The signature house burger at the Lincoln Restaurant — just a stone’s throw from the White House — runs about $16, before tax and tip.
But for Gilbert resident Wyndi Austin, a recent lunch at the swanky Washington, D.C. eatery cost her just $5, and it was the company she kept on June 15 that made it worth every penny and more.
Although it turned out to be mid-day, “Dinner with Barack” — yes, that Barack — was how the contest was dubbed.
And all it took was a small $5 donation to President Obama’s re-election campaign at his website, obamaforamerica.com, for Austin to be entered — and win — this lunch of a lifetime.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Austin said of getting the call a few months back — noting that she found out the same weekend as the $600 million-plus Mega Millions jackpot. “I felt like I already won the lottery.”
Austin was one of four national winners flown to Washington to not only meet the president, but to get to share some quality time with the man, talking family and business, food and just a tiny bit of politics, too — all over a bite at one of D.C.’s top-rated restaurants.
“In some ways it went by, as you could imagine, very fast,” Austin noted of the hour or so where she broke bread with the proverbial leader of the free world. “But it was perfect, it really was.”
Growing up in Wyoming, Austin admits that she comes from a fairly committed Republican family. She also notes that 2008 was the first presidential election she actually voted in — and, yes, she did break ranks with her kin by supporting the would-be president at the polls.
“I’m not a hugely, politically-passionate person, per se,” she said. “But as you get older, and with kids and how they start talking about politics in school, I think it’s kind of stupid to not become involved and exercise your voice.”
But for Austin — and she’s confident enough to speak for Obama, too, on this one — this day in particular wasn’t about political affiliations or partisan banter.
“We got to see him as a real person,” she said. “My daughter, she’s 10, and she’s interested on a certain level about his daughters. He started talking about Michelle, and he started talking about his girls and sharing stories. He really brought us into the conversation.”
Austin shared how Obama explained that because of his travel schedule, the fact that his office — the Oval Office, that is — is just a minute and a half from where he sleeps allows for the family to have some semblance of normalcy at the dinner table.
“They make a point to eat at 6:30 every night,” she said. “And then he said, ‘to be honest with you, the age my daughters are, that’s about all they can handle of me. They have other stuff going on, and could really care less about what I’m doing.’ So we joked about what we had in common with our kids like that.”
Obama also told the group about his trip this weekend back to his home in Chicago to attend a wedding, adding some presidential hijinks to the story.
“He said the problem with going home is there’s always things to do in the house. We didn’t know what he meant,” she said. “He then said that if you get in the shower and the nozzle is spraying off in a different direction, ‘Who’s going to fix that? I have to.’ He said at the White House there are plenty of people to fix those things.”
But apparently not at home in Chicago.
“He’s got his list of honey-dos,” she added.
Austin didn’t know until just before the meal that she’d have the coveted seat adjacent to the president, and at one point, he peered over her menu so they could compare notes on what to order. While Austin chose the asparagus-wrapped salmon, it was Obama who went after the aforementioned Lincoln Burger.
Austin admits that while it’s hard not to be a bit star-struck, she keeps the event in perspective. That was helped, she said, by the honest conversation about life, and in her case, work, too. She said they talked about the real estate market — something she deals with daily as the director of marketing for the Southeast Valley Regional Association of Realtors, located in Mesa.
“It was a great conversation,” she said, “something I’ll never forget.”
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