Pensacolans Call For Action After Obama's Speech 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. Most said they're disappointed in the length of time it's taken to get the oil spill under control.
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Pensacolans Call For Action After Speech

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Pensacolans Call For Action After Speech

Pensacolans Call For Action After Speech

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Hours before President Obama delivered his speech, he was walking on a Florida beach where tar balls have washed ashore. NPR's Ari Shapiro watched the president's address from a restaurant on that same beach.

ARI SHAPIRO: On the wall of this restaurant, there is an article from the Pensacola News Journal from 1991 with the headline: "Pair Buys and Reopens Favorite Restaurant." Now, almost 20 years later, Peg Leg Pete's is still here on the water, still a favorite hang out for locals. The oyster bar is packed, and it doesn't usually show politics on the television screens, but on this night, they're making an exception.

President BARACK OBAMA: Tonight, we pray for that courage. We pray for the people of the Gulf, and we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Prayer is big in the Florida panhandle, but so is action. And Allen Austin, who lives here on the beach, would like to see more of the latter.

Mr. ALLEN AUSTIN: You know, I heard plans about putting together a recovery plan over 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. And nothing's being done proactively and aggressively to prevent these tens of millions of gallons of oil that are just right off our coast.

SHAPIRO: Well, he was talking about thousands of people deployed to the coast. Are you saying you just haven't seen enough of them? You don't know that they're going to be here?

Mr. AUSTIN: I don't know where they are or what they're doing.

SHAPIRO: His wife Angie agrees.

Ms. ANGIE AUSTIN: I'm a big Obama fan, which is not very common in this area. But even I have been a little bit disappointed by the length of time it's taken to sort of get organized.

SHAPIRO: There was a strange reversal along the oyster bar at Peg Leg Pete's. Of the 20 or so people I spoke with, those who loved President Obama were more critical. People who are not Obama fans, like Bob Sprouse, were more forgiving. Sprouse called the speech a political response to a technical problem.

Mr. BOB SPROUSE: They need to stop the flow of the oil, and then they need to clean up what they have. 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 Katrina, and it's not his fault what's going on here.

SHAPIRO: 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 see specific people named to take over specific parts of the operation.

Another woman, Sarah Guile, said she liked most of the speech, with the exception of one line

Ms. SARAH GUILE: He said: If you're down there and you see things are wrong, let us know. We'll fix them. Well, being down here, I would rather him say: If you see things are wrong, fix them and let us know. You know, I think instead of us having to get permission from the federal government or from BP, we should be making decisions and just kind of reporting back to BP and the federal government.

SHAPIRO: 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 the cash to people who lost income because of the spill. That proposal made Karen Hayden uncomfortable.

Ms. KAREN KAYDEN: I don't know that I believe that we should take the funding away from them. I think it's their responsibility. And to throw somebody else into the mix, I don't know that that's a good choice.

SHAPIRO: Why? Because it will just add another layer of bureaucracy?

Ms. HAYDEN: Yes. I think it'll become more of an issue for the people who are looking for this funding to survive.

SHAPIRO: The person whose livelihood may depend most on the spill was the man 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 the harvest raw every day. Last night, they were from Louisiana.

SHAPIRO: I'm just wondering if you're afraid that you may not be able to get Louisiana oysters at some point soon.

Mr. MARK GRIFFITH: I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to get oysters period.

SHAPIRO: What would that mean for you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFITH: I could sum it up in one word, but I can't say it on the radio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Pensacola, Florida.

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