[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/30/art.obama.diner.jpg caption="Sen. Barack Obama chats with diners at Bell Restaurant in Lebanon,Missouri."]
Editor's note: This pool report was filed by Michael Powell on the Obama campaign trail in Lebanon, Missouri.
Never let it be said that Barack Obama is a slow learner. Team Obama pulled into the Bell Restaurant (a diner, as defined by this New Yorker but who am I to argue with a Mizzou-an), which advertises itself as offering B.B.Q., Steak and Seafood.
The candidate, who is sparing in consumption of almost everything, and has taken grief in the press for not letting his waist expand as the campaign season progresses, wanders in and immediately and loudly announces:
"Well, I've had lunch but I'm thinking maybe there is some pie."
Then he drops that thought and sets to the business of chatting up waitresses, signing napkins and shaking hands with the 11 paying customers. These are mostly retired men in NASCAR and camouflage caps nursing their fifth or sixth cups of coffee. They are not a verbose lot.
How you guys doin'?" the candidate asks a table of four.
"Pretty good," one answers.
"What sort of work you do?" the candidate asks.
"Retired," says one. "Not much," says another.
The candidate moves toward the kitchen, trailed by a beaming waitress or two. The food question hangs there.
"Well, I should order something," he says, adding a caveat: "Now, I've had lunch."
He settles on fried chicken; in his telling, he's become a junk food dog. "The healthy people, we'll give them the breasts," he tells he waitress. "I'll eat the wings.
Word now is out that a presidential candidate is in. People crowd by, cell phones held aloft. Darrel Martin, the stocky white-haired owner with a tight pompadour, pushes on through.
"I came up here doing 80 on the interstate, yes I did," he announces, looking with just a touch of disgust at four large cops standing next to him. "I knew every trooper with a radar gun would be here."
This is the Republican red belt of Missouri, but celebrity trumps all. Even the Republicans smile and worry about "going goofy" with the candidate.
As the candidate headed for the door, waitress Mary Anderson picks up the phone.
"Barack Obama was here," she tells the caller. "But now he's leaving. So that's what is going on at Bell's."
And she hangs up.
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