock job, after all.
The president received his daily briefing throughout the weekend. He traveled with his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, and Michelle Obama brought along her deputy chief of staff, Melissa Winter.
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president and close friend of the family from Chicago, also made the trip.
The weekend reprieve followed a big victory for Obama on his economic stimulus plan.
He returns to Washington on Monday, where he faces a busy week—signing the stimulus bill into law in Colorado on Tuesday, spending the night in Phoenix, Ariz. before unveiling his plans to stem home foreclosures on Wednesday and then traveling to Canada on Thursday in his first trip abroad as president.