Standing at the back of the line, but never losing hopeby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
Barack Obama's rally in St. Paul last night drew tens of thousands of people to downtown St. Paul. As people piled into the Xcel Energy Center to catch a glimpse of the Democratic presidential candidate, the line out the door kept getting longer. At one point, it stretched for more than a mile and a half. For those at the end of the line, they never gave up hope.
St. Paul, Minn. — Latecomers to the Barack Obama rally were on a special quest. Some of them had already given up on seeing Obama. They just wanted to find the end of the line.
Finally, the voyagers arrived at 5th and Robert streets on the other side of downtown from the Xcel Energy Center.
Toby Cryns and Graham Arnholt, two friends from Minneapolis, arrived on the scene, shouting, "Yes! We did it!"
With more than 30,000 people ahead of them, they high-fived strangers, so stoked to have finally found their place.
"We've been walking for miles," Cryns said. "We're excited to be finally here, at the end of the line."
He was equally pumped about this night's place in history.
"This is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I called Graham and said, 'We gotta do this,'" Cryns said. "I think Barack Obama is the candidate that represents the most change since George Washington, or maybe Alexander Hamilton. How often do you get to be in a town where the guy's gonna win the nomination? It's gonna be a blast."
You would think the end of the line would be filled with grumpy-looking people complaining about the wait and constantly checking their watches.
Instead, people like Elizabeth Anna Hall of Minneapolis were stepping up to manage the crowds. Hall was directing traffic, reminding people to be careful while crossing the street.
But she wasn't wearing a police uniform, or even a neon crossing guard's vest. In fact, there was nothing official looking about her.
Hall doesn't work for the Democratic Party or the Obama campaign. She said she was just a realist who knew the odds were against her and stepped out of the line to help people cross the street safely.
And about a block away, another do-gooder took it upon himself to mark the end of the line. Paul Vanderford was smiling and waving his red jacket, as if it were a checkered flag.
"You are the last person right now, for about 30 seconds," Vanderford told newcomers to the line.
He says he gave up his spot in line after realizing no one knew where they were going.
People seemed genuinely glad to see him.
"Better to be at the end and see everyone happy to find the end, than be at the front and tell people they can't get in," said Vanderford, laughing.
People of all walks of life came out by the tens of thousands. There were Gen X-ers in ball caps and Somali women wearing the hijab, white-haired men in sweatshirts and families with baby strollers.
Don McNeil of Burnsville said he hasn't seen such an outpouring of people since 1987, when the Twins clinched the pennant. The Twins opened up the Metrodome and tens of thousands of fans showed up to welcome the team home from Detroit.
"When the entire state came to cheer for the team, you get the same feeling today from the crowd to see Obama," McNeil said.
For thousands of those people, there was no hope of getting in to see the author of "The Audacity of Hope." But some refused to give up hope.
Rashmi Bhattachan and Krishna Pathak, originally from Nepal, said this was the first political event they've ever attended. But a cop already warned them that they probably wouldn't gain entry to the Xcel.
"He didn't say, 'You have no chance.' But he kind of guessed we had a slim chance," Bhattachan said.
"It's like Obama," Krishna said. "They told him he had no chance. It's the same thing here."
Octavia Nero-Webber and her husband, Jordan Webber, joined the line at about 8 p.m., about an hour after doors opened at the Xcel.
The couple said they were optimistic about what Obama could do to improve the lives of African-Americans. They had just finished up work and put on their finest clothes to meet the man who they hope will be the nation's first black president. "She had a dream he was going to come here, probably about six months ago, and he's here," Jordan Webber said.
"Yeah, I had a dream about meeting him, and hopefully I'll meet him," his wife said. "I'm about one in over 20,000, but I still have hope. Obama, hear me out! Octavia Nero-Webber! I love you!"
The Webbers never got to see Obama. The doors closed by the time they reached the Xcel. The couple had to settle for watching Obama's speech air on the megatron outside.
But even under a night sky, they still felt like they were part of history.