8 years later, long line remains defining Obama moment

There was a lot of sentimentality as I browsed social networks on Wednesday night during President Barack Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, which naturally allowed me to think about how I’ll remember the last eight years.

This post — published on the evening of June 3, 2008 — is the defining moment for me. It was the evening that Obama, then a candidate for president, spoke at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and people lined up to get in.

When I posted the link on Facebook last night, a Boston reporter friend pointed out what may be the most illustrative difference between 2008 and 2016: Notice the number of people talking to each other, and the near absence of smartphones.

For that reason and others, I’m not sure we’ll ever see anything like this in St. Paul again.

[First published June 3, 2008]

Just Get in Line

So you want to get into the Xcel Center to see Barack Obama? Fine. Just get in line.

Start at the Xcel Center, of course.

(Picture courtesy of Julie Sandberg)

Cross St. Peter and head east on 5th Street. Note that everyone seems in a decent mood. Nobody’s trying to cut in line. And lots of people are making money selling T-shirts and buttons.


Then, search for the end of the line by walking down 6th Street a couple of blocks toward the Landmark Center…


Cross Washington Street at Landmark Center…


Turn right on Market. Remember: No cutting in line.


Turn right on 5th to the front of Landmark Center. I’m sure the end of the line is here somewhere.


Turn right again, down Washington…


It’s the end of the line. But it’s not. Because there’s a graduation at the Ordway RiverCentre… the line ends here…..but forms again back up the street at Rice Park.


Go diagonally across Rice Park to Market & 4th Streets…


Keep going. Don’t stop to chat with the 10 or 11 people you know who you’ve seen in line so far. And don’t say, “what are you doing here?”


Head up Market St…


It’s the end of the line! Nope. It just takes a break at the intersection. It goes down 4th.


Go on down 4th. Keep moving: These people think you’re going to cut in…


Take a left on St. Peter, heading toward the St. Paul Hotel…


You’re starting to wonder whether you’re going to get in, aren’t you?


Organizers must’ve gotten their ideas from Disney World. You always think you’re at the end of the line, like here at 5th and Wabasha.


Nope. The line goes south on Wabasha, heading for the riverfront.


It crosses 4th Street…


… and ends at Wabasha and Kellogg…


…and begins across the street in front of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, home of the Texas delegation this summer for the Republican National Convention.


Down Kellogg. At this point if you’re down and confused, hug the one you’re with.


Turn north on Minnesota Street…


Turn back west…heading toward the Xcel again…. on 5th.


And almost a full block up the street, not quite 1 1/2 miles from where you started, you will find…. the end of the line.


Update 8:04 p.m. – I understand the line has zigzagged back toward Lowertown. Off to take more pictures.

They kept coming. The line snaked up 5th Street toward Cedar….


It crossed 5th down to Cedar, in front of the Pioneer Press headquarters.


You’re noting the diversity of the crowd, right? As it wound down Cedar, there were Somali women on cellphones walking with men in yarmulkes. A man showed his Vietnam draft card to a group of people, none of whom was over 30.

Continuing on. The line is moving. The line crosses 6th and Cedar…


“Do you think we’ll get in?” a woman asks me as she walks along the two-block stretch. “No,” I tell her. “There are about 50,000 people ahead of you.” She doesn’t look dejected. She marches on, still smiling.


Turn right on 7th, across from the News Cut World Headquarters. Darkness has fallen on St. Paul. And the end of the line is crossing Robert Street.


Meet the end of the line, and Adam Sinkowski of Minneapolis and Kevin Harrington of St. Paul. They are the last two people in line, and they still think they can get into the Xcel.


Here, then, is the route we’ve taken to the end of the line (thanks to Than Tibbetts).