Celeste Spivey and her three comrades stood on drizzly Wisconsin Avenue at the South Road entrance to Washington National Cathedral and couldn't believe their luck.
They had an incredible place to watch the passing VIPs, and no one was trying to kick them out.
There went Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, and William F. Buckley Jr., and Bob Dole, and Henry Kissinger, and old what's-his-name, that former senator from Wyoming whose name they forgot, and Katie Couric and Barbara Walters.
There they were, walking along like regular people, up the sidewalk to the gigantic limestone cathedral for Ronald Reagan's funeral service. And Spivey, of Houston, Carolyn Snyder of Leesburg, Dan Logsdon of Dallas and Carle Brunochelli of Hollywood were allowed to just watch.
"We know how lucky we are," Logsdon said.
As the powerful, venerable and legendary trooped through the cathedral's glass doors yesterday, beneath a swirling sculpture of the creation titled "Ex Nihilo" -- out of nothing -- average Americans watched what they could from the outside and exercised their rights.
These were not the somber-faced mourners of the first days of Reagan's farewell. Yesterday's bystanders gawked and argued, took snapshots and made lists of the famous people who passed. They sang softly and tapped their feet to what music they could hear. They dozed. They drank coffee, munched cookies and watched the speeches on TV. And they marveled that they were there to see it all.
As dignitaries from around the world paid tribute to the former president inside the cathedral, the people he governed for eight years honored him outside with the simple acts of citizenry.
At the spot where Spivey stood in a blue shirt bearing an American flag made of sequins, fleets of ominous-looking black Chevy Suburbans with flashing lights sped in the entrance, bearing people invisible behind the tinted glass.
Members of Congress arrived in red-and-white Martz tour buses, one of which still bore the destination "Atlantic City" above the front windshield. One shiny black limousine went by with the sign "Pall Bearer" in the window, followed by another with the sign "Pall Bearer Spouse" in its window.
At the quartet's spot, Brunochelli, 55, spotted the former senator -- it turned out to be Alan Simpson -- walking up the street.
"Who's that one?" she said. "I've seen him on TV a lot."
Darn, said Logsdon, 45, "he's a Wyoming senator. It'll come to me in a minute." Logsdon, who had flown in for the funeral and had gone to the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, was scrawling a list of passing big shots.
George Will, Bob Dole, John Edwards, Sam Donaldson, Barbara Walters, Ted Koppel, Henry Kissinger, Steve Forbes, Julie Eisenhower, Pat Buchanan, among others, he said. "I know I'm missing about five people."
And Katie Couric, added Snyder, 48, who said she was not of Reagan's political persuasion, "but I like what he stood for as a man and a statesman, and the love story behind him, too."
But the person she really wanted to see was former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. "That would make my day," she said.
As the group watched, a woman with a thick head of light hair passed. "Who's the chick with all the hair?" Brunochelli asked. Logsdon recognized that it was Schlossberg and snapped a quick photo. "Dan's the man," Brunochelli said.
Then a dark SUV with tinted windows stopped right in front of them, and out stepped Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
William F. Buckley Jr. sauntered by. Asked about the late president, Buckley said: "I'm sorry he died. I thought the world of him."
A block away from South Road, Catherine Renee Hall of DeFuniak Springs, Fla., and James Hockenbarger of Topeka, Kan., were exercising their right to yell at each other in a chaotic scene at Wisconsin and Massachusetts avenues, where a large crowd awaited the arrival of the funeral procession from the Capitol.
Hall, a Reagan admirer who had tears in her eyes, was angry with Hockenbarger, who was holding a sign that said "Repent" as he and the group he came with loudly protested what they said was Reagan's failure to suppress homosexuality.
The two flung face-to-face, scriptural-sounding barbs at each other.
"I want you to know right now that you're in woe of a heart attack," Hall, who wore a red-white-and-blue ensemble, yelled at Hockenbarger, who was in dark sunglasses and a black T-shirt that read "God hates .com" on the back.
"You need to repent," she said.
"Don't we all," Hockenbarger said.
"You are in danger of the wrath of God right now if you don't repent and shut that mouth," she said. "Take heed."
As they argued, James Manship, dressed as George Washington in a wig and dark blue overcoat, knelt on the sidewalk beside them and read prayers. He said he was there because Reagan had once said that the "most sublime picture" in American history was one of George Washington in prayer.
Standing right next to the protesters were Mekahlo Medina and Mario Vasquez, both from Phoenix. They said they were in town to celebrate this weekend's Gay Pride Festival. Asked what they thought of the anti-gay message of the protesters, Medina laughed and said, "We are just taking pictures of them."
Nearby, Tom Wei, who said he was visiting from southern China, was befuddled by the protesters.
"I thought everybody loved Ronald Reagan," he said.
Back at the South Road entrance, Carolyn Snyder got a cell phone call at 11:10 a.m. from some friends stationed in Dupont Circle. They reported that the cortege bearing the president's coffin had just passed and probably would be at the cathedral shortly. It was, in a whiz of gleaming cars: first the hearse, then a limousine with the solitary figure of Nancy Reagan framed for a split second in a rear window.
"I saw her head," Snyder said.
The cortege glided to a halt before the main entrance to the cathedral, as a band played "Hail to the Chief," a member of the honor guard shouted, "pre -- sent ARMS!" and members of the clergy clad in red and black vestments waited at the top of the steps.
The coffin was carried inside at 11:27 a.m., and quiet fell on the cathedral grounds outside.
Across South Road, a group of Army, Navy, Air Force and law enforcement officers, off duty for the moment, gathered in the Nourse Memorial Guild Hall of St. Alban's Episcopal Church, on the cathedral grounds, to watch the ceremonies on a big-screen TV set on the red-carpeted stage.
Black berets hung from coat hooks, and the uniform tunics of captains and majors were on hangers as the officers sat on folding chairs, drank coffee and ate cookies. Police from Arlington County stood in the back, and plainclothes officers sat in their white dress shirts, with pistols, badges and cell phones clipped to their belts.
There was no conversation and no display of emotion. Secret Service dog handler Lawrence Boorom petted his bomb-sniffing dog, Caesar, which lay on the floor. Most watched the eulogies intently. One or two dozed in the chairs. An Army officer tapped his foot as a choir sang "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Boorom said of Reagan: "I wish I could have worked with him."
Many quickly got up, grabbed their jackets and hurried out when the TV camera showed the honor guard starting to reassemble outside for the closing ceremonies.
At 1:02 p.m., to the mournful tolling of bells, the president's body was carried from the cathedral, returned to the hearse and whisked away on his final journey from Washington.
Outside the cathedral gates, the police had finally caught on to Dan Logsdon and ordered him across the barricades. Carle Brunochelli had left. But Spivey and Snyder, and good fortune, had remained behind in the rain. Al and Tipper Gore had passed. Bob Dole stopped and posed for a picture with Spivey.
For a moment, she had him mixed up with Vice President Cheney, but on a day like this, it was easy to do. "He was very nice," she said.
And, Snyder added, "they didn't throw us out."