Lodi experienced a different kind of crush Thursday afternoon as townsfolk jammed the platform of the Amtrak station in knots tighter than cabernet clusters to get a peek at Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush.
What began in the morning as a few hundred curiosity seekers swelled to a crowd of more than 10,000 by late afternoon when Bush's train finally rolled in.
Though a speech by Bush and comments by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were highlights, the afternoon was a spectacle, with music, hundreds of balloons, banners, bunting and the big, sleek "Surfliner" Amtrak train that brought Bush into town.
An eager gaggle of onlookers gathered in the shade of the venerable old Henderson Bros. Hardware building which sits directly opposite the station on South Sacramento Street at the west side of the tracks.
Longtime Henderson Bros. employee Jack Branstetter, 68, sold miniature American flags to patriotic passers-by for $1.93 apiece, in a scene which could have come from the pages of a Norman Rockwell sketch book.
"I'm just impressed that he chose to stop here," said Branstetter, who has lived in Lodi since 1955 and can't remember a presidential candidate ever stopping here before. (In fact, Robert F. Kennedy stopped in Lodi in 1968.)
Across the street, in front of the station, the 12-member Tokay High Color Guard practiced an impromptu routine to welcome Bush, as band teacher Kim Malato put them through their paces. "We didn't hear about this until the last minute," Malato said. The students were given the afternoon off to appear at the event.
Tokay's percussion group was also there in force, decked out in white tunics and pith helmets.
There was also an appearance by the Lodi High Jazz Band which kept the sweltering crowd amused during the course of the busy, hot afternoon.
And what could be more American than the Boy Scouts?
Bush headquarters made sure plenty were on hand to greet the train. Scout Leader Peter Knight said the Bush people had phoned in the request Monday and he turned up with about 15 Boy Scouts from Lodi's Troop 291.
Cub Scout Pack 28 of Galt was also on hand in anticipation of Bush's arrival.
Pack 28 member Phillip Gleason, 9, said he made the trip "because it would be cool to see him (Bush) live and in person." If Gleason could ask Bush just one question, what would it be? "Why did you run for president?"
A throng of devoted Republican supporters showed up, willing to wait hours in the heat to get a glimpse of their party's nominee. Elk Grove's Mary Fujimoto, 63, took a vacation day from her job with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department to see Bush.
"I like Bush because he's honest," Fujimoto said. "He just reeks of honesty to me."
In many ways, the crowd on hand to meet Bush was what one would anticipate for a Republican gathering - mostly white and over 40 - but there were a few twists.
There was a noticeable Hispanic contingent present, and more than a few young people. Kimberly Glisan came along with Fujimoto, her grandmother, because of what she said was a new interest in politics for her.
Sporting body piercings - including a nose ring - Glisan may not look like your average Republican.
"But neither do a lot of us here," Glisan said. "It's a new party in some ways, I guess."
Lodi's Brad Jones was there to distribute fliers on veteran's rights.
A representative of the California Employment Development Department's Veteran's Employment Program, Jones said he is impressed with Bush's stand on veteran's rights.
"To be honest with you," said Jones, a Democrat, "I'm willing to listen to anyone who wants to talk about veteran's affairs - and Bush's positions are as good as anyone's I've heard yet."
Others in the crowd said they favor Bush for his stands on hot-button issues like abortion and gun control.
Such was the case with Robert and Jennie Wadkins, who made the drive into town from Isleton to show their support for the Republican candidate.
"I think he's going to be fine on those issues," Jennie Wadkins said.
Don Cook, 44, a Lodi engineer, was in front of the station for the better part of the afternoon, wielding pro-Bush signs. He appeared to be preaching to the choir.
"Well, No. 1, I like his morals," said Cook, who claims to represent a sizable faction of voters fed up with the character issues which have plagued the Clinton White House. "I'm also very afraid of losing my Second Amendment rights if the liberals stay in office."
One late convert to the Republican Party turned out to be one of the most zealous.
Sacramentan William Bodder, 81, said Bush's stand on national defense is what he admires most about the candidate.
Bodder said he was a lifelong Democrat - until Clinton came along, that is.
A veteran of World War II, Bodder said a weak military is an invitation to foreign aggression.
"They've let our military just go to hell. He's been an embarrassment to this country and I'm glad to see him go. I'll never vote Democrat again."
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