PORTLAND — Nicole Perrine walked into the Portland Expo on Wednesday morning and walked out moments later holding what she’d waited more than 10 hours to get: two tickets to see President Obama speak today.

“I feel pretty good,” she said, wearing a big grin. “Now I can sleep.”

Perrine, who lives in Old Orchard Beach, was the first person to pick up tickets for Obama’s appearance at the Expo. She was at the head of a line that would eventually stretch about half a mile, down Park Avenue, around the Hadlock Field parking lot, up St. John Street and all the way to the end of Washburn Avenue.

They huddled in Wednesday’s cold mist, many holding umbrellas. Some sat on camp chairs, bundled in blankets. Others played backgammon or read books and magazines.

The doors opened at 11 a.m. By 12:20 p.m., the tickets were gone.

More than 2,000 were given out to people who waited in line, who were limited to two apiece. Small numbers of tickets also were given to the offices of Gov. John Baldacci and Maine’s Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud.

Perrine and her friend Dave Clifford showed up at 12:45 a.m. Perrine, a cashier at a drugstore, said it’s a moment in history she wants to experience. “You don’t have many chances to meet the president.”

Clifford said he planned to give his two tickets to the family of his friend Adam DeTroy. Clifford’s father died within the last year and DeTroy’s family helped him through the rough time.

Some members of the DeTroy family are big Obama fans, said Clifford, who wanted to show his appreciation for their friendship.

After Perrine and Clifford, the next person to show up was Carl Inkel of Portland, at 1 a.m.

Inkel said he had been driving past the Expo for about three hours, watching for a line to begin forming. He wanted to be at the head of the line, he said, because he wanted to be under the overhang in front of the Expo to stay out of the elements. That bit of shelter kept about 15 people relatively warm and dry.

Inkel considers himself political, and said he keeps up on the issues and actually shook President Bill Clinton’s hand when Clinton visited Portland. Inkel was looking forward to cheering on Obama.

“It took 100 years to get accomplished what Obama and Nancy Pelosi got done,” said Inkel, referring to health care reform. “I am just so proud of my president. That’s why I wanted to be here.”

Inkel and five others at the front of the line struck up a friendship, and talked about getting together for breakfast this morning before getting in line, again, to see the president speak.

Inkel and Ryan Grady of Brunswick, brothers Nicholas and Nate Palmer of Gray and cousins Stephanie Neales and Nicole Fernald of Westbrook jokingly called themselves “the breakfast club.”

More people started showing up about 4:30 a.m., Inkel said, then there was a steady stream after the 6 a.m. news showed the line that had formed.

9 a.m., the line was well down Park Avenue and just past Hadlock Field. Tony Grasruck was firmly in place outside the baseball stadium. He had arrived at 7 a.m., after waking up at 5:45 to get into town from his home in Raymond.

“I’m dedicated,” he said.

“This is like a pivotal point in our history. We’re going to transform from a country that could provide to a country that will provide.” Grasruck said.

the “official Sea Dogs” parking lot, Rachel Strauss of Waterford and Chloe Ray of West Paris, seniors at Oxford Hills High School, sat bundled and waiting for the line to move.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Strauss.

“And we love Obama, too,” said Ray.

Pingree showed up to chat with folks in the crowd, talk to the media and even mug with Slugger, the Sea Dogs mascot.

Many in the line thanked her for her support of the health care reform bill; some had questions about it.

The size of the crowd that showed up in relatively nasty weather showed the importance of Obama’s visit, said Pingree.

“It’s a big deal when a president comes to your community — no matter what party it is,” she said.

Obama has spoken about health care reform during visits to Portsmouth and Nashua, N.H., in the last year. White House spokeswoman Moira Mack said Wednesday that the president will speak today about small businesses and the effect the reform will have on them.

“Faced with skyrocketing premiums and high administrative costs, countless small-business owners throughout the country have been forced to choose between hiring new workers and offering health insurance coverage,” said Mack. “In Portland, the president will discuss how millions of small-business owners will see a significant decrease in the cost of insuring their employees as a result of the (new) reform he signed into law.”

For many who waited in line Wednesday, that message will likely resonate.

“I think Barack’s doing the best he can with what he’s got,” said Daryl Sherburne of Portland. “Slowly, things are moving in the right direction.”

Around 10 a.m., Sherburne and co-worker Rick Cash were heading to the end of the line. The two construction workers were waiting for the weather to dry up before they could work, so their boss sent them down to try to “score a few tickets.”

Looking at the long line in front of them, Sherburne was pretty realistic. “The odds are slim to none,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

[email protected]