I'm in Hawaii. No big deal (but really nice). So are the Obamas. And everyone here is aware of the fact that they are here. There was a lot of Obamamania in Hawaii before they arrived -- t-shirts and knick knacks with Obama family faces. And on the Windward side of the island where they are staying, lots of extra traffic and people hoping to catch a glimpse of the American royal family.
The two main Hawaiian newspapers, the Honolulu Advertiser and the Star Bulletin carry daily stories about Obama. Both newspapers encourage residents to send in any photos or sightings of Obama., but so far there hasn't been much that the AP hasn't covered. Some of the reporting is so mundane as to be laughable. For example:
The motorcade left the overlook at 3:47 p.m. and was back at the Kailua vacation compound where the Obama party is staying at 4:26 p.m. Obama's motorcade initially departed the compound at 1:33 p.m. today. The president-elect was inside a black limousine. At 1:55 p.m., the motorcade arrived at the First Unitarian Church, which is at the intersection of Pali Highway and Niolopa Place.
No detail is overlooked, but there's not a lot to report. Obama spent some time honoring his grandmother in a brief family-only ceremony. before Christmas But in the few days they have been here, their routine has been -- well, pretty routine. The Obamas are in Hawaii for a brief period of respite before the president-elect takes on the problems of the world. Most everyone here understands that, but the intense curiosity persists.
One of the big new items of the past several days was the photos a parapazzi (or is the singular of paparazzi "paparazzo"?) took of the quite fit Obama shirtless on the Hawaii beach where he is staying. You would have thought he was in a thong the way the media covered it. Of course the Drudge Report had to run a comparison photo of Putin shirtless with Obama, and given the readership of the Drudge Report, Putin was winning.
Most Hawaiians are quite respectful of Obama's privacy and hope he can maintain it while he is here. Still, the incredible connection Obama has made with ordinary voters puts him beyond ordinary celebrity status.
Kailua resident Serena Rovin and her three friends were among beachgoers hoping to get a chance to meet Obama. The group of friends are on a winter break from their studies at Western Washington University. Friend Jennifer Lowe said it is exciting the president-elect is staying in the small, quaint town.
"He's such an inspiration," she said.
As for me, I haven't seen Obama yet. I'm staying on the opposite side of the island and don't plan to make the 45 minute drive over the other side before I leave. But I understand the fascination and the need to find out what he is doing each day. When we eat at Ono's, I think of Obama growing up in Honolulu and eating kalua pig or laulau (pork wrapped in taro leaf). And at sunrise -- which those of us from the mainland see every morning because we are awake at that time -- I think about what he might be doing today.
You can't escape Obamamania in Hawaii and you wouldn't want to. The only annoying part is the commentators from the mainland who persist in trying to make this some kind of exclusive over-the-top vacation. Obama doesn't own a ranch in Santa Barbara like Reagan or an estate in Kennebunkport like Bush 41 or a ranch in Texas like Bush 43. He has a house in Chicago (and we know what the weather there is like this week!). He is about to take over the toughest job in the world. It seems only fitting that he spend the few remaining days he has as a semi-ordinary citizen in the place he grew up. He doesn't own a fancy house here. He is renting with his own money. Most decent people wish him a restful vacation.
Update: the Oahu blackout was actually pretty dramatic. And surprising that the Secret Service had not provided Obama's house with adequate backup generators. Still, most people here note that Hawaii is one of the safest places Obama could be because of the depth of the military presence here. His rented house is only 5 minutes from a military base and the island of Oahu is constantly monitored by the military for any potential terrorist attack. No Pearl Harbor surprise will be tolerated here they say. What was amazing about the blackout was that it lasted a full twelve hours for most people, and those who were caught with not much gas in their tanks or who were on the upper floors of high rises had some interesting choices to make -- stick it out and eat what you have available or walk down and walk back up in the dark.