Friday, November 09, 2007

Obama Makes Unscheduled Stop in Albia

Yesterday was definitely one to remember. Most importantly, it was my wife's birthday. After a hectic day we were able to sit down and have some birthday cake to celebrate the occasion.

But something else happened here yesterday that sure doesn't happen everyday. Barack Obama was traveling from Ottumwa to Chariton, and he stopped halfway in Albia for a quick unscheduled visit to our beautiful community.

My brother Joe is a big Obama supporter. Joe asked me to go with him up to the square and meet Obama and show him around town a little bit. Being the total political junkie that I am, I jumped at the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with the Senator from Illinois. And I've always been eager and happy to show off our town to people from other parts of the country. We really have a wonderful, beautiful town square and people are always surprised to see it.

The whole afternoon was kind of a surreal experience. I've witnessed tons of these kinds of moments, but this was different.

The whole gaggle of press photographers and reporters were snapping photos of us the entire time. As is always the case with these kinds of things, the Obama campaign had basically choreographed the whole thing. But things didn't exactly follow the plan.

We walked across Albia's historic square and Sen. Obama asked us questions about Albia. I told him about Robert T. Bates and the Bates Foundation, which has helped to maintain and restore the historic buildings on the Albia square.

Joe, who is a teacher at Albia Community High School, talked to Obama about the schools and students.

We continued down the street to Smitty's Sandwich Shop, a local fixture in Albia, famous for their home-made tenderloins. We go into Smitty's and there are probably 25-30 reporters and photographers and campaign workers and Secret Service people all elbowing their way into the small restaurant.

We continue our chat as the photographers snap away. I talked briefly with Obama about the Farm Bill and rural Iowa and stuff.

We get our tenderloins (Obama takes his tenderloin to go) and make our way out of the restaurant. And then Obama decides to walk over to Vitko's service station. I guess this was not part of the plan, because I hear Secret Service guys saying "What, where's he going?"

He's starting to draw a crowd as he visits with people at Vitko's, and then he goes in and meets Ray Vitko Sr. and chats with folks there for a few minutes before walking back to the bus.

It was a great opportunity to show off our town to such a large audience. I'd be very happy to welcome any of the presidential candidates to Albia. We haven't seen Hillary in Albia yet, or Joe Biden or Chris Dodd. And on the Republican side we've only had visits from Tommy Thompson and John Cox. I'd certainly welcome any of them to Albia and I'd love to show them around town.

Here are a few photos:
My brother Joe with Sen. Barack Obama in Albia, just outside of Smitty's Sandwich Shop.

Obama visits with Sally McDonald at Smitty's. Sally has worked behind the counter at Smitty's for many years. Her daughter owns the place.

Smitty's owner Shari Lepley, Obama and Sally McDonald.

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