Culture / Newsy

Inside Donald Trump’s Houston Rally Frenzy — Massive Crowds Line Up, Camp Out Overnight to See President: With “Only” 18,000 Seats, Many Will Be Left Out — Scenes From the Line

BY // 10.22.18

It’s an unseasonably cold day for Houston in October. People are wandering around Downtown in sweaters, hoodies and pea coats. And, to top it all off, hats — but not the kind you’d expect. Instead, there’s a sea of red baseball caps, each bearing bold white print: Make America Great Again.

There is a massive crowd already out there in the relative cold, but the line around the Toyota Center is only growing. Donald Trump backers from near and far started lining up 24 hours in advance of the president’s appearance at Senator Ted Cruz’s Houston rally, camping out overnight on the street to ensure they get in.

HPD has barricaded two blocks of the surrounding streets, which will stay closed off through 10:30 pm. For the time being, Caroline, Leeland, Capitol and Chartres are the detours. The rally was originally slated for 8,000-seater NRG Arena. Toyota Center’s a whole other story, with as many as 18,000 seats.

The whole area is buzzing — and it’s all about Trump.

And his supporters brought provisions, from collapsible chairs to tents to coolers. They’re drinking orange soda, they’re sipping on water, they’re lounging in chairs, they’re taking little strolls to loosen up their legs.

They’re bouncing a red-white-and-blue beach ball. They’re chanting “Lock her Up!” as a grinning man walks by with a “Put Hillary in Jail!” banner. They’re jamming out to a live performance of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.” And they’re taking turns using the port-a-potties, especially the one with the “Democrat Voting Booth” sign pasted on its door.

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James Claxton, decked out in a Trump tee and a trench coat, has been holding down the fort since 3 pm Sunday. Claxton, his wife Jonna and their friend Jana Veerden drove 100 miles to get to this Trump event. They were in the very first wave of campers.

“There were only about 20 people ahead of us,” Claxton tells PaperCity.

cruz rally trump line
The surrounding blocks are closed down.

Cold or not, the trio is motivated. “It’s the energy — and that’s all the way back from when Trump was elected. The energy has been building and it just keeps building,” Claxton says.

They took a 45-minute catnap in the car, trusting other Trump devotees to watch their belongings.

“The people are just wonderful. We were going to nap in the truck and they said ‘OK, we’ve got your stuff, no problem.’ We came back and our stuff was there,” Jonna Claxton says. “Everybody here is nice and congenial. We’re in Texas, so you’ve got to expect that.”

Her husband laughs.

“We’re all here for the same reason. The biggest thing about it is, we’re here for our grandkids. They’re the ones that are gonna be here,” Veerden notes.

Miquel Dougal’s merch stand is set up just a few feet away. He’s selling a series of hats, with messaging from your typical “MAGA” to “Trump 2020 | Keep America Great.” He’s been camped out since 10 pm last night.

“We weren’t supposed to start selling until this morning. We got here last night and the line was wrapped around the Toyota Center. I set up,” Dougal says. He’s been following the Trump rallies across the country, from Arizona on here to Texas.

“The energy is good always,” he says. Still, he says that this Houston rally scene is the best he’s seen yet.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen it like this, out of all of them,” the merchandise man says. “This Houston one is major.”

Extra Protection?

The surging line is full of native Houstonians, too, like James Lawrence. He arrived at 7 am Monday morning. He’s got a plan for when his stamina starts to fade.

“This foot rest,” he laughs, gesturing to his impressive folding chair, complete with mesh cup holders. “And I’m, hoping there are going to be food trucks around at some point.”

He’s feeling comfortable and confident, but there is one concern on his mind. “Everybody’s well-behaved. So far, so good,” he says.

The one potential point of drama? “Line-jumpers. They’re expecting 100,000 people, and there are just 20,000 seats.”

Then there are the spectators — a woman from Pennsylvania snapping away picture after picture as she walks down the street. And an Australian man in the line, leaning against the railing, who said he’d give a comment but then thought better of it.

One Space City native arrived last night, only to have to leave and come back. It’s an occupational hazard for this Uber driver, who goes by the moniker “Big Baby Gravy.” Gravy took the whole day off to see the president.

He can clearly identify what’s keeping him going — the energy, a common favorite among the supporters gathered today. “And the crowd, the music, the hot dogs. The drinks, the calories!” he laughs.

But more than that, it’s the camaraderie. “We have a fellowship. These are our brothers. These are Americans,” Gravy says. And he doesn’t strictly mean those already in attendance.

“It’s not just for the Trump-lovers. It’s for the opposers, too. Come on, you’re American! This is your president, this is your rally. Agree with him, disagree with him. Hate him. You’re free to do that. So come out and do it!” Gravy says.

On one condition. “Just don’t disrupt what’s going on,” he adds. But this Trump devotee isn’t too nervous.

“This is Houston’s finest,” he says. “We ain’t worried about nothing. Then, we’re all gun-toters. We’ve got Second Amendment rights. I could be carrying right now and you wouldn’t even know it.

“So I don’t think we’ll be having any trouble.”

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