Veni, Vidi, Ludo. – He Came, He Saw, He Played.
So, just what does the President of the United States do when he has 48 unrestricted hours at an historic Arts & Crafts resort, namely the Grove Park Inn?
Pretty much what most people do when they come to Asheville.
On their way from the airport, the president took the First Lady to his favorite Asheville eatery, 12 Bones, where they each dined on a half-order of ribs. After joking with their fellow diners, many of whom had waited there since early morning just on the rumor the First Couple might stop by for lunch, the Obamas headed north across Asheville and up Sunset Mountain to the Grove Park Inn.
Once settled into their suite at the hotel (the kids stayed home with grandma), they quickly headed outdoors to walk off their lunch. The caravan of identical black SUVs (no special identification of the president’s vehicle) headed up the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the Obamas hopped out and headed down the mountain trail. Ahead of them a pair of Secret Service agents scanned each surprised hiker they met with a metal detector.
After returning to the Grove Park Inn, the Obamas met up with some old friends from Chicago, then the president hit the famed Donald Ross-designed course for a late afternoon round of golf as storm clouds began gathering to the west.
The rains were slow in arriving, so the president grabbed a second round on Saturday morning, shaking hands and chatting with the people lined up to watch him, while Michelle Obama played tennis and spent time in the spa. After lunch the president got involved in a pickup game of basketball at the Grove Park Inn’s Sports Center, then the couple climbed into one of the black SUVs and headed south for a private tour of the 250-room Biltmore House. Afterwards the group dined at Corner Kitchen, a small, popular restaurant in Biltmore Village (an English-style Arts & Crafts village built at the turn of the century), where they had the upstairs room all to themselves.
Sunday morning the First Couple headed back to the Sports Center where they played a quick game of tennis before Michelle Obama prepared to head back to Washington. The president took a side trip out to Black Mountain, where he met with the 91-year-old Reverend Billy Graham, himself once a fair golfer, before flying out of Asheville at two that afternoon.
All weekend my 18-year-old son, an avid Obama backer, kept checking in to see if the Grove Park Inn had contacted me about giving the Obama party a private tour of the Grove Park Inn. “Promise you’ll take me with you if they call?” he implored. Last January, when Blake and I were touring the University of Chicago, I offered to take him to the Robie House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School masterhouse in South Chicago. Instead, he suggested that we drive by the Obama’s house a few blocks away, where he had me stop and take his picture.
Knowing full well that the staff at the Grove Park Inn had left a copy of both of my GPI books in the Obama’s suite, and that one of the channels on the hotel television ran a continuous history of the famed resort, I never really thought that they would have the time or the inclination for a walking tour.
Nor did I have to figure out a way to convince the Secret Service to let my son tag along….