LONDON — I was there. I saw her sleeve!
Through several layers of sturdy British walls (regular and human), through cold and damp, over roaring helicopters, I saw it. It was lacy.
The Americans who traveled to London to watch the royal wedding were asked more than once, “How did you get an invitation?!” This is not because anyone actually believed the travelers know Prince William. It’s because they couldn’t process the alternative: that people were flying 4,000 miles to get up at 5 a.m. and stand in the general vicinity of a member of a monarchy that the United States overthrew 250 years ago.
We did it so we could say:
“I was there. I saw her sleeve!”
I heard that the bottom half of Kate Middleton’s dress was lovely. I could not see it; I was there. I heard that Victoria Beckham’s hat was appalling. I could not see it; I was there.
There are, of course, disagreements over what constitutes “there” — was just being in London “there” enough? — but one can try. From 4:30 a.m. onward Friday, I sat on a concrete blockade along the procession route. It was where the parade of carriages entered the Horse Guards