It would be over in less than a minute.
The half dozen or so spectators who had found the clear pocket along blockaded Washington Avenue Extension had come ready to wait, though.
The sound of distant sirens brought the antsy and chatty group to a standstill. Craning their necks, an umbrella in one hand, a camera poised in the other, they waited.
It was just before noon, and word was that Air Force One was to touch down at Albany International Airport around 11:45 a.m. With one eye glued to the road and another glued to their phones, they waited.
The presidential motorcade wouldn’t make its way past the group for another two minutes. But with the whipping blades of a chopper echoing above Tuesday’s heavy rainfall, every moment felt important.
“Here it comes,” said the spectator with the best view.
They cheered for the first of the fleet: a police car. And the second: another police car. They knew he’d be somewhere in a tinted limousine, but a cheer for the armored, lit up SUVs zooming on by were as much a cheer for President Barack Obama.
“They’re going fast,” someone said, bright-eyed and keeping watch.
Indeed, the vehicles passed so fast, one woman stopped trying to get a picture and just started waving her American flag with spontaneous frenzy.
The procession was headed toward the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and behind the tinted windows of each black vehicle was a member of the press, or security, or White House officials, or VIP guests.
“It’s him,” the crowd began to shout, as the rain continued to barrel down.
Two tinted limousines with armored plating were approaching. There were the American and Presidential Standard flags flanking the hood of The Beast, the affectionate term for the Cadillac limousine seating the president.
“You know what’s behind there, you know?” was how 30-year-old Karla Benitez described the moment.
She was on her lunch break from her job at the Department of Residential Life on campus and tagged along with a colleague that morning who had decided she was not going to miss the presidential motorcade.
“It’s just so exciting because it’s historical,” said Benitez, of Slingerlands. “To see our president driving by, that’s really amazing.”
About a dozen more vehicles would pass, putting the presidential motorcade at a fleet of about three dozen vehicles, tailed by more state police cars and an ambulance.
Since the president’s speech at the Nanocollege was by invitation only, wannabe spectators had to be creative in catching a glimpse of the president.
Every conceivable entrance within a half mile of the college, further in some places, was closed off. Washington Avenue boasted a fleet of trucks and vehicles even before the president’s arrival, from Albany and state police vehicles to massive dump trucks bearing the Department of General Services logo and even yellow plow trucks.
As the motorcade whizzed out of sight, the group of spectators had to shake themselves out of the whirlwind moment and back to their regularly scheduled Tuesday.
“Ah, that was so fun,” giggled Holly Barker-Flynn, as others began to disperse.
“That was quick,” countered another.
“It was. It was very quick,” she said, eyes shining and grin still in place.
Barker-Flynn lives in Malta and was going to take the day off of work if Obama’s visit to GlobalFoundries hadn’t been changed Friday. Luckily, she only had to take a lunch break Tuesday.
It wasn’t too hard to figure out where the motorcade would pass, she said.
“My boss saw the news crew in this parking lot and said, 'That’s probably going to be your spot,” she said.
The 37-year-old was one of several proud Obama supporters trying to catch a glimpse Tuesday. But she would have come out for Nixon, too, she contended.
“Probably not in the rain, though,” she laughed.
Obama’s third visit to the Capital Region was more than just hype, said several of the spectators. They were flattered that he had decided on Albany as an example of the kind of technology jobs and thriving industries American cities should be producing.
“I think it’s amazing that he would come here,” said Barker-Flynn. “I think that’s great for him to show the country that towns can make this work and really boost the economy, especially local economies. So I think it’s great that he’s bringing national attention to our area.”
There were those who decided to get a little wet and cold on their lunch break. And there were those who, believe it or not, just happened upon the perfect spot to view the motorcade.
It was easy, said Michael Galotti, a junior at UAlbany. He was looking for a parking spot Tuesday morning and he saw people gathered in a little overgrown and muddy spot near Washington Avenue where nobody would normally decide to pass the time.
“I don’t know,” he said, pausing to search for the right words. “It’s like, just the chance to see even his presidential motorcade come through is just something you don’t see every day. It’s just out of the ordinary, and frankly it’s probably only once in a lifetime.”
If Obama had passed on Albany for some other city, Galotti would have been studying in the library just before noon.
“It’s the president,” he smiled. “It’s the president coming to our town. It’s a great honor for your school to have a president visit.
The marquee outside the university’s main entrance echoed the sentiment. “UAlbany Welcomes President Obama,” it read, flashing every 30 seconds to the throngs of passing motorists.