Just get in line

(Updated with additions to the route and a final map)

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).


  • Erin

    It would be great to see this line snake around a street map of St. Paul (like Yahoo or Google). Has anyone posted something like that already?

  • Rick

    How about some aerial photos too?

  • Harry

    That’s one mother of queues… ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Great suggestion, Erin.

    Rick, if we had a helicopter I’d call shotgun!

    Our Public Insight Journalism Analyst Molly Bloom is quoting people and describing the line, Harry. You can follow it on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/publicinsight



    Julia Schrenkler

    Interactive Producer, MPR

  • Mike

    Can you show a map as to where the line is zigzagging

  • Mike

    search Obama, St. Paul, MN on http://www.maps.google.com

    and you’ll see someones portrayal of the “obama Line” in downtown st. Paul

  • Bob Collins

    The reason I stayed on the ground rather than the obligatory aerial shot (not that that’s not cool, too) is that staying on the ground makes the story less about the big line, and more about the people IN the line. They have just delivered one of the most profound statements in the history of American politics. Look at their faces.

  • Mike2

    When we got in line at 7:30, the end was at 5th and Roberts, and quickly growing backwards. We made it to 5th and Wabasha at 8:45 before the police announced that the seats were full, and the line disbanded.

  • Kate Roche

    Thanks for posting this! I left work early tonight to be a part of the Obama rally. I arrived downtown at 6:15 and got in line. Boy, did I! I had no idea what was in store. I walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and walked. The line snaked throughout the entire downtown area and into Lowertown. I think the greatest thing about this experience was chatting with the people around me. Thousands of strangers walked together and it was moving to see such diversity! We all smiled and laughed and made jokes along the way. Most of us didn’t believe that we would eventually get in, but we stayed in line together to just be a part of it. I’m sorry to report that I got within 5 feet of the front door of the Xcel center when the doors finally closed. Heartbreaking! I stood in front of the Jumbotron screen on the corner of Kellogg and West 7th and watched Obama’s speech from there. The people left outside of the Xcel center (thousands of us!) cheered and clapped; happy to be there. I found myself in one of the photographs from this story and I’m thrilled to have some kind of record of my experience. Thanks again!

  • Bob Collins

    Thanks for writing Kate and Mike2. As I said elsewhere, the REAL story tonight WAS in line. People came knowing they weren’t going to get in but they lined up anyway.

    What also impressed me was the tone of the crowd. Very respectful, very well behaved, not only what you’d expect in a nearly two-mile-long line.

    It was certainly one of the most impressive political statements, I think, in the history of American politics and we’ve very, very unlikely again to see such a thing again.

  • Doug

    Thanks for the story and the map! I was able to start near 6th and 7th…but had no idea where the line ended up. Seeing the map was neat as I come home tired…but still energized by the page that was turned tonight! Thanks.

  • George Maurer

    My friend Nathan and I stood in line in front of the Ordway for over an hour before it started to move. LOng enough for me to have him save my place in line while I ran over to a local establishment to order a coupel burgers (and sit at the bar with a tasty Summit while I waited, and restaurant patrons murmured as they looked at the line out the window).

    We later shared leftover fries with folks in line (even offered a few to Mayor Chris Coleman as he came out to greet the crowd). Speaking of which, it was curious to see Sen. Dave Durenburger and other members of the other party wandering along the line, with bemused smiles on their faces. Out to see what the buzz was all about, I guess. Or in search of fries…

    A great great scene to have been a part of. Still wish they had set off the MN Wild fog horn…….

  • Mike2

    Here are some photos of those viewing the jumbotron after missing the cutoff…

    ..and here’s a video…

  • This is amazing. You’re right – look at all these people smiling to be in the longest line evar!

    Police said 20,000 people were watching outside.

    Bet that won’t happen at the REM concert.

  • betty tisel

    does anybody have photo/s showing the scene outside during the speech? i heard there was a screen and audio?

  • Mike2

    Hi Betty — there was a screen, but no audio — caption only. Although some people held up their handheld radios to help a little. Pics and video may be posted here soon…stay tuned…

  • NormH

    Awesome. MPR should have come up to Grand Forks to see Obama there. The Alerus Center hadn’t seen that kind of crowd since Cher visited in 2004.

  • @NormH, You can find MPR’s story on the Grand Forks event here: Clinton, Obama stir N.D. Democrats

    Than Tibbetts

    MPR, Online Production Assistant

  • I was in that mass at the beginning of the Rice Park portion. Fun times. I couldn’t believe it was barely 2/3 full when we finally got in. What a relief!

  • Jonathan

    I didn’t know you took my picture! That’s me, in the first picture, the guy in the pink shirt where the tree looks like it’s growing out of. I had to get there at 3:00. Standing for four hours to get in and three hours until I could sit down again in my car to drive home takes a toll. Oof.

  • Bob Collins

    I was actually taking a picture of the woman in front of you. (g)

  • Mary Lilja

    We arrived late, initially inspired by the lack of traffic approaching downtown St. Paul, but were totally blown away by the mass of humanity. We participated in the event by walking to the end of the line – a good 1 1/2 miles away from where we parked, standing in line for a little while, chatting with our line-mates, all of us thinking that we probably wouldn’t get in . . . and then deciding to walk the entire length of the line back. It was even longer than we first realized! After our extended hike around downtown St. Paul, we sat outside the center and people-watched, listening to the poetic and inspired comments of a man selling “Change is Coming” t-shirts, chatting with friendly police officers and other people. Finally, we decided to drive home and watched the speech on TV. I felt like we were part of history being made. The people in line were incredibly patient, excited, diverse and friendly. It made me proud to be a Minnesotan, and an Obama supporter, both!

