WILDWOOD - More than 24 hours ahead of when President Donald Trump was scheduled to take the stage at the Wildwoods Convention Center for a 7 p.m. rally Jan. 28, a significant line formed in the parking lot, and the excitement level was palpable.
Temperatures in the low 40s, creeping into the 30s overnight, didn’t stop hundreds, if not thousands, of people from lining up to guarantee themselves the chance to witness the first presidential visit to Cape May County since 1891.
First among them was Duke Reale, a butcher from Galloway, who arrived at 2 p.m. Jan 26, looking for the line. When he didn’t find one, he realized he would be first to enter the Convention Center.
“It’s the most exciting thing for this state ever,” Reale said. “It’s just phenomenal and we’re all energized. We’re looking for four more years.”
Reale waved an American flag while speaking to the Herald, and wore a button emblazoned with Trump driving the Wildwood tram car and the phrase, “Watch the Trump train, please,” pinned to his camouflage jacket.
As for the cold? “I don’t care,” Reale said. “I would stand in an ice storm to see this man. I support the president and I support America.”
Overall, the atmosphere was boisterous. Cars drove down Ocean Avenue constantly, several honking as people hung out the windows holding Trump flags. Pick-up trucks and motorcycles drove by with flags on poles attached to the back.
At the Oceanic Hotel, across the street from the Convention Center, Trump flags and banners hung from every balcony.
In the line, some chanted on bullhorns, others slept in tents and several visited some of the food trucks and vendors set up in the parking lot for the event.
Tracey Kulb, of Paulsboro, had a room in town with a friend, but traded it for a tent in line where she planned to spend the night, Jan. 27.
“This is the hotel room tonight. Yes, it is. We are in tent city right now, and I guess we are experiencing what most homeless people do, outside on a cold night, but it’s all good,” Kulb said. “We weren’t sure what the winds would be like, so, as a precaution, we brought a tent to deter some of the wind if we got hit with a bunch.”
Luckily for most, who did not have tents, the flags sat still for much of the frigid night.
On the boardwalk, several shops were open, and Morey’s Piers iconic Ferris wheel was lit in red, white and blue. The Wildwoods sign was illuminated like the American flag.
Back in line, camaraderie was omnipresent.
“Everybody is likeminded, everybody gets along, everybody is helping us,” said Mary Smail, part of a Catholics for Trump group, which was among the first 100 people in line. “We have to go to the bathroom and everyone is watching our stuff. Everyone is respectful of each other. People are giving their food away.”
Hand warmers were about as common as Make America Great Again hats, and everyone had a different idea to stay warm.
“I’ve got about five layers. I have toe warmers, hand warmers inside my gloves, hat, scarf, long underwear,” Smail said. “I haven’t had sleep since I don’t know. I’m so excited. I love this stuff.”
“Everybody is alive. Cold, but alive,” Kulb said. “Everybody has their moments. They’ll start cheering everybody on. Then it dies down for a little bit and picks right back up, but I think most people are saving their energy for tomorrow.”
Doug Herim, of East Windsor, said he’s been taking shifts with his brother in the car to warm up, and offered this reporter some hand warmers.
His offer was declined. He’d need them more.
The Convention Center doors were set to open at 3 p.m. Jan. 28.
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