CHICAGO — Alone on his 49th birthday, President Barack Obama fled the empty White House mansion and headed for a more intimate celebration with longtime friends in his Chicago hometown.
Obama has been living a bachelor's life for the past several days with first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha visiting Spain and daughter Malia spending the month away at an undisclosed camp.
Before leaving Washington on Wednesday afternoon with the family dog, Bo, Obama got a couple of presents he didn't have to unwrap and which the White House described as being the highlight of his day: telephone calls from the women in his life.
Mrs. Obama and Sasha phoned in their happy birthday wishes, followed by a lunchtime call from Malia.
"Needless to say ... both those calls were the highlights of his day," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters who traveled with Obama aboard Air Force One.
Obama's Secret Service detail got him a present, though Gibbs would describe it only as "heartfelt."
As the presidential motorcade pulled closer to his house in Hyde Park, neighbors lined the street to welcome him home with waves and signs, including "Happy 49th Birthday President Barack Obama" and "Happy Birthday Mr. President."
Obama's birthday – though a year short of the milestone 5-0 – also was viewed in this election year as a prime fundraising opportunity for Democrats, who fear losing their hold on both houses of Congress come November. E-mails, house parties and other forms of outreach sought to capitalize on Obama's big day.
Mrs. Obama even joined the act, asking supporters to sign an e-mail birthday card being distributed by Organizing for America, Obama's political organization. More than 1.2 million people had signed it as of Wednesday morning.
The Republican Party marked the occasion with a new website offering 11 different e-cards people can send Obama, including ones mocking the ethics problems of Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California, and noting key Democratic election losses in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Obama planned to help out with the money-raising on Thursday by headlining separate events in Chicago for the Democratic Party and Alexi Giannoulias, the Democrat eyeing the Senate seat Obama gave up to become president.
The president spoke earlier Wednesday at an AFL-CIO meeting in Washington and joked about not getting a birthday cake from his "good friends" in the labor movement. A cake apparently had been planned, according to union president Richard Trumka, but he said the Secret Service had nixed the idea.
Obama said he'd have a talk with the agents then joked, "They're probably eating it right now."