  • Mike2

    For some reason my video link above didn’t work…here it is again:

    Stuck Outside video

  • Julie Sandburg

    I’m glad that MPR could find a use for my cell phone snap of the beginning of the line! I also have more taken by my “real” camera as well!

  • Eleanor

    Hi Kevin and Adam!! Hopefully next time!

  • Christopher Xaphakdy

    Bobby and I were waiting so patiently in the long line. We arrived at the Xcel Center around 6:00PM and we noticed the line which was already long but we had no complaint to find the end of the line because we really wanted to witness the history of this Democratic Presidential primary election. Fortunately we were able to get into Xcel at 9:15PM and Sen. Obama had already started his victory speech.

    What was so amazing about last night is that not many people actually complained about along line. There were so many people from all walks of life and from all racial ethics backgrounds- Asians, African and Latinos wanted to witness the history.

    What I can say about last night is that it was one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had like this. He will be a good president of the US and will be able to unify the country. I can say this because what I saw last night.

  • We were one of the last people in line, joining the queue at the intersection of 7th and Cedar. (Practically at the MPR building!) Despite knowing we’d NEVER get in, we still waited patiently, then walked to the corner of 7th and Kellogg to see Obama on the big screen. It was pretty powerful – see my blog for more pictures.

  • Jay

    My wife and I arrived at the corner of 6th and Washington late in the afternoon. We kept kicking ourselves for not getting there sooner, but it all turned out fine.

    We were so pumped to be there–literally one of the most exhilarating events I’ve ever been to! I knew the line was long, but I never would have guessed it snaked on the way that it did. I couldn’t be prouder of my hometown. ๐Ÿ™‚

    We were lucky enough to get inside an watch him from the upper deck (his 10 o’clock). We met up with a friend who brought his 8-year-old daughter. I have to say, I’m not sure who was more awestruck–her, or us!

    Thanks for the great coverage!

  • Judi

    While I agree with the comments about the nice crowd, the diversity, and the excitement, I actually think the line was longer than shown on the map. When we finally got to the end of the line, it was close to 5th and Robert.

  • Bob Collins

    Yes, I’m finding that to be the case, too. We’ll revise and replace.

  • Elizabeth Anna Hall

    Paul Vanderford and I were the two people at the end of the line with red jackets who followed the end of the line as it got longer, trying to make sure everyone stayed safe and nobody got run over!

    When I first found the end of the line it was at the corner of 4th and Cedar (I think the map above may be in error; from Minnesota Street the line took a left on 4th). There was only one way to go to keep the line from running back into itself, so I started directing folks down Cedar.

    Shortly thereafter I saw Paul, a former classmate of my sister’s who grew up not far from where I did in the Kingfield neighborbood of South Minneapolis. Together we led the end of the line for 4 blocks down Cedar, turned right on 7th and continued for two blocks, and then turned right again to go for 2.5 more blocks. The line “crested” at the busstop between 6th and 5th on Robert. Then… the line started to move forward.

    For about twenty minutes I directed traffic at the intersection of 6th and Robert: people found themselves crossing the street one way, finding the end of the line where Paul was waving his red jacket, and then just minutes later crossing the street again the other way as the line moved forward! It was a whirlpool of people, right in the middle of the intersection!

    It was almost exactly 8:00pm when Paul joined me back at the corner of 6th and Robert and pointed out to me that the line had receded and no one was left behind me! The endpoint of the line was receding, but a trickle of people continued to join the end of the line as it went.

    People were still enthusiastically joining the end of the line when, at about 8:50pm, it was back to where I first found it at 4th and Cedar. Paul and I waited at that corner, and made bets about how long it would take for the end of the line to unweave itself around the block. I won the bet: it was 8:57pm when we saw the end of the line recede past Cedar.

    A few minutes after nine, a squad car passed by with its bullhorn blaring: we heard the words “FULL” and “JUMBOTRON”, and then the line broke apart, many people turning around and walking east, away from the Xcel Center. A good number of folks (Paul and I among them) continued toward the Xcel, just to take in the experience. We ran into several people who recognized us as the “end-of-the-line patrol”. We talked briefly with two SPPD officers, both women, who had been directing traffic (officially, unlike Paul and myself!). They were beaming. “We made history,” one of them said, “we made history tonight.”

    In front of the Excel Center, Paul and I witnessed a brief period of people shrieking, trying to get into the doors of the center after they had been closed. Many people gathered around a TV station’s van, where the beginning of Barack Obama’s speech could be seen.

    The “jumbotron” at 7th and Kellogg started showing images from inside, along with closed-captioning, but the only audio we could hear of the speech was emanating faintly from the bar across the street. Later, I spoke with a vendor of t-shirts and pins: he shook his head in amazement as he said, “Thousands of people standing here watching… but you could’ve heard a pin drop.” The crowd read the captions in almost total silence, punctuated by cheers and applause. Laughter rippled through the crowd on the occasions when the (apparently automated) closed captioning garbled some words, and folks said “it’s supposed to be ‘prosperity!'” or, “Gettysburg!” when they figured it out.

  • Thank you, Elizabeth Anna Hall, for posting that great account of your time at the end of the line. I thought that it captured the spirit of the crowd and event very well–a strong sense of joy, generosity, self-discipline, and community. In fact, I cried a bit when I read your description. The spirit of the event is still very moving for me to think about. I felt that spirit not just in Obama’s speech, but in how those of us in the line interacted with each other. When I relate the energy of the crowd to Obama’s message about this being our country’s moment (to stop global warming, to end the war, to care for the sick), I am even more moved. It might be part of a scripted, slick campaign–but I believe it. With a sliver of the unity and power of the people at the event, we can make all those things happen. Yes, it takes much more than a community feeling to accomplish those things But they can’t be accomplished without that sense of common power and mutuality.