DENVER - Shortly after arriving in Denver Tuesday evening, President Barack Obama sat down for dinner in the LoDo area, and then surprised even his own staff when he took an unplanned stroll down 15th Street, stopping to shake hands and chat with local residents.
Obama kicked off the evening at the Wazee Supper Club, where he dined with five people who wrote him letters about their personal stories on issues including raising the minimum wage, college affordability, and the Affordable Care Act.
The conversations at the Wazee Supper Club were were intended to reinforce a speech Obama is expected to deliver Wednesday in Cheesman Park, about the need to "expand opportunities for the middle class," said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, in an interview with The Denver Post.
After dinner, the president walked outside onto 15th Street and shook hands with a large crowd outside the Squeeky Bean. While there he was also greeted by a man in a horse head mask.
Obama reacts as he is greeted by a man wearing a horse-head as he walked the streets of downtown Denver. pic.twitter.com/QNqnXKzwzm
The president won the pool game against the governor, according to reports.
Obama also shared a personal moment as he was meeting with the crowd at the Wynkoop. Kalynne May Arrick from Tyler, Texas, told him her brother, Sgt. Kenneth May, had died in Afghanistan four years ago and he hugged and thanked her for her sacrifice. He then handed her a Challenge Coin and told her "this is for your brother."
Sgt. Kenneth B. May Jr., 26, died in 2010 after an IED exploded while he was on a dismounted patrol in Helmand province, according to the Military Times.
Handing out Challenge Coins during a handshake is a longstanding tradition the president and vice president engage in with members of the military, their families, select dignitaries and other people that have supported the U.S.
Obama is scheduled to speak at Cheesman Park on Wednesday morning. Denver police said road closures will be in effect near Cheesman Park from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Bicycle and running paths at the park will also be closed.
The White House said the Coloradans who dined with the president Tuesday include:
Alex Dooley, who sent the president a note to thank him for calling on businesses to raise the minimum wage.
Elizabeth Cooper, a junior at the University of Northern Colorado, who wrote to the president about college affordability and how she was struggling to pay for school.
Carolyn Reed and David Johnson, who wrote to the president about how she was able to expand her small business and open a third Silver Mine Subs shop in Denver thanks to an SBA loan.
Leslie Gresham, a teacher of 26 years, wrote to the president about the importance of early childhood education.