I went to Barack Obama’s favorite diner, Valois, before I left Chicago. It was too cool — there were photos of him all over the place, smiling alongside the owner, and a big poster of his “favorite things to order.” Apparently bacon, eggs, and pancakes were one of his choice combos.
The waiter, John, told me Mr. Obama used to come in all the time before he was president and is a really nice guy. But these days, when he’s in Chicago, he normally gets his best friend to swing by and pick up a takeout order. He said the last time Obama himself came by, a year or so ago, it was like having a rock star in the joint: it took him 45 minutes to get from the front door to the cash register because he was mobbed by so many people on his way. Can you imagine that? You’re starving. All you want is a slice of bacon. And you’ve got to shake hands with a hundred people first. That’s patience.
John says the only thing that’s changed about Obama since he became president is the color of his hair. He’s gone more gray.
For your information, the food at Valois is simple, straightforward American grub. You order your food at the counter and it’s on your tray within minutes. The service is fast, and the clientele seems like a local crowd. When I was there at 7:30am, the place was packed. Among the crowd was a big table of eight or nine middle-aged men eating bacon and eggs, two little old ladies chatting in the corner, and a lone woman working her way through a giant omelet.
I also stopped at the Chicago home of the president, first lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Malia and Sasha. It’s a huge red brick house in the affluent neighborhood of Kenwood, with a big back yard. The whole block is cordoned off for security. Apparently people who live on his block have to sign all their guests in and out with the Secret Service.
But South Chicago neighborhoods can be very different from each other. The house where first lady Michelle Obama grew up isn’t far away, in the middle-class, predominantly African-American neighborhood of South Shore.
The house looks big, but the family of the girl who was then Michelle Robinson lived only in the upstairs section, renting an apartment from an aunt who lived downstairs. Michelle and her brother Craig shared a bedroom in their modest lodgings. Their father worked for the city water plant, and their mother took up secretarial work once they reached high school.
But despite humble beginnings, Michelle was an excellent student. She followed her brother to the prestigious Princeton University and proceeded from there to Harvard Law School and the Chicago office of international law firm, Sidley Austin, where she met future husband and president, Barack Obama. Since then, despite her law degree, she has built a career on advancing social causes, a focus she brought to the White House in 2009. She has launched the “Let’s Move!” campaign to encourage young people to exercise and has established a “kitchen garden” at the White House to encourage healthy eating. All in all, the little girl from South Shore has turned out to be an inspiration.