Obama Savors Last Days OF Normalcy

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CHICAGOBarack Obama seems to be savoring his last few days of near-normalcy.

Or at least as normal as life can be for a president-elect living in a house fortified with barriers, traveling in a motorcade, surrounded by Secret Service agents and mapping out the next administration.

Even his barber makes house calls now, depriving Obama of the regular barber shop visits he seemed to enjoy.

Still, after winning the presidency on Nov. 4, Obama has tried to reclaim as much as he can of the family focused routine he sacrificed while campaigning for nearly two years.

He wakes up in his own bed, heads to the gym for a workout, returns to his house in leafy Hyde Park to shower and change, and then travels to a downtown Chicago office building, 15 minutes away by motorcade. He spends several hours there before returning home to his wife, Michelle, and daughters, Malia and Sasha.

The future president and first lady still go to their favorite restaurant, Spiaggia, for Italian food. Obama dropped the girls at their school two days last week, and even attended parent-teacher conferences.

He plans a family vacation in Hawaii, as usual, over the Christmas holiday.

"I am not going to be spending too much time in Washington over the next several weeks," Obama said in a recent phone conversation overheard by reporters on his plane.

But on Jan. 20 he will become president and move his family into the White House, where almost nothing will be the same.

"It transforms their lives," said Thomas E. Cronin, a presidential scholar at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. "All of them, no matter who they are, yearn to get away for time with family or friends."

Obama has endured increasing restrictions on his day-to-day activities as he ascended the political ladder at warp speed, from the Illinois Legislature to the U.S. Senate to president-elect. It has not been easy.

After securing the Democratic nomination, he bristled when news organizations insisted on having a "protective pool" of reporters and photographers shadow his every move, even when it required them to sit for hours in vans outside his gym, office and home. He eventually yielded to the inevitable, knowing that nominees, presidents-elect and presidents have agreed to such arrangements for years.

On Halloween, Obama grew annoyed when journalists maneuvered to capture him walking down a Chicago street with Sasha, 7, in costume.

"Leave us alone. Come on, guys," Obama said. At one point, he and Sasha began jogging to get away.

For at least four years, and perhaps eight, his life will certainly not be his own.

Obama will not drive a car or go anywhere by himself. It is a good bet he has not since he got Secret Service protection early last year. He will not live alone in the Capitol Hill apartment just off Stanton Park anymore. The trade-off is a much bigger house, rent free, with ample space for his daughters, the first lady and her mother.

Some days he will not venture beyond the gates of the White House compound. Everything he needs is on site or easily brought to him.

Still, "all first families try to have some normalcy," said Philip Henderson, a presidential scholar at Catholic University in Washington.

But even routine matters, such as picking out a puppy for the girls, play out before cameras, lights and microphones.

"This is a major issue," Obama deadpanned to reporters at his first postelection news conference. The family wants a dog from a shelter that will not trigger Malia's allergies. "Whether we're going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household," he said.

Inevitably, Obama's life as a semi-normal citizen is vanishing. He travels in a reinforced sport utility vehicle, with a counterassault team tailing him. He enters and exits buildings under heavy protection, through underground parking garages or back doors, out of sight from the public.

As banners congratulating Obama hang from Chicago lampposts, clusters of people gather on street corners as his motorcade zips along temporarily closed streets. Some cheer at the sight of him, others scowl in annoyance. Concrete barriers and metal fences surround the perimeter of his Hyde Park block, certainly an inconvenience to his neighbors.

And his once-regular visits to the Hyde Park Hair Salon & Barber Shop? Its large glass window, where crowds formed to watch Obama get a trim, made security impossible.

Now the barber comes to the home of one of Obama's friends. In a few weeks, the Obamas will live in a new home, with even greater security and more confinements.