The Xcel Energy Center seats around 18,000 when configured for hockey, and doesn't take 3 hours to reach full capacity like it did on this historic night. I drove by the main entrance under a light rain at around noon and observed that roughly 60 people were waiting in line. I returned some four hours later and walked over a mile from my parking spot, an unenforced meter, to the front of the Xcel. From there I followed the line several blocks until I finally reached the end around 4 pm. The doors were scheduled to open at 7 with the speech beginning at 8. For the next two and a half hours I stood in roughly the same position and watched a never ending flow of people walk past searching for the rear of the line. I would later find out just how long the line truly stretched.
When the line began to move at 6:30 progress was slow. The path snaked across streets and up and down sidewalks eventually converging on a fenced off area infront of the main entrances. The crowd was instructed by volunteers to empty their pockets of anything metal to expedite the security process. Upon clearing security the foyer was relatively empty with staff directing everybody to move to the right. There were no seats in this section and the vast majority of people migrated to the opposite side of the center where there were plenty of vacant seats. I was positioned at what would be center ice with a nice frontal view of the podium. At this point it was all about being patient. MSNBC was playing on the large jumbo screen up until the point where Kieth Olbermann announced that Obama was within 9 delegates of securing the nomination. For the next 2 hours people continued to file in as I sat in a news blackout. I had no way of figuring out what was happening in Montana, South Dakota or amongst the Super Delegates because they changed the programming and it was simply too loud to call anybody.
As the time passed I watched the campaign staff distribute American flags and "Change We Can Believe In" signs to those situated directly behind Obama within camera range. The staff led them in a few practice flag waves and called it good. At about 9 o'clock the seating capacity was reached and nearly every general admission seat was filled with the exception of those behind the press tower. At this juncture a staff member held up a hand written sign on what appeared to be a white board with the words "5 min to SPEECH." About 30 seconds later the 5 was replaced by a 2 and in another 30 seconds a professor from the U of MN arrived at the podium to set the stage for Barack Obama.
He walked out of the tunnel to what was described as "Loud Applause and Cheering" by the internal closed captioning on the jumbotron. His speech began. At this point I assume you watched it if you're reading this so I'll skip to the end. Upon conclusion he did a few waves to the crowd and scaled the stairs to do a victory lap around the inside of his podium area shaking hands and smiling. It took around 20 minutes for him to circle the infield and disappear back into the tunnel to a thunderous applause from those who still remained. At this point I left.
Throughout the entire event I probably took around 40 pictures which I'll selectively post in the morning. The final attendance for the event as estimated by the St. Paul Fire Marshall was 17,000 people inside the Xcel Energy Center leaving 15,000 outside to watch the event on the enormous monitor on the exterior of the buidling. The police blocked off what appeared to be a 1 or 2 mile radius around the building to accommodate those who did not make it inside the doors.
Witness to Obama's Historic Speech
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