ST. PETERSBURG — A customer walks into the store. There are bars on the windows and a symbol of hope above the door.
Where are the chips for 35 cents?
"Right over there, brother," says Mike Mahmoud.
It's Barack Obama's 100th day as president of an economically depressed country. It's Mahmoud's 169th day as president of Obama Express Food Market, a mini mart in an economically depressed area of St. Petersburg.
Mahmoud had been planning to change his store's name. He finally did on Nov. 13 when Obama left his U.S. Senate seat to focus on leading the Free World.
The name Food Max just didn't seem right anymore.
"We like to see change in the world," says Mahmoud.
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Can I get one of those 99-cent papers?
Mahmoud grabs a pack of rolling papers out of a fishbowl.
No, I meant the newspaper. I don't smoke that stuff!
He chuckles and hands the woman a mug shot tabloid.
At 58, he's jovial with a full belly and deeply furrowed face. He's a veteran of the mini mart business. He immigrated to America in 1976 from Palestine, where he farmed lentils, wheat, olives and sheep. He yearned for more money, freedom, opportunity.
He moved to Michigan, then Florida, had seven children, labored to ensure his wife never had to work outside the home a day.
Now, along with the jumbo Mother's Day cards, ginseng shots and pork rinds, he sells Obama key chains and posters.
• • •
Can I get a burger?
Before he spends eight hours standing behind the register, Mahmoud catches the news on CNN and Al-Jazeera from the satellite dish at his Tampa home. He finds most politicians crooked, but liked Bill Clinton. At first, he thought Obama was just all right.
He grew more enamored. "I'm not in love with him personally. I'm in love with his comments, with his policies toward the public."
He was seething with anger at the end of the Bush years.
"I feel so bad that the previous administration created so much hate abroad. They violated the principles of the United States. When they tap your phone and you're trying to talk to your fiancee or your wife or your love. …"
His eyes clench. "We were targeted. I don't want to talk about it."
• • •
I'm at Obama Express. I came to get me some cigarettes!
The woman bellows into her cell phone and digs in her purse.
Customers don't care about the name. They took the free Obama shirts Mahmoud gave out during the campaign. Some even let him drive them to the polls.
As for his first 100 days? So far, so good, he thinks. The foreign policy needs work, but it's going to take time.
"Nothing can be fixed overnight. People have got to be patient." The cell phone woman dumps handfuls of pennies on the counter in exchange for a pack of Newport 100s.
He slides them into the till one at a time.