President Obama Treats Fla. Firefighters to Doughnuts

TAMPA, Fla. -- The commotion broke out at the crack of dawn, just as Eric Cherry was glazing a fresh batch of doughnuts.

"The president is coming! The president is coming!" yelled one of Cherry's co-workers.

Cherry rushed to the front counter to see President Barack Obama, dressed in a black suit, greeting patrons and employees at the Krispy Kreme at 3113 W. Kennedy Blvd.

"The last thing on my mind was seeing the president," Cherry said. Still, there he was, the commander in chief, making a pit stop Thursday before heading to a rally at Centennial Park in Ybor City.

"He asked me how long I've been working here. I said, 'Since April.' He said, 'Good job.' "

Obama then ordered four dozen doughnuts, all glazed.

Store manager Jeff Hickman said he received only a few minutes' notice about the impromptu visit.

Hickman said he was coming to work shortly before 7 a.m. when he noticed a police car blocking the drive-thru window. Hickman said he thought something happened to the store.

"He told me the president was going to be here in five minutes," he said. "Then boom, Secret Service was here checking everything out."

When Obama arrived, the agents didn't let anyone else in and kept the patrons there from leaving, Hickman said.

During his visit, Obama shook hands with about nine customers, including two young boys with their father.

One man at the counter told the president his name was Trent and that he was a teacher. Trent was wearing a tie with math symbols on it, and Obama held it up for the pool of reporters and photographers behind him.

"Can I just point out Trent's a math teacher," Obama said. "He's buying doughnuts for his kids. So that whole math-doughnut connection is the key to school reform because I know his kids are doing great."

Obama then turned to the Krispy Kreme employees and asked for their names.

One woman said hers was Michelle.

"Love Michelles," Obama said.

He double-checked with the cashier about his pre-order, whether they were "all set."

Obama turned back to the young boys and asked whether they wanted doughnuts.

"Let the president buy you a jam doughnut," he said.

Obama asked the cashier for three powder cakes and one glaze. The total was $5 and some change.

After he got his order, the president gave a dozen doughnuts to the press pool and thanked the employees.

"He was very polite," Cherry said. "I enjoyed the visit. I got to shake his hand."

The reason for the president's doughnut run became clear minutes later as his motorcade made its way to a fire station in South Tampa about two miles away.

Toby Hart, the chief of Tampa Fire Rescue's District 2, said he, too, got a five-minute heads up about the visit.

Hart said that when the doorbell at station No. 14 rang, he thought it was a resident who needed help. It was a Secret Service agent. "He asked me, 'If it's OK with you, the president is going to stop by for a visit,' " Hart said. "I was like, 'Of course it's OK with me.' "

Obama arrived with the Krispy Kreme doughnuts and shook hands with firefighters, some of whom were ending their shift but wanted to hang around and meet the president.

"He didn't come here empty-handed," Hart said with a laugh. "It was quite a surprise."

Obama met about 20 firefighters and asked for their names and years of service. One firefighter held up a basketball and asked the president whether he wanted to shoot hoops behind the station.

"After we're done," Obama said. "I don't want to embarrass you in front of the cameras."

But Obama rolled up his sleeves and played.

"He played until he made a shot," Hart said.

The president's entourage left about 20 minutes later, headed for Ybor. Hart said he posed for a picture with Obama and told him, jokingly, he was going to use the photograph as the cover of his family's Christmas cards.

"He was very personable," Hart said. "It's always very exciting to meet the leader of the United States."

Copyright 2012 - Tampa Tribune, Fla.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service