There is a bear roaming the streets of Washington, D.C. He stands about six foot one, has dark hair with a few greys and feeds on burgers and burritos. His name is President Barack Obama.
Obama started referring to himself as a bear on the loose in late May when he broke out of his White House cage, and opted to stroll along the streets of downtown D.C. instead of taking his motorcade to a meeting. "It's good to be out," he said as he walked along Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall, suit jacket tossed over his shoulder. "The bear is loose!"
He mingled with tourists, food truck vendors and passersby, shaking hands, chatting, posing for photos and handing out White House M&M candy to children. "Are you real?" one excited woman asked. "Yes I am, I'm not wax," he replied.
The president sent the Secret Service and White House press corps that follows his every move scrambling once again a few weeks later when he left the White House grounds by foot and made a Starbucks run with his chief of staff Denis McDonough. "The bear is loose!" he declared again.
There have been other spontaneous forays into the public in recent weeks. On May 16, he and Vice-President Joe Biden dined with a group of construction workers at Shake Shack, a popular fast food burger restaurant, and on May 19 he took a detour while on his way to a fundraiser near Washington to throw the ball around with some Little League teams. His former press secretary Jay Carney’s daughter played on one of the teams.
"From the looks on Barack Obama's face during his time with the Little Leaguers, I would guess he enjoyed it more than the political fundraiser afterward," Jim Wallis wrote in Time magazine about the impromptu visit to the field where his son was playing.
Obama hungry for public interaction
June 10 was another burger lunch, with education secretary Arne Duncan, this time at Fireflies in Alexandria, Virginia, a short drive from D.C. On Monday, Obama went for a burrito bowl at Chipotle and threw the Twitterverse into a frenzy when he reached over the counter's glass shield to point at his preferred toppings. That's a violation of Chipotle etiquette that regular customers know well but clearly Obama doesn’t get out much. Twitter followers promptly scolded the president for "over reaching."
It seems Obama is not just hungry for burgers and burrito bowls, but for some freedom from the confines of the White House bubble.
"I think frankly we've all been through a cold and bitter winter and the bear has cabin fever," Obama friend and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told the Associated Press. "His cabin is a little bit bigger and harder to escape than most."
In a recent interview on Live with Kelly and Michael the president was asked if he could do one thing that night without his Secret Service detail around him and could go unrecognized, what would it be.
"I would just walk out this gate. I might walk up to the Lincoln Memorial, sit on there," Obama said. "Maybe I'd wander around and find myself at a little outdoor cafe or something and sit and order something and just watch people go by. The thing you miss most about being president is anonymity."
The days of wandering around unrecognized are over for Obama, his wife Michelle and two teenaged daughters Sasha and Malia. After six years in the White House Obama may just be getting restless, but the White House press corps is wondering if there’s something more going on.
That’s what Obama’s new press secretary Josh Earnest was asked this week after Obama’s Chipotle visit. He acknowledged that his boss misses walking around outside on city streets and added that Obama wants to talk to his fellow Americans to find out how he can help them.
Obama feels like a caged bear
"I think the President, like many of his predecessors, has talked about the challenge that's posed by the presidential bubble, that one of the things that this President misses the most is the ability to walk down the street and talk to people," said Earnest.
"That's particularly important to him because he is sitting in the Oval Office, right up that hallway, making the kinds of decisions that he knows have a substantial impact on the daily lives of Americans. And he is looking for as many opportunities as he can to try to get some access and some insight into what are the challenges that people are facing, and what is the impact of the solutions that he is trying to move forward.”
Now Obama is taking his public outreach beyond the Starbucks’ and burger joints of D.C. and on Thursday made his first in a series of "day in the life of" trips. He went to Minnesota to visit a woman named Rebekah, who wrote him a letter about the financial struggles facing her family.
He and Rebekah went for lunch – he ordered a burger – and Obama told a crowd afterwards that he was happy to be there and out of D.C. "I'm like a caged bear, and every once in a while I break loose. And I'm feeling super loose today," he said. "You don't know what I might do. Who knows?"