A day with the President

For anyone who didn't catch it, the NBC Nightly News tonight aired an interesting, and at times, fascinating broadcast that featured Brian Williams spending the day with President Bush...

You can view the interviews and the newscast here.

More striking to me were not the answers that Bush gave to several of Williams' questions (some of his answers were quite real, but there were others that exemplified the same gun-ho attitude and ignorance he seems to always have about the mess in Iraq), but the aura that only the President of the United States can portray. It's the fact that he's one of the most powerful individuals in the world, and while we are constantly criticizing him, you have to admire his leadership abilities and the burden he must bear for our country. It's certainly a job I wouldn't want.

It's the same feeling that I had in September 2004 when on a sunny afternoon Bush and his motorcade pulled into our fair city and stopped at a popular, family-owned deli. I didn't get to talk to him and I saw more of his coach bus and the Secret Service than I did of Bush. Several people denounced any bit of excitement about the event, but on that day I couldn't side with them. I lived it up to the fullest and thought, how many people can say they've even stood in the presence of the President? I can. And I think that's pretty cool.

PUBLISHED IN KENOSHA NEWS, Sept. 2004 -- When news of a presidential motorcade passing through the city filtered this week rumors of a stop at Tenuta’s began to fly.

At about 3:15 p.m. Friday, those rumors became truth as seven buses, including one carrying president George W. Bush, slowed to a stop in front of the popular delicatessen and liquor store on 52nd Street.

"Nobody flat out said it would happen and even to the end nobody knew for sure," said Tenuta’s owner Chris Tenuta Friday night, hours after the visit. "There were probably more rumors out on the street than we were told. We were never told or never given any inkling that something was happening."

Either way, Tenuta’s sign scrolled the message "WELCOME TO KENOSHA MR. PRESIDENT!!" and hundreds of people had packed the storefront by about 1 p.m. Friday, waving American flags and Bush-Cheney campaign signs.

While the smell of Italian sausages emitted from a store window, the crowd and anticipation swelled. At about 2:30 p.m., Kenosha police began blocking off side streets and officers warned the crowd that a clear street meant the president would be passing through within about 20 minutes.

About 45 minutes later, cheers erupted from the crowd as a helicopter began circling overhead. Within moments dozens of Secret Service men began streaming from SUVs onto the roadway and another official led a bomb-sniffing dog around the store’s perimeter, giving the appearance that a presidential stop was imminent.

Moments later, motorcycles and police squads sped by with their lights flashing. And the motorcade, headed by two red, white and blue buses with the slogan "A safer world, a more hopeful America," slowed to stop in front of Tenuta’s. Chants of "Four more years" and "We want Bush" sounded from the crowd and one woman screamed, "George, we love you!"

When the president stepped off the bus, local police were among the first to greet him.

"He went right to me and he said, ‘Thank you, you do a nice job," said Lt. Jane Finley. "… Really, I was awestruck. It was very impressive. He was soft-spoken and very kind."
Police Chief Dan Wade said he too was impressed with Bush.

"It was quite an honor," Wade said of shaking the President’s hand. "All I told him was ‘Mr. President, keep the world safe for my granddaughter, Maddie,’ and he said, ‘You got it partner.’"
Bush also greeted numerous residents lucky enough to be standing outside the store, including

Louise Greco, 66, who was like a giggling teenager when the motorcade left and she recounted her presidential kiss. As Bush passed her, Greco said, she assured him he would win over the voters in Wisconsin. Bush replied hopefully and kissed Greco on the right cheek.

Eric Morgan, 30, decided to stop at Tenuta’s only because the police blockade stopped him from going directly home after work. While his mother and son had been waiting for hours across the street, Morgan arrived at Tenuta’s with the motorcade and still managed to shake the President’s hand.

"It was just kind of weird," Morgan said. "I didn’t know what to really think or say or do. It was like watching a movie or the news. You see it all the time, but until you’re right there. I couldn’t settle down after I left."

And never mind that 13-year-old Elizabeth Clark has already met the pope. She was equally starstruck by a hug from Bush.

"Wow, I was like out of breath," she said. "It was so amazing."

Inside Tenuta’s, the President greeted about 40 people, including employees and about 10 customers who Secret Servicemen couldn’t hustle out of the store. Bush declined to try any of the store’s popular food, but he did take time to greet almost everyone inside.

"He took the time to say hi to everybody," Tenuta said. "Most people he gave an autograph and stopped to talk to each person personally and he discussed different things with them."

Spotting one man wearing a Chicago Cubs cap and another sporting a Chicago White Sox hat, Bush briefly discussed some baseball philosophy. However, no one put the president on the spot regarding political issues or policies. In all, Bush was inside the store for about 10 minutes.

"It was probably one of the few chances I’ll ever get to be that close to the president and I had my children with me," Tenuta said. "For him to come in and be as a personal as he was and take the time out. It’s once in a lifetime."

But while the visit for Tenuta’s family and others in front of the store became the chance of a lifetime, the experience quickly turned into the bust of a lifetime for the majority of the crowd.

At about 3:10 p.m., several minutes before the motorcade arrived, police ordered the mass of people crowding the Tenuta’s storefront to the north side of 52nd Street. The arriving motorcade subsequently blocked almost all views of Tenuta’s and the president stepping off the bus.

"We didn’t come to see the bus," said one elderly woman.

Secret Servicemen and police officers fanned out along the street’s north side, offering hope that Bush might come to the other side of the buses, but he never appeared.

"We waited here for two hours — not even an acknowledgement or a wave," said Rose Thome, a 58-year-old woman. "This group has really been a friendly Kenosha. But it’s a shame he didn’t stop and wave."

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