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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 22, 2009

Obama's 'lost years' in Manhattan

By Beth J. Harpaz
AP Travel Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The 137th Street subway station in Harlem was a lobbying cause for Barack Obama back then. It's a stop on the tour.

RAY KUGLER | Associated Press

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Jeremiah Miller leads the $25 walking tour that includes Columbia University and the street where Obama lived.

BETH HARPAZ | Associated Press

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Jeremiah Miller calls the time Barack Obama spent in New York "the lost years," because that 1981 to 1985 period is not as well known as his roots in Hawaii or his recent years in Chicago. To fill in the gap, Miller offers a tour of Upper Manhattan called Obama's New York.

The two-hour walking tour includes stops at Columbia University, a Harlem subway station, and the street where the man who now sleeps in the White House once slept in an alley.

Obama completed his degree at Columbia University in 1983, having transferred as a junior from Occidental College in Los Angeles.

After college, he worked in Harlem for the New York Public Interest Research Group, a job that led to community organizing in Chicago.

Obama opens his memoir, "Dreams from My Father," with a scene in New York, the day he got the news that his Kenyan father was dead.

Miller reads aloud Obama's recollection of the phone call from a relative in Kenya:

" 'Can you hear me? I say, your father is dead.' ... That was all, the line cut off, and I sat down on the couch, smelling eggs burn in the kitchen, staring at cracks in the plaster, trying to measure my loss."

Miller reads another passage from the memoir while standing on 109th Street near Amsterdam Avenue, where, Obama wrote, "I spent my first night in Manhattan curled up in an alleyway." He was supposed to stay in an apartment at 142 W. 109th St., and eventually did move in, but no one was home when he arrived.

Miller then takes the tour up to the gates of the Columbia campus, at 116th Street and Broadway, passing places like Tom's Restaurant, at 112th Street and Broadway. (Tom's was also famously featured on the TV show "Seinfeld" and in Suzanne Vega's song "Tom's Diner.")

Miller ends the tour by hopping on the No. 1 train and heading uptown to City College in Harlem where Obama worked organizing students on issues like recycling.

Obama also lobbied to have the 137th Street subway station cleaned up.

But Obama says in his book that he'd "all but given up on organizing" when he got an offer for a training position as an organizer in Chicago. A week later, he left New York.

If you go... Obama's New York walking tour on Saturday afternoons in Upper Manhattan, 917-309-6956, www.obamasnewyork.com, Reservations required; $25 ($15 ages 12 and under).