Some gather as early as 8 a.m. to get a glimpse of motorcade
Molly Smith sat in a parking lot across from Weaver Angus Farms on Friday afternoon in hopes of catching a glimpse of the man who shares her birthday.
"Maybe some old memories will come back," Smith, 15, of Dunlap said with a laugh, remembering that she sent a letter to President Bush in the summer of 2001, inviting him to a party for her eighth — his 55th — birthday on July 6.
"We even added a P.S. promising to clean our house," said Smith’s mother, Nanette. "He sent a letter back from his ranch telling her he was glad they have the same birthday … We were so excited. We could just tell he wrote it himself."
The Smiths, with about 50 other spectators, patiently waited in the parking lot of American Electronics Appliances & Furniture to see Bush’s motorcade leave about 1:30 p.m. from Weaver Angus Farms down War Memorial Drive.
Like the group that gathered earlier that morning for the president’s arrival, some of the eager crowd sat on the grass behind police tape, and a few brought lawn chairs and blankets. Lone sign-carrier Andrew Wise of Peoria even showed off a poster from Bush’s 2004 election.
"I’m here to show support for Bush and troops, who are giving their lives for our freedom," said Wise, toting his "Freedom Is Not Free" sign.
Though she’s a strong supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Sue Crowell of Peoria didn’t let her party affiliation stop her from welcoming Bush to town.
"It’s the president coming to Peoria," Crowell said. "I’m here to see the motorcade. I know we won’t see the president."
Like Crowell, Sarah Ackerman of Peoria doesn’t share the same views as the president, but she put aside her differences.
"It’s out of respect for the position," she said.
Earlier this week, Ackerman took several detours on War Memorial in order to see the preparations taking place for state Rep. Aaron Shock’s fundraiser. The Peoria Republican is running for Congress and Bush’s trip here was to help the campaign.
"I’ve been driving through here every day," she said. "I just love this stuff. Watching the progress, the detail. So much attention is put on his safety. Nothing is untouched."
Eight motorcycles carrying Peoria police and Illinois State Police troopers led the motorcade. When the president’s pair of limos passed, the crowd roared with excitement. Some frantically waved flags and their hands. Others clapped and shouted. A few even jumped up and down.
Unable to hear the crowd’s excitement, a smiling President Bush peered out the window and waved back from the second limousine in a line of police and government vehicles.
The motorcade first passed by at about 11:50 a.m., 15 minutes after Air Force One landed at the Illinois Air National Guard base in Bartonville. Police, in squad cars, Weaver Ridge golf carts and on foot, dotted War Memorial Drive from the Weaver property to Willow Knolls Road. Some were tucked in nearby Lynnhurst subdivision, while more were concentrated closer to the site of the luncheon.
A helicopter circled overhead in the gray morning sky, as police ordered drivers to continue at a normal speed past the gated event. A flashing orange construction sign warned nosy motorists not to stop in the roadway, though many stalled to sneak a peek.
The store’s parking lot was packed with cars and news media vans, leaving few spaces for actual customers. Perched on the roof of their grandmother’s car, Ryan Lally, 4, and Lexi Berkley, 9, of Peoria practiced waving their flags before the motorcade passed.
"I want the children to have an opportunity to see a world leader," said Maryann Berkley. "I want to make that real for them."
Vicki Yarbrough doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with the president, but she didn’t want her children, Jacob, 10, and Sarah, 6, to miss an opportunity to see the leader of the free world.
"It’s not every day you get to see the president," said Yarbrough of Peoria. "It’s kind of exciting. It’s big for our small town."
Erin Wood can be reached at (309) 686-3194 or email@example.com. Leslie Fark can be reached at (309) 686-3188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.