At Diner, Regulars Grade Obama's Handling Of Spill

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Buddy Carver i

Retired electrician Buddy Carver, a regular at Dot's Diner, says President Obama is "trying to do the best he can" during this "once in a lifetime" disaster -- the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Don Gonyea/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Don Gonyea/NPR
Buddy Carver

Retired electrician Buddy Carver, a regular at Dot's Diner, says President Obama is "trying to do the best he can" during this "once in a lifetime" disaster -- the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Don Gonyea/NPR

No one was watching President Obama's news conference on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill more closely than the people who live along the coast. At Dot's Diner in Metairie, La., just outside New Orleans, where the lunchtime crowd watched Obama speak on television, reviews of his response were mixed.

"He's trying to do the best he can under the conditions. I mean, who the hell could do better?" said 78-year-old Buddy Carver, a retired electrician who is a regular at the diner. "This is something that happens once in a lifetime. It ain't Obama's fault."

Obama headed to the Gulf Coast on Friday to be briefed on the oil spill response efforts. It's his second trip there since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig untapped the gusher on the seafloor.

During Thursday's televised speech, the president's image looked down on Dot's Diner from a small flat-screen TV mounted high in the corner by the door. The TV was the most modern thing in the diner. Everything else has been there a while: the stainless steel countertop and the old swivel stools.

August Wallace, a 47-year-old airport bus driver, stood listening to Obama as he waited for his carry-out order. Wallace said he's a huge supporter of Obama and was very proud to vote for him. But on the response to the oil spill, Wallace said he has not seen nearly enough urgency from the White House or activity on the part of the president.

"What was the delay on his part? I guess he didn't see the magnitude of the problem," Wallace said. "Now he sees it, but like the federal government, always a day late."

Wallace has lived in and around New Orleans his entire life. He calls the long-range impact of the spill a second Hurricane Katrina. He says it's especially disappointing that given New Orleans' recent history, the president did not react aggressively enough when the oil spill first happened.

Dot's Diner in Metairie, La. i

Dot's Diner in Metairie, La., just outside of New Orleans. Don Gonyea/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Don Gonyea/NPR
Dot's Diner in Metairie, La.

Dot's Diner in Metairie, La., just outside of New Orleans.

Don Gonyea/NPR

"It's a slow response. I mean he's got a lot of things going on at one time," he said. "I just wish he'd have learned from the slow response of Katrina."

At a table by the window, 76-year-old Jane Fleishman also watched the president on TV, and she, too, was frustrated with how the administration has handled the response to the spill. Although she said she does not agree with those who call this disaster Obama's Katrina, she did point to one similarity she sees. New Orleans flooded after the hurricane because the federal government hadn't addressed problems with the levees, she said. As for the BP oil spill, she said, the government has failed to provide proper oversight and tougher rules.

"It's a dreadful situation, but I just think there needs to be more control over the oil companies," Fleishman said. "Instead of this dig, baby, dig or drill, baby, drill, they've got to put more restrictions on them."

Fleishman says she is pleased that the moratorium on new permits for deep-water drilling will continue for six months. She said she's glad Obama is visiting Friday to see the environmental damage firsthand.

But after the news conference had concluded and the TVs at Dot's Diner had returned to their usual talk shows and entertainment news, nobody at the diner seemed to think news from the Gulf would get better anytime soon.

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