MANATEE — Most days a few people park along the gravel lay by east of Sarasota-Bradenton International Aiport to watch jets come and go.
Monday it was jammed.
“Haven’t seen anything like it before,” Jacob Kyser said.
That’s what happens when word’s out the president is coming.
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President Barack Obama doesn’t land until today, but the White House’s military support team generated enough noisy excitement with its own arrival during Monday’s lunch hour.
People crowded the lay by on Golf Pointe Drive and traffic pulled over on the opposite side of the road as two giant gray Air Force C-17 Galaxy transports landed one after the other with a roar that had some covering their ears.
“It’s great,” Michael Rhodes said.
“Just to see this, it’s wonderful,” Nicole Adams said.
“I’m definitely coming back to see the president,” Danielle Peloquin said.
Obama is scheduled to arrive aboard Air Force One at 10:45 a.m., then be flown via Marine helicopter — three olive drab CH-53 Sea Stallions were parked nearby at Rectrix Aviation — to Arcadia to tour Florida Power & Light’s new solar energy plant.
Rick Piccolo, SRQ president and chief executive officer, will watch the presidential plane arrive from his office.
That’s OK by him.
“Security is tight, and we understand the security concerns they have,” he said. “The last time a sitting president (George W. Bush) arrived here was 9/11. We want this to be a quiet, uneventful and routine visit.”
That FPL has been the subject of negative publicity for a proposed $1.3 billion rate hike and its close ties to regulators didn’t faze some onlookers Monday.
“His coming in for the solar plant is big, because alternative energy is good,” Karen Musitano said.
“We need more of it and less drilling,” said Rhodes, her fiance.
Obama’s visit to Arcadia will draw its share of protestors, particularly the Punta Gorda Tea Party.
The DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department will have 60 of its 107-member force on duty, along with help from other counties, and the Secret Service, said Maj. Sam Williamson.
“It’s a big deal, but I hate for folks to drive over because they’re going to be disappointed,” he said. “It’s not a public event.”
Just as well, Billie Jo Nieto said.
“If he was coming here to talk about jobs, it’d be different, because every day more people here are getting laid off,” said the DeSoto Restaurant server. “It’s good Arcadia’s being recognized, but it’s not what we need.”
But Obama’s visit will be good business for some Arcadians.
Martha Clement’s family has owned Slim’s Barbeque since 1957 and her legendary restaurant is catering the main event.
“It’s an opportunity to show our hospitality,” she said. “To think the president of the United States might sample one of our ribs, that’d be thrilling.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton 34206 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a phone number for verification.