How I Didn't See the President

Joe, Sheryl, Robert, and I failed to see President Clinton when he visited Champaign, 29 January 1998. Here's the story as I told it to friends by email, with pictures (and capital letters) now added for web enjoyment...

You may have heard The President was here in Champaign today. (Yes, of course I know you local people know it already. I had a ticket (Sheryl stood in the free ticket line last saturday). Robert, Joe, Sheryl, and I got in line at 8:10. The line was about 5 or 6 blocks long (winding back and forth around the big parking lot) and growing rapidly. From the time we spotted the end until the time we walked over to it, it had grown by about 75 yards. Within a minute or two it was a good hundred yards longer behind us. They were shoehorning 12,000 people into Assembly Hall through 3 doors due to having to set up security and metal detectors and such, but the line seemed to be moving quickly enough that it looked like we'd by in by the scheduled 10:40 start time.

If the enormous width of that 150ish-degree panoramic shot is too much for you or your monitor, here are smaller ones with total widths of 1500 pixels and 800 pixels.

They had given away some 3,000 (or 8,000 -- reports varied) [actually, according to an article I found online, it was more like 12,000] tickets more than they intended to let into Assembly Hall, and had set up an overflow area in IMPE (the campus rec center, about 2 blocks away). The President would be breezing through there to say a short hello after finishing the speech at Assembly Hall. But as the line grew behind us, it seemed clear that we would get in: there were so many people back there. Furthermore, as we got within a few hundred yards, it was looking very likely we'd be in by 10:40.

They closed the doors at 10:30, when we were 15 people away.

We waited around for about 20 more minutes (packed in like sardines by the crush of people who all rushed forward and started chanting and complaining when the doors were closed). When they shut the doors, they didn't even make any announcements to the crowd, so we waited mostly just to see if anyone would finally come out and tell us what was happening. Finally a policeman did, telling everyone to go to IMPE. So we halfheartedly wandered over there. The two-block long line there was the last straw. Joe and Sheryl headed home (back to the car) while Robert and I walked to our respective works.

Later, around 1 or 2 pm, when they were leaving town, Air Force One got some of its wheels stuck in the mud off the side of the runway at Willard Airport (our local airport). They had to fly in a substitute plane to carry Bill and company to his next destination (La Crosse, Wisconsin). As of the 6:00 news, Air Force One was still there (er, here), and they were flying in special equipment from O'Hare to help get it out. Interestingly, the White House spokescritters would not tell the local news people where the spare plane was flown in from.

P.S.: Lots of articles and photos here, if you're interested: In particular, this one sort of echoes my story: The eighth grade class mentioned in the article was right behind us in line.

Tom Magliery