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Happy with his 9-to-5 temp job

During the transition period, Obama gets to sleep in his own bed, spend time with family. 'Here, I'm stationary.'

November 22, 2008|John McCormick | McCormick writes for the Chicago Tribune.

CHICAGO — There is some irony that it took winning the presidency for Barack Obama to settle into a schedule that borders on humdrum.

For now, he wakes up in his own bed, works out in the same fitness center each morning, goes into the office, comes home and has dinner with his family -- a far cry from the frenzied campaign life of the previous 21 months. While more routine, his existence is also more surreal, as he moves through Chicago largely sequestered in a security bubble even more robust than the one around him at the end of the campaign.

Still, Obama seems to be savoring his time between election day and the move to the White House, one of the longest stretches he has had at home in five years.

On Friday, he made time to leave the office briefly to pick up a corned beef sandwich and some cherry pie from Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli, a favorite spot for Chicago politicians.

"I'm just glad to be out," Obama said amid applause and shouts of congratulations from surprised diners.

Yet the roughly 15-minute stop seemed designed more to provide a media photo opportunity -- the first in nearly a week -- than to let the president-elect step out for some fresh air.

Obama has made clear that he wants some quality time with family before he is sworn in Jan. 20 as the 44th president.

As Obama settled into his new homebody life, aides had suggested a block of time for political calls during evening hours. That didn't fly. His two daughters would still be awake.

"He said, 'Can we back that up, guys?' " recounted an aide. "He wanted to read to them and tuck them in, so we do the calls a little bit later."

Obama is a man of discipline and routine, and he has gotten exactly that in recent days, even finding time Wednesday evening to attend his daughter's performance at a downtown theater.

After his morning workout, Obama typically heads into his transition office in downtown Chicago's Loop between 9 and 10 a.m. Most days, he's home by about 6 p.m.

The trade-off, of course, is that he has lost some of the few freedoms he had before the election.

Obama now typically sees members of the public only through tinted glass as he makes his roughly 15-minute commute between downtown and his South Side home.

The security restrictions have gradually increased since May 2007, when the Secret Service first began guarding him -- the earliest point in a campaign cycle that it had ever begun protecting a candidate.

Even before Obama's time on the road in 2007 and 2008 -- a period that took him to 48 states -- it was unusual for him to be home for dinner.

In 2004, he was gone many evenings as part of his U.S. Senate campaign. In 2005 and 2006, he was often in Washington and traveling across the nation to raise money for Democrats and build his own political network.

The period between the election and inauguration is about as normal as it is going to get for his family for the next four to eight years.

"During the campaign it is just a constant frenetic, forward momentum," Obama said during a "60 Minutes" interview broadcast this week. "Here, I'm stationary."

On Friday night, he and his wife, Michelle, even had time to spend more than two hours at a Gold Coast condominium high-rise, attending a birthday party for Valerie Jarrett, a family friend who will be a senior White House advisor.

The previous weekend, the couple spent three hours at one of their favorite Chicago restaurants, returning home after 11 p.m.

The dinner at Spiaggia on Michigan Avenue was one example of how the couple's presence now changes almost any room. Fellow diners were searched and scanned with portable metal detectors before entering.

Obama has said he expects to spend most of his time in Chicago during the transition period, with periodic trips to Washington. Since the night he was elected, he has spent only half a day outside Chicago, for a quick trip to the White House.

One extended absence from Chicago is expected in late December, when the family goes to Hawaii for its annual Christmas vacation. The trip will probably include a memorial service for Obama's grandmother, who died about a day before the election.

In the "60 Minutes" interview, Michelle Obama seemed to be savoring the new "routine" since the campaign's end. Her husband, meanwhile, bristled at his inability to take a stroll through the neighborhood and at the loss of anonymity.

"I can't go to my old barbershop now," he said, lamenting the end of old routines and expressing concern for how to stay connected to normal life.

Claire Whitcomb, the author of a book about life at the White House, says the Obama family will continue to enjoy some level of routine after it moves in January.

"For the family of a president, I think it's a pretty good setup," she said.

"They can create a nice cocoon, where they can have a good quality of life. With a bowling alley and a movie theater, it's more fun than your average house."

Michelle Obama told "60 Minutes" she was looking forward to having her family mostly in one place.

"We get to be together under the one roof, having dinners together," she said. "I envision the kids coming home from school and being able to run across the way to the Oval Office and see their dad before they start their homework."

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mccormickj@tribune.com

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