MAKING THE DISTRICT HIS HOME
Obama Arrives in Style
Streets Closed Through Jan. 15
Monday, January 5, 2009
With a brief glance out his car window -- barely visible through cordons of Secret Service officers, black SUVs and security barricades -- the soon-to-be leader of the free world bid a brief hello last night to the town he will now call home and to his new neighbors: scores of spectators camped outside his temporary quarters at the Hay-Adams Hotel.
There were no speeches, no ceremonies or official welcoming committees. Instead, Barack Obama, a man famous for his no-drama persona, arrived in the nation's capital in a similarly subdued fashion.
His limousine pulled up to claps and cheers from crowds lining the blocks near the hotel and also the cries of protesters angry about the Gaza Strip -- a reminder of the vexing problems he will face when he takes office. Then, in seconds, he was whisked inside.
Although the moment was brief, its historic nature was not lost on many in the crowd. For some, it marked the beginning of a long-promised day. For others around town, it was the move that triggers a thousand other moves, as loyalists of the old regime make room for coming appointees, staff workers and their families.
And throughout the District, longtime residents talked about forging a new kind of relationship with their president, one more intimate than any before.
Although such talk was rife with grand references to history, Obama's early arrival yesterday was driven by something a little more mundane. Like many parents, the Obamas wanted to make sure that their children would get to school on time.
Students at Malia and Sasha's new school, Sidwell Friends, return from winter break today. And Michelle Obama, who has said her children are her first priority, hoped to get her kids off on the right foot by having them start class along with everyone else -- even if that meant arriving more than two weeks ahead of the inauguration and the official move into the White House.
The family had asked to stay at Blair House, a guesthouse near the White House where the president-elect typically lives just before inauguration. But they were rebuffed by the Bushes, who said the building was already booked "by White House officials, the State Department and its Office of Protocol for various events."
So the Obamas headed to the posh Hay-Adams, just off Lafayette Square, a stone's throw from their future home on Pennsylvania Avenue. The future first lady and daughters arrived Saturday night, hurried in mostly out of view by a caravan of black SUVs.
Yesterday afternoon, after hours of waiting, the crowd across the street from the hotel got a flash of excitement as Michelle and her two girls left at 1:37 p.m. Although the future first family was again enshrouded in black SUVs, some in the crowd swore they spotted -- for half a second through the windows of the second car -- Michelle Obama in a red coat waving to them.
Later in the afternoon, the president-elect left Chicago for Washington, boarding an Air Force jet emblazoned with the presidential seal and frequently used to transport the vice president or first lady. When he stepped off the plane at Andrews Air Force Base an hour and a half later, he was greeted with a salute.
Obama told journalists on board that he "choked up" when he left his empty house in the afternoon. One of Malia's close friends had dropped off a scrapbook full of pictures of the girls since they were in preschool.