Souvenirs, security and saccharine for Obama

BLACK HAWK helicopters whomp overhead. The doughnut-per-capita ratio has spiked. And baristas everywhere are dusting off their drip coffee pots. The Americans are coming. To the city they call Can-bear-ah.

Presaging the arrival of the US President, Barack Obama, in Air Force One at 15.25 hours today, will be the arrival of the American media contingent, a corps of 100 expected to touch down about 2pm.

They will be flown in on a White House-chartered aircraft and ferried to the National Press Club, a stone's throw from Parliament House in leafy Barton.

The club, an unprepossessing concrete bunker that proves everything they say about Canberra architecture is true, has been transformed into a first-class 24-hour communications centre for the Americans. Yesterday a team of technicians and chefs worked to fit it with satellite dishes, internet connectivity and an enormous supply of doughnuts - ''brain food for American journalists'', according to the club chief executive, Maurice Reilly.

Specially fitted wall-clocks showed the time in both Canberra and Washington, CNN news was streamed live onto giant wall-screens, and the toilets had been transformed into ''Washrooms'', according to the signs.

Stipulations in the contract between the American Press Association and the White House mean the journalists who travel abroad with their president are pampered to a degree envied by other press corps.

Their meals are taken care of, their accommodation arranged, and they are transported courtesy of the US taxpayer.

About 20 White House media liaison staff will guide the journalists through the process, and the Press Club even has a speaking podium set up for briefings by Mr Obama's press team.

It looks just like the one from The West Wing.

''It's a well-oiled machine, with planning par excellence,'' Mr Reilly said. ''They are being looked after star class. We certainly don't do anything like this for our journalists.''

Two advance teams were sent to the Press Club to make arrangements.

The US television pool will be run by the NBC network, which is sending its renowned White House correspondent Chuck Todd.

Inside Parliament House, American accents are heard around the halls. Staff are playing ''spot the Secret Service agent'' and the gift shop is seeking to capitalise on Obamarama with a pop-up stand selling American flags and copies of the President's two books.

Yesterday the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said she was sure Australians would give Mr Obama a very warm welcome.

But the sad truth is that few of us will even glimpse him.

Parliament House will be in virtual lockdown once he arrives, so if any member of the public does see him, it will be as he is but passing by.

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