President Obama and his family arrived on the Vineyard on Sunday afternoon for a one-week vacation and received a typically warm welcome from Islanders, despite the fact that the arrival was closed to the public and surrounded by tight security.
Summer White House spokesmen yesterday blamed bad weather for the closed arrival — the first hurricane of the season was churning in the Atlantic far offshore — but suggested that Mr. Obama could be more accessible in future.
The Obamas left Andrews Air Force base early Sunday afternoon and flew to the Cape Cod Coast Guard Air Station in Bourne, where they transferred to a waiting helicopter. Mrs. Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia were dressed brightly and casually in light summer clothes. Mr. Obama wore dark trousers and a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and no tie.
Following a brief interaction with senior officers from the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard stationed at the military reservation, they walked a short distance across the tarmac and boarded the helicopter for the short last leg of the flight.
Three minutes after that they were in the air again.
Afterwards, Capt. Dan Abel, commanding officer of the Coast Guard station, said Mrs. Obama asked him how the weather was looking.
“I said I was in charge of that and it would be okay,” he said.
Traveling with the Obamas were the President’s sister Maya and her family, and senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. Also along for the vacation was the family dog, Bo.
The Marine One helicopter carrying Mr. Obama, his family and entourage landed at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport just after 3 p.m., at the end of the runway, a good distance from the terminal. They quickly transferred to a motorcade and arrived at their vacation home at Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark at 3:20 p.m.
Dozens of Vineyarders lined the motorcade route from the airport along the West Tisbury Road. Some held signs with messages that included “Aloha Obama Family” and “Hope, Obama.”
At Alley’s General Store another crowd was gathered.
And just past Alley’s Kristin Buck, her husband Brian Smith and son Liam sat out on their porch that fronts South Road overlooking the Tiasquam apple orchards and the Up-Island gas station.
The family has a test and on Sunday Mr. Obama passed it.
Normally they have fun watching the traffic trouble at the Texaco station as Islanders on Sunday crowd into the station to buy their gas for the week.
“That’s usually the excitement,” said Ms. Buck.
They also play Islander versus nonIslander. The way they tell? “If you’re from here you’re just getting to the next place, you don’t even notice the house is here. If people are looking around and they wave, they’re from off-Island,” said Mr. Smith.
On Sunday Mr. Obama waved at Liam and he waved back, confirming the theory.
“I was waving to him . . . and he waved back . . . . It was definitely him. He was sitting in the center and leaned forward and I saw him.”
The Obamas’ one-week stay on the Vineyard is shaping up to be quiet so far. No public engagements are planned and the press office has repeatedly warned there is likely to be little in the way of news, or, indeed, activity of any visible sort.
The traveling media — some 80 of whom were present yesterday in the Oak Bluffs School gymnasium for the first of their daily briefings by deputy press secretary Bill Burton — peppered the secretary with questions about the schedule of planned activities.
There were not many.
Mr. Burton did say that Mr. Obama “really appreciates being here in Martha’s Vineyard. Folks have been very warm in welcoming him.” He continued:
“He’s been coming here for some 10 years now and he plans to come back. So hopefully, going forward, there will be some opportunities for him to be out in the public, but for right now he’s just spending a little time with his family.”
In fact the theme of this presidential vacation was made clear at the outset during the flight on Air Force One. During the flight up, Mr. Burton told the traveling press corps that he had a message for them from the President. “He wants you to relax,” he said. “Have a good time, take some walks on the beaches. Nobody’s looking to make any news.”
The deputy press secretary also debunked a few rumors. Tiger Woods would not be here to play golf with the President, he said. Nor were there plans for the President to travel to Hyannisport to visit the ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
He also requested, on behalf of the Obamas, that the press respect the privacy of their daughters and keep their distance while they were out on the Vineyard during this vacation. No photographs of the girls, please, the President has said.
At yesterday morning’s briefing, Mr. Burton offered what detail he could. He said the President had dinner at his vacation house on Sunday night with a small group of friends including Ms. Jarrett.
On Monday morning he had worked out and played some tennis with the First Lady, all at Blue Heron Farm.
Mr. Burton also released Mr. Obama’s planned reading list for his vacation, which includes The Way Home, by George Pelecanos; Hot, Flat and Crowded, by Thomas Friedman; Lush Life, by Richard Price; Plainsong, by Kent Haruf; and John Adams, by David McCullough.
Just after lunch Mr. Obama left Blue Heron Farm and headed for Farm Neck Golf Club. He spent the afternoon there and played 18 holes with UBS chief executive officer Robert Wolf, Dr. Eric Whitaker and an aide. Rep. James Clyburn was to have played, but did not make it.
The media pool was not allowed to watch him tee off, but reported seeing the shot go up, hook left and end in trees near the first set of sand traps about 180 feet from the tee. Just as well Tiger Woods was not there to see that.
After about five hours, the President and his entourage left Farm Neck and headed back up-Island to Blue Heron Farm. The Obamas are renting the 28-acre private estate fronting Town Cove on the Tisbury Great Pond from Wallace and Company Sotheby’s International Realty, an Edgartown brokerage that is subleasing the property from owner William Van Devender.
“People waved as Obama left and held up their dogs and made them wave too, reported Nia-Malika Henderson, Politico’s White House pool reporter for the day. She also wrote:
“Seen along the way: horses, ponds, lots of greenery, one sign welcoming Obama family, and a gallon of gas for $3.27. After an uneventful drive, Potus arrived at Chilmark estate at 6:23 p.m.”
Alas, that may yet be a highlight of the week.
Gazette reporter Sam Bungey contributed to this story.