Across Chicago, a Salute to City's Favorite Son

By Peter Slevin and Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CHICAGO, Jan. 20 -- Moon's Sandwich Shop is an old-time diner with peeling paint, squeezed into an industrial stretch of Chicago's West Side. Amid the blowing snow Tuesday, the place was hardly noticeable.

But indoors, it felt like a party. Steam rose from pots of coffee, kettles of grits and great landscapes of eggs, bacon and hotcakes on the griddle. Every few minutes, short-order cook Luke Bowman shouted: "Mr. President!" or "I'm Barack-Hussein-Obama crazy!"

The eyes of the customers, almost all African American, were fixed on a small color television perched on a drink cooler above a beef-shredding machine. Bowman couldn't stop himself from climbing on a stool to touch the screen and Obama's video image.

"This is my 40 acres and a mule today," Bowman, 36, crowed. "This is my get-back for all the bad things they did to us, from slavery on."

Chicago celebrated its favorite son in ways great and small Tuesday, from South Side schoolrooms to Loop skyscrapers to coffee shops and living rooms all across the sprawling city. Fans who helped launch Obama's political career took pleasure in a triumph that still leaves many of them agog.

"It's astounding," marveled documentary filmmaker Bruce Orenstein, who knew Obama when both were community organizers in the mid-1980s. "It's off the charts. It's totally off the charts."

Obama is from a lot of places -- Hawaii, Indonesia, New York -- but he feels most rooted here, in the city where he started as a $1,000-a-month organizer in a South Side housing project. He rose first to the state Senate, then the U.S. Senate and now, so improbably, to the presidency.

Orenstein and his wife, historian Nancy MacLean, convened a party Tuesday morning in their comfortable Rogers Park home, where they had held a 2003 fundraiser for a young state senator then registering a puny 9 percent in polls for the U.S. Senate.

"Nancy and I had never held a fundraiser for a politician, and we haven't had one since," Orenstein said, as more than 25 guests -- progressives from nearby universities and the community -- gathered to watch the inaugural ceremonies. There were party balloons that said "Congratulations" and Obama stickers that proclaimed, "Yes We Did."

A table held gastronomic offerings in shades of Democratic blue: jelly beans, hard-boiled eggs, blueberries, Jell-O. One thrilled guest offered a cheery greeting, "Happy beginning of the world!"

Orenstein recalled a message from earlier days that echoes in Obama's words still.

"It's about how we can be better. We can change our community. We can change the world. We have to be involved and engaged," Orenstein said. "I think he's going to continue to confound, because he's going to deliver meaningful change."


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