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ELKHART -- They braved the chilly temperatures outside McCuen Gym to see him, some of them spending the night in the cold.
But you'd have had a hard time finding a long face on anyone from the contingent waiting early this morning at Concord High School to get in to see President Barack Obama.
"It's freezing, but it's worth it," said Angela Goins of Elkhart, a nursing student and one of the many waiting in the frosty temps before the McCuen doors opened. "It's history."
With three friends, Goins sat in a lawn chair while others buried themselves under sleeping bags and blankets to fend off the cold. Concord High students, readying for a day of classes, tip-toed around the group.
"I waited five hours for a ticket on Saturday," said Anna Davila, who was at the front of the line with three fellow Central High School students. "I'm not going to get crappy seats."
Indeed, she and her chums, who included Adrian Rocha, spent the night outside McCuen to assure themselves of prime seating, even facing off with the large group of law enforcement patrolling the school in the wee hours of the morning. Rocha had gone to the rear of the high school in search of a portable restroom when an Elkhart Sheriff's Department official pulled him aside.
"He just said steer clear of the back of the building," Rocha said.
In the end, he and his cohorts sought out facilities at a nearby supermarket -- in shifts, of course -- to secure their spot in line. And all in all, they said it was time well spent.
"We definitely need this," said Davila, contrasting Obama's stop here with the tough economic times that Elkhart County faces. "It's like a ray of sunshine, a ray of hope that something will happen."
'A LEARNING EXPERIENCE'
The line to get into McCuen started forming at 7 p.m. Sunday and by 6 a.m. today, it really started to grow. It extended south of the gym entrance about the length of a football field, then curved another football field length to the west within the Concord High School parking lot.
The lure for many was to hear what Obama had to say about the reeling economy, job losses and his proposed stimulus package.
"I worked four days last week and work four days this week," said Robert Palmer of Nappanee, who works for a recreational vehicle manufacturer and had been standing in line since around 4:30 a.m. Beyond that, though, "I have no clue."
George Burkley, a Goshen mortgage broker, cited continuing foreclosures and the need to help keep people in their homes.
"It's hard to look someone in the eye and say you can't help them when you should be able to," Burkley said.
But it wasn't all about politics.
Brittany Harris, sitting in line with Goins, called the event "something to tell our grandchildren" and Burkley, who attended with his two teenage children, called it a learning experience for the kids.
A MISSED EXAM
After all the ticketed people entered McCuen, authorities let in about 50 others who hadn't been able to get passes ahead of time. There were many others who couldn't get in.
A group of 50 to 75 people waited near an athletic field west of the high school, hoping only to catch a glimpse of Obama as he arrived and entered the school. The presidential motorcade showed up around noon at the school's rear entry point, including two long, black limousines bearing U.S. flags.
Two Indiana State Police vehicles kept the spectators at bay and President Obama apparently entered the school at a point not visible to the public.
The turn of events didn't please Carlos Delgado, an Indiana University South Bend student and Goshen resident. He hadn't been able to secure a ticket, but hoped at least to see Obama as he arrived, skipping a chemistry test to make it possible.
"I just missed my first chemistry exam for nothing," Delgado said.