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The Line Starts Here

"You want to be able to give your client the first-class treatment," says Gary Hymel, the chief lobbyist with Hill & Knowlton, who uses a courier-and-line-standing company called LaserShip. "You get eye-to-eye contact. . . . This is reinforcing that you're really interested and care."

Caring is expensive, but not caring might be more so.

Professional line standers enter the Hart Senate Office Building, where they will claim their labors' reward: a warm seat to turn over to a lobbyist or other power broker. (Photos Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

The Doors Open

By 6:29 a.m. Wednesday morning, the line has grown to 50.

Mama Filson leads the line-standers from their spots on the sidewalk to the entrance of the Hart Building, like a mother duck. When the doors open at 7, the line-standers head through Hart to Dirksen. Outside of room 226 -- "Asbestos: the Mixed Dust and FELA issues" -- Chito and his wife and Elly set up camp. Chito takes off his shoes and stretches out his feet. Behind him, the line-standers fan out down the hall and around the corner. In these sober halls, their eccentricities seem more pronounced.

There is one man with a scruffy gray beard and an American flag do-rag who sits alone and drinks from a coffee cup and talks to himself. He says his name is William McKinley Bridges. "What's your name, angel dust?" he asks.

Robert Herzog, minus the blue sleeping bag, wears burgundy pants, a teal shirt, a yellow tie and a gray jacket, and his hair is nearly down to his chest. He talks to the guy behind him in line.

"Sarcoma," says the guy behind him.

"Carcinoma," Herzog says.

"Carcinoma," says the other guy, agreeing.

"Leukemia," Herzog says.

The closer the hearing gets, the jumpier Chito becomes. With 30, 20 minutes to go, everyone gets out signs that say the names of the companies they are waiting for. The lobbyists approach, scanning the signs. The line-standers have grown somber and quiet. They're place-holders again, disappearing into themselves.

Except for Chito. He paces by the hearing room door like a colt. A handful of well-dressed people brush by and peek their heads in the door, which makes Chito nervous. He doesn't know who they are -- staffers, lobbyists, press -- but if they're lobbyists, he doesn't want them sneaking inside and taking seats that he and his brethren have claimed.

"Yo-yo-yo, are you all press?" he says. "What's going on here?"

"Are you running the committee or what?" says a well-dressed fellow, retreating from the door. He looks annoyed.

"No, man, I've been been waiting out here since 5 in the morning," Chito says.

"Good for you," the man says snippily, and walks away.

Chito looks pleased. Suits don't scare him. He belongs here.

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