President Obama and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist walk along Casino Beach on Pensacola Beach, Fla., Tuesday while visiting the region affected by BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
President Obama and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist walk along Casino Beach on Pensacola Beach, Fla., Tuesday while visiting the region affected by BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Charles Dharapak/AP
Hours before President Obama delivered his prime-time speech, he took a walk on the beach in Pensacola, Fla., where tar balls have washed ashore. Some locals gathered at a restaurant on that same beach Tuesday night to watch the president's Oval Office address.
The oyster bar at Peg Leg Pete's was packed. It doesn't usually show politics on the television screens, but on this night, an exception was made.
"We pray for the people of the Gulf," Obama said in his address. "And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm toward a brighter day."
Prayer is big in the Florida panhandle, but so is action.
Allen Austin, who lives along the beach, said he would like to see more of the latter.
"I heard plans about putting together a recovery plan for the next 10 years to help us rebuild, but it's very surreal because they're talking about a recovery plan for something that hasn't happened yet," he said. "Nothing's being done proactively and aggressively to prevent these tens of millions of gallons of oil that are just right off our coast."
"I'm a big Obama fan, which is not very common in this area," said Austin's wife, Angie. "But even I am disappointed by the length of time it's taken to sort of get organized."
People who are not Obama fans, like Bob Sprouse, seemed to be more forgiving. He called the speech a political response to a technical problem.
"They need to stop the flow of the oil, and then they need to clean up what they have," Sprouse says. "The president has taken a hit. I'm not a big fan, but on the other hand, it's not his fault. It wasn't George Bush's fault with [Hurricane] Katrina, and it's not his fault what's going on here."
In Pensacola, people think and talk about the spill constantly. So perhaps it's not surprising that a 17-minute speech by the president failed to dramatically change peoples' minds.
Still, a few small moments did stand out. One woman was happy to hear people named to take over specific parts of the operation.
And Sarah Guile said she liked most of the speech with the exception of one line.
Kelly Ray of Gulf Breeze, Fla., reads on Pensacola Beach on Saturday, with a pile of oil boom behind her. The boom was used to close Pensacola Pass as sheets of oil from the BP spill neared the shoreline.
Kelly Ray of Gulf Breeze, Fla., reads on Pensacola Beach on Saturday, with a pile of oil boom behind her. The boom was used to close Pensacola Pass as sheets of oil from the BP spill neared the shoreline. Michael Spooneybarger/AP
"He said, 'If you're down there and you see things are wrong, let us know, we'll fix them.' Being down here, I'd rather him say, 'If you see things are wrong, fix them and let us know.' I think instead of us having to get permission from the federal government or from BP, we should be making decisions and reporting back to BP and the federal government."
The biggest news in the speech may have been the announcement of a new fund. BP will give money to an independent third party, which will distribute cash to people who lost income because of the spill.
"I don't know that I believe that we should take the funding away from them [BP]," Karen Hayden said. "I think it's their responsibility, and to throw somebody else into the mix, I don't know that that's a good choice."
There are fears that a third party will just add another layer of bureaucracy.
One of the people whose livelihood is affected by the spill was behind the bar at Peg Leg Pete's. For five years, Mark Griffith has worn a chain-mail glove on his left hand and a knife in his right hand. He is an oyster shucker, and he still eats his own share of his harvest raw every day. The latest were from Louisiana.
Griffith said he is afraid that soon he won't be able to get any Gulf oysters.
Asked how he feels about that, Griffith responded, "I can sum it up in one word, but I can't say it on the radio."