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September 9th, 2008
05:24 PM ET

No news, but color and calories galore

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, enjoys a shakes during a campaign stop at Ellis Soda Shoppe in Abington, Virginia, Tuesday.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, enjoys a shakes during a campaign stop at Ellis Soda Shoppe in Abington, Virginia, Tuesday.

Editor's Note: The following is from a pool reporter on the campaign trail with Sen. Barack Obama
Jeff Zeleny
New York Times

Senator Barack Obama arrived at the Ellis Soda Shoppe & Grill in the southern Virginia town of Abingdon about 3:50 p.m. Only a few customers were on hand to greet him, but by the time he left 30 minutes later, word apparently had spread and nearly 100 people were waiting along West Main Street to shake his hand and catch a closer look.

For all the planning that goes into such photo opportunities, one of the most interesting moments was spontaneous. As the senator made his way around the small restaurant – decorated in antique Coca-Cola memorabilia – he came across Don Garlits.

“This is the father of drag racing, right here!” Mr. Obama said, introducing Mr. Garlits to the cameras.

Indeed, the 76-year-old man who called himself "Big Daddy Garlits" is known as the pioneer of drag racing for a career that spanned from 1950 to 2003. (He said he retired five years ago, ending with a 310 m.p.h. race.) He lives in Ocala, Fla., but he and his wife were visiting their daughter and came to Ellis Soda Shoppe for some ice cream. They weren’t expecting to bump into a presidential candidate.

(Later, he told your pool he was mighty impressed with Mr. Obama and had watched his announcement speech in Springfield and his convention speech in Denver. A lifelong Republican, he said he was frustrated with Washington and is undecided between Mr. Obama and Senator John McCain.)

Mr. Obama shook more hands before taking a seat on a bar stool and ordering a vanilla shake (with whip cream), a burger and an order of sweet potato fries. He took several bites of his thick shake as he waited for his take-out order. As a woman came up to talk for a minute, he ordered another shake for her.

"Can I get Jeannie a vanilla shake, too?" he said. "Put it on my tab."

Doug Ellis, the proprietor, talked to the senator for several minutes. Our pool could not hear the conversation, except at one point when Mr. Ellis told his guest of the wide variety of milkshakes they offered, including pineapple.

"Pineapple? That sounds too exotic for me and I was born in Hawaii," he said. "They didn’t even have them there."

Mr. Obama lingered awhile longer, striking up conversations until his food was ready. He thanked people for their support and asked them to tell their friends. He paid his tab after the usual fight over the check ensued. For his patronage, he got a blue shirt with the store’s logo, "Some things never go out of style … a soda and a smile!"

When the senator emerged from the store, traffic was stopped. He shook hands for about 10 minutes with a crowd of people that had gathered across the street. He jogged back to his bus and began the drive to his evening rally in Lebanon.

Our pool rushed to its bus, where a variety of flavors of milkshakes were waiting.


Filed under: Barack Obama • Raw Politics
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