The day of his meal with the President, Ohio firefighter and Dinner with Barack winner Jim got an early start:
"I was very nervous. I got up and actually went and took a little walk just to get rid of some of the energy I was feeling—it was a good energy, but I just couldn't sit still. So I wanted to get up and get moving, collect my thoughts and get myself together.
"We walked two blocks to the restaurant, and that was wild because we were in the busy streets of D.C. and there are people everywhere—and we had a couple video cameras following us, so everyone was starting to look like 'Who are these people and what are they doing?'"
After walking to the restaurant, says Jim, "There was a lot of excitement. I felt like we were in the middle of the universe. Think about it: You're in this restaurant, and you know nobody is coming in, you're not going anywhere, there's a lot of protection, and it's for one guy who's coming to have a meal with you. It's a wild feeling. Our nerves were still kicking in—but I kept telling everyone, 'It's a good nervous.' I wasn't so much worried about what I would say to him, because I've watched him over the last few months and I knew deep down inside he was going to be a normal guy. Then before we knew it, they were getting us in our seats so we were all seated and ready before he got there.
"You could tell that Janet, the woman sitting next to me, was particularly excited about meeting the President. So she was listening very carefully to everything that was going on in the other room. As soon as she heard his voice, she said, 'That's him! I hear him!' That's when I realized—this is going to happen. So all four of us are sitting there, we hear him, we know he's there, but we haven't seen him yet. It was just crazy. And the next thing I knew, he was coming around the corner to welcome us, and it was just like BOOM, we were on."
Once everyone sat down to lunch, Jim says, he was ready with a question for the President:
"I had wanted to ask him about being a father, and as soon as we sat down, he started talking about Father's Day. So I turned to him and said, 'Since we're both fathers, one of my questions is how do you find time? I have two boys about the same age as your girls, and I know how demanding that can be with my job—I can't imagine how you balance it with yours.' He told us that he's lucky enough to live 'above the store,' so at any time, he can be home in a minute. He and Michelle have religiously set aside an hour and a half each day for dinner whenever he's in town—that's their thing that they do.
"But then, he caught me off guard because he started asking me about being a firefighter! I wanted to know so much about him, but he was such a normal guy who just wanted to have a conversation. He turned to me and said, 'You're a firefighter, right? How long have you known you wanted to do that?' I told him I have a picture of me as a little boy wanting to be a firefighter, and he said 'Oh, so you're one of those guys!' He wanted to know all kinds of things, like how many fires I go into, how many guys do we have at your station, and I thought 'Here's the President of the United States, and he's asking me about my job—this is just so cool.' He really wanted to know!
"Thankfully, he was exactly the way I imagined he would be. Like I said, I've been watching him, and he just seems so normal, and that's exactly what he was. I wish I could have sat there for four hours and talked to him—he was just a good guy, normal. You'd never guess you were sitting there with the President."
Jim has one simple piece of advice when it comes to entering Dinner with Barack:
"Just do it! I'm still getting those emails, and you know what? It still excites me to read about it, I still want to do it! Do you think I'd get picked again?"
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