Hop on the Hope Bus

The Chicago Neighborhood Tours website boasts that Hyde Park and Kenwood are “where lakefront vistas, ancient history, architecture and Nobel Prizes meet.” Now that Senator Obama, who used to be the neighbor of thousands of proud South Side residents, has become President Obama, the tour company offers the opportunity to “admire distinctively designed dwellings in President Obama’s Kenwood neighborhood.” In effect, Obama is no longer a mere local figure: in these last two years, he has risen to international fame, becoming the first black president of the United States on November 5 . Clearly in these last few months, life for the Obama family, as well as for those living in the Hyde Park area, has changed significantly. These transformations are seen in the streets of Hyde Park, with every restaurant claiming to be Obama’s favorite; a breakfast special at Valois is named after him; the 57th Street Bookstore has plastered their entrance with books written about, by and for Obama; and virtual shrines of him and his family adorn walls and entrance doors of almost every shop in the neighborhood. Thus, it goes without saying that his journey to the White House, and the popularity and genuine appeal that has followed him there, has extended to the entire South Side community. Suddenly, a neighborhood that was perhaps more well known for being the home of the University of Chicago–though it has always played a historically important role in twentieth-century African-American culture–than for being a political hotbed has become, for better or for worse, America’s neighborhood. This certainly would explain the ever-growing number of local tours in the last several months: they are no longer South Side tours, but have become instead tours of “Mr. Obama’s neighborhood,” which is how the Chicago Sun Times described it in an article published more than a year and a half before he became President.

Do residents and businesses appreciate all the fanfare? Simply put, they do. When asked how Obama had affected business, Paso, Valois’ manager, affirmed that many came from all over the world to see the restaurant: “People,” he said, “want to see where Obama eats.” It’s that simple. For many, Hyde Park provides a glimpse into the life of the President, and to be a part of the community that produced Obama is something that residents are proud of.