Obama vacationing, but keeping busy

"We're going to sell him fried clams and 'chowdah,' " vows Michael Flynn, the 50-year-old manager, as a half-dozen employees prepare New England delicacies inside the cramped quarters. "We even have fresh water for Bo," the Obamas' dog, for whom Oak Bluffs threw a dog parade Sunday night.

T-shirts and tacos

At Alley's, a quintessential general store billing itself as "Dealers in Almost Everything," manager Rhonda Backus is hoping for an influx of curious day-trippers as well as a visit by the president.

It won't take her a second to whip up a basket of local produce and other items, including Chilmark chocolate. But she promises no paparazzi-style hubbub.

"That's not what we're all about here," Backus says.

Barbara Phillips, manning the cash register at the Black Dog Home Store across from Edgartown's waterfront, says islanders "might gawk" at the Obamas, "but they won't mob them. I think that's why a lot of people come here — because their privacy is respected."

Indeed, the list of celebrities who have lived or vacationed here is long: James Taylor, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Oprah Winfrey, Vernon Jordan, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer. Walter Cronkite adored the place. John Belushi bought Robert McNamara's house on Lucy Vincent Beach and is buried across the street.

None of them — not even Clinton, who galloped publicly across the Vineyard during his stays here — attracted the build-up accorded the first African-American president, locals say. There are Obama cookies, Obama ales, Obamaritas and Barack-O-Tacos in Oak Bluffs.

Edgartown's Shirt Tales has reordered three types of Obama T-shirts — 1,000 of them.

At Scrimshaw Gallery, there's an oil-on-canvas painting of a beach-walking Obama, Malia and Sasha in tow. Enchanted Chocolates is selling bags of "Yes We Candy." Mad Martha's created a coffee ice cream with macadamia nuts and a caramel swirl for the occasion and named it "Barack My World."

The first lady also is in demand. Every day at Saffron boutique, owner Patty Culkins displays a different outfit alongside a sign that reads, "What Would Michelle Do?" The choices: cocktails at 5, shopping, ladies' tea — and clamming. A green sheath dress that reminded Culkins of the first lady's inaugural outfit sold on Saturday.

Some of the island's 15,000 year-round residents aren't happy about the visit. Lobsterman Everett Poole, 79, who ran a Menemsha fish market for 50 years and now manages the Chilmark Chandlery supply shop, worries about traffic and commotion.

"I wish he'd gone somewhere else," says Poole, puffing on his pipe amid the lobster pots. "We've got too many damn people here now."

Key West to Kennebunkport

Obama's choice of isolation and exercise isn't unusual as presidential vacations go. Since George Washington rode horses, every president has done what suited them best.

Franklin Roosevelt had his yacht. Harry Truman had his Southern White House in Key West, Fla. Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush had their Texas ranches, Ronald Reagan his California version. Richard Nixon retreated to San Clemente, Calif., or Key Biscayne, Fla.

For many presidents, returning to familiar turf "borders on the spiritual," says presidential historian Richard Norton Smith of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "It's a renewal."

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