Obama Jamming

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

If you're listening to me in your car right now, there's a decent chance you're not moving. It's Monday evening in LA, peak commute time.

On this Monday evening the traffic jam you're in could be more intense than usual – or in a different place -- because President Obama is visiting.

Right about now the president is supposed to be at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip.

A little later he'll drop down to Melrose Place for dinner at Olive & Fig. Then head to Beverly Hills for a good night's sleep.

You'd think in a place as big and metropolitan as Los Angeles, a visit from the President – or any head of state – would go mostly unnoticed.

Be absorbed into the daily hum of activity.

But people here seem to get annoyed every time the president swoops in at rush hour to interrupt the flow.

It's a different kind of annoyed than when you're heading somewhere and the street you need is closed for a film shoot. Or, more likely, a TV episode.

Those blockages we come to accept.

When it comes to traffic, Angelenos like it predictable.

Most of us who drive a lot know where the choke points are on a typical Monday. We avoid them, or use our secret shortcuts, or just accept fate.

But when the president comes to town, the street impact is less predictable. More capricious.

I don't have stats to back this up, but I think the most intense surface street traffic jams we encounter in LA come from visits by politicians.

And it doesn't matter which party the president is from.

George W. Bush caused my personal least favorite traffic mess. It was in 2007, when Bush was here for a Republican fundraiser in Brentwood.

It happened right at the cocktail hour, and locked down everything for miles. I cut through the VA hospital, tried the back gate, and even snuck through some Brentwood alleys – and I was still late to my date.

I was headed to Dutton's Bookstore for an appearance by John Kerry and his wife. Yes, Bush beat Kerry again that night.

Today's visit by President Obama hits a raw nerve with so many residents for two other reasons, I think.

They remember the chaos during his visit last year to Hancock Park. Streets shut down for hours, in some cases stranding parents just a block or two from their kids.

Since then, the Obama team and the LAPD have taken steps to make his drop-ins go more smoothly.

They don't use the freeway much any more. Tonight's shuttle from LAX to the Westside was reportedly by helicopter, then by limo across Sunset Boulevard.

For many, the most annoying part is that Obama is only here to raise money for the Democratic Party's campaign coffers.

After he separates Hollywood from a few checks, it's back to Washington. No free speeches, no shaking hands.

Maybe we'd be a little happier about the Obamajams if he stuck around. Met a few common folk.

As long as he stays out of the way, of course.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.