In the fall of 2009, Pittsburgh was an unnerving place to be. Leaders from the globe’s 20 major economies convened in our city for the G20. From the periphery, I observed protests, rattled police officers and an arsenal of army vehicles on our streets. With so many major thoroughfares shut down, the city felt like a ghost town. It was surreal, but as close as I was to the action, I never even glimpsed Obama.
Fast forward to 2011, and Pittsburgh welcomed President Obama with far more open arms. He had traveled to our steel city to unveil the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. After emerging from its industrial collapse, Pittsburgh was the perfect backdrop for the announcement, but even though I worked for one of the plan’s poster child companies, Obama and I still did not meet.
In 2014, Obama returned again, with more goals and promises for manufacturing in America. Meanwhile, I was probably editing photos in a coffeeshop. An Obama sighting was just not in the cards.
BUT 2015…. 2015 was the year of THE QUELCY & OBAMA BREAKFAST!!!
Though it’s not my kind of place, when Obama is in town, he eats a classic American breakfast at the very vintage, Pittsburgh staple, Pamela’s Diner. When Obama is calling the shots, you don’t argue. You just suck it up and eat at a greasy spoon because… YOU’RE HAVING BREAKFAST WITH OBAMA!
*april fools*april fools*april fools*
I may not have had breakfast with THE Obama, but I did have breakfast with the Bronx Obama, which is a noteworthy breakfast in its own right. You may have heard of Louis Ortiz, i.e. Bronx Obama, from an episode of This American Life. Like a superhero donning a cloak, when Louis Ortiz puts on his presidential suit, he becomes Obama. His thick Bronx accent fades. His mannerisms change. His posture heightens. He becomes a walking, talking Obama, and because of his impeccable impression, this widowed, single father, unemployed, army vet found himself an almost overnight media sensation.
Louis Ortiz caught the attention of filmmaker Ryan Murdock, and the documentary film Bronx Obama came to be. The documentary screened at a film festival near and dear to my heart, and thus, I had the opportunity to design a very presidential backdrop, photograph Louis with his adoring audience and have breakfast with the festival crew at Pamela’s, à la… My Breakfast with Obama!
Since Pamela’s is more Aunt Jemima than Vermont Maple Syrup, you’d be hard pressed to find me there without presidential intervention. Thus, I thought it best to leave my review to the very polite and political, real Obama, who was quoted as saying this after his appearance at this local institution,
“Before I answer this question [about Clinton voter turnout], these really were maybe the best pancakes I’ve tasted in a very long time. Get some take-out,” he directed the reporters. “You don’t even need syrup on them. They’ve got crispy edges. Yea, they are really good.”
Or, as Bronx Obama said when we were all hemming and hawing over the menu, “it’s either flapjacks or eggs. Easy.”
While we ate, Louis was low key, but when it came time to leave, he entertained. He posed appropriately with a painting of the President eating Pamela’s crispy, crepe-like pancakes. “Did your face naturally look like that?” someone asked him in awe, while others stared and whispered to each other in disbelief. “Could it be? Is it really him?”
Filmmaker Ryan Murdock had initially intended to follow several impersonators with his camera, but when he met Louis, it was clear where the story was. Louis was destined to be the center of attention. He’s naturally a character, warm, outgoing, confident and likable, but to my sappy self, what’s most compelling about this crazy tale of a presidential lookalike, is his motivation to provide for his daughter and send her to college.
From the Bronx to the spotlight, Louis is now a pro! He takes selfies better than tween girls, he’ll politely tell you if you’re blocking his light, and he always knows his best angle. That being said, he is tremendously gracious, humble and uplifting, as is filmmaker Ryan Murdock. It was a real privilege to eat American-size portions of greasy diner food with them.
Louis plans to ride this Obama impersonator tide as long as possible, and it will be interesting to see how he uses this rare platform for his own voice. He’s humble and optimistic and simply wants to share some positivity and lightness while assuming this venerated role. In my dream world, Bronx Obama and Kid President would hit the “campaign trail” together, spreading messages of unity, hope and above all else, laughter!
It may not have been breakfast with THE Obama, but in the grand scheme, I’m grateful for My Breakfast with Bronx Obama.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, you can check it out on Showtime and a slew of other media platforms. Pop some popcorn, and prepare to enter the really bizarre world of political impersonators. Maybe pack a tissue or two also because Louis’s role as a father is his best work!
Happy April Fools’ Day!