HOUSTON - Sitting at a small table inside a southeast Houston donut shop, Ronald Smith looks at the television screen and smiles.
“It’s a historical moment,” he said. “Two terms. President Obama. Yeah.”
Behind the counter stand a couple of women who work at the shop, sometimes smiling and occasionally mouthing the words to songs echoing around the world from the steps of the nation’s capitol.
It’s a proud moment at Swirl, a little donut shop on Reed Road that opened in a historically black neighborhood just a few months before the Obama presidency began. A plaque hanging on the wall bears a picture of the president along with quotes from his eloquent election night speech.
And yet, something’s different this year. Unlike on Obama’s first inauguration day in 2009, the crowd that’s gathered inside the shop to watch the historic moment is small and subdued.
“I think that it’s not as much because this is his second go round, you know,” said Jo Jenkins, the shop’s owner.
It’s a dramatic change from four years earlier, when a loud and celebratory crowd formed to drink coffee, play music, chow down on sweet pastries and witness the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president.
Jenkins wanted to attend the inauguration in person, but she decided to throw a sort of party for her customers by serving up free donuts and coffee at a watch party.
“You just have to choke back the tears and just give all the smiles you can give because this is so amazing,” said Bertha Edwards on that day, remembering a time when her sister had to take an intelligence test before she was allowed to vote.
“I’ve seen a time when we couldn’t sit and talk to you,” Joanne Washington reminded a white reporter. “You understand what I’m trying to say.”
Anybody who didn’t understand needed only to listen to the lyrics of the improvised blues song Jimmy Dotson played on his guitar.
“Feels so good,” he sang. “Got me a new president.”
On the first day a black American was called “Mr. President,”
Dotson remembered some uglier names.
“Darkie, boy, the N-word,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, now we are ‘president.’ That’s what it means.”
Four years later, people watching Obama’s second inauguration at the little donut shop on Reed Road still speak about him with pride, but it’s tempered by the passing of the last four years.
Ask Valencia Harvey what she thinks as she fries eggs on the griddle and she will spew praise for the president.
“Me, myself?” she said. “Fantastic job. Fantastic. And now that he has a second term he can continue doing the wonderful job he has been doing.”
But others watching the inauguration are less effusive.
“I’m not overjoyed and I’m not disappointed,” said Tonja Butler. “I’m kind of in the middle.”
Butler figures many of the president’s most ardent supporters had such high expectations, they were bound to face disappointment.
“It’s going to take him a while to kind of fix everything that happened before him,” she said. “You know, it can’t be overnight.”
Now, four years into the Obama administration, some of the customers at Swirl have advice for the president.
“Just be a better president than what he was before,” Smith said. “Not saying (he’s been) bad, but you know, just be more firm at some of the other politicians up there.”