The former president told Bruce Springsteen on this week's episode of their podcast about his first mainland trip from Hawaii

By Sean Neumann
March 09, 2021 09:34 AM
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barack Obama in hawaii as a child
From left: former President Barack Obama with his mother, Ann Dunham, in Hawaii in the '60s
| Credit: Courtesy The Obama Foundation

Barack Obama remembers thinking "you can do anything and be anybody" you want during his first trip to the mainland U.S. as a child.

The former president was raised in Hawaii for most of his childhood before moving to Los Angeles after high school, later finishing his studies at Columbia University in New York City and then Harvard University in Boston.

But when he was about 11 years old, Obama flew to the U.S. with his mother, grandmother and 2-year-old sister, Maya, for a road trip across the country.

Obama, now 59, recalls the trip on the latest episode of his new Renegades podcast with friend Bruce Springsteen.

"I remember looking out a Greyhound buses and looking out of trains and looking out of car windows," Obama tells the 71-year-old Springsteen. "Just miles of corn or miles of desert, or miles of forest, or miles of mountains."

Staring out of the bus window, Obama says, he was "just thinking, 'Man, imagine where you can go. You can go anywhere, and by implication, you can do anything and be anybody.' "

Bruce Springsteen shares a moment with President Barack Obama
Bruce Springsteen (left) and Barack Obama (right) in 2012
| Credit: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Obama says the family first flew to Seattle where his mother, Ann Dunham, had attended college for a year shortly after he was born.

From Seattle, they took a Greyhound bus to San Francisco and then to L.A., before taking a train to Arizona. After working their way down the West Coast, the future president and his family went to Kansas City then up to Chicago before renting a car and driving to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

"My mother didn't drive," Obama tells Springsteen, because she didn't have a license. So that meant a pre-teen Obama was tasked with riding shotgun and directing his grandma, Madelyn Dunham.

"My grandmother drove but she's starting to go a little blind," Obama says on the podcast with a laugh. "I remember being put in the front seat at around twilight so that I can direct my grandmother properly as we're hitting some of these turns in the road."

That's when Obama says he first saw the expansive landscapes of the continental U.S.

"For me, part of the essential aspect of being an American is getting out of where you are," he tells Springsteen in Monday's podcast episode, as they share stories with each other about traveling across the U.S. and how those trips inspired them throughout their lives.

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Barack Obama
Barack Obama when he was a student at Harvard University
| Credit: Steve Liss/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty

"You and I could jump in [my] Corvette and go to Route 66," Springsteen jokes with Obama. "Though, Michelle [Obama] and Patti [Springsteen] might kick our asses, right?"

"Yeah, I don't know how far we'd get," Obama responds.

He and Springsteen launched their Renegades podcast series on Spotify last month. The streaming service said they would share "personal" and "revealing" stories that reflected broader discussions about the country.

Renegades is "a personal, in-depth discussion between two friends exploring their pasts, their beliefs, and the country that they love—as it was, as it is, and as it ought to be going forward," Spotify said.