President Obama, saying he was feeling "super loose," tried to connect with ordinary people Thursday, the latest attempt by the former community organizer to get out of the White House and back on the streets.
The president went out for burgers with a Minnesota mom in her neighborhood, and later strolled down a St. Paul street, stopping to buy locally made salsa and ice cream.
The goal of this foray into life outside the White House, dubbed "day in the life" trips, was to spend some time just talking about average problems and average lives — lives, of course, that highlight the president's agenda.
It wasn't the first attempt at the appearance of normality for a man who spends his life accompanied by men with guns and a pack of noisy reporters. Obama has recently taken to busting out of the White House bubble lately for unexpected outings: a Starbucks run with his chief of staff, a walk across Lafayette Parkto a meeting. This week, he went for an unscheduled lunch at a Chipotle restaurant.
"The bear is loose," Obama quipped on one recent adventure, disclosing the longtime old inside White House joke for when the president goes a bit rogue.
He expanded on the caged-animal theme at a town hall meeting Thursday.
"Let me tell you something; I've been really looking forward to getting out of D.C.," Obama said. "Our agenda's still a little loose. You know, I might pop in for some ice cream or visit a small business. I don't know, I'm just going to make it up as I go along.... I'm feeling super loose today. So you don't know what I might do. You don't know what I might do. Who knows?"
Obama, like most of his predecessors, has chafed at the confines of his office and has often mused about the freedom he will enjoy once out of office.
Aides say part of Obama's love of golf is because the sport allows him to walk outside without being shuttled from place to place.
After arriving in Minneapolis, he immediately went to lunch at local burger joint with Rebekah Erler, a 36-year-old mother of two preschoolers. In March, Erler wrote a letter to Obama explaining her struggles to pay for child care, go to school and get ahead. Her husband's construction business went under during the recession and the young couple have struggled to get back on their feet, the White House said.
Obama reads 10 letters a night from ordinary Americans culled from thousands he receives daily. His next "day in the life" trip will also involve meeting up with the author of one of those letters, aides say.
But it was far from clear whether Obama was living a day in Erler's life or whether Erler was being thrust into his. The two talked over burger patties glued together with cheese — a local specialty known as a "Jucy Lucy" — for about 30 minutes, while other restaurant patrons ogled and snapped photos and a crowd gathered outside. Then the president went out the front door while Rebekah went out another, both landing in Obama's armored limousine for a speedy, traffic-free ride to a nearby park, where 350 people were waiting.
Erler attended the outdoor town hall, but Obama didn't name her, apparently out of concern for her privacy. The gesture was somewhat out of place, given that she is slated to introduce Obama at another event Friday. After Obama's remarks, Erler, clearly rattled by the attention, started to give an interview to reporters, but a White House aide cut her off when she became nervous.
Each of Obama's stops were tweeted and posted on the WhiteHouse.gov website, on a page branded with the "Day in the life" label.
Spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House was not trying to "stage manage" the encounters.
Erler did not witness another, more rarefied part of Obama's day: his attendance at an evening fundraiser. The guests at the private home followed the most reliable way to get face time with the president. They paid up to $16,000 a ticket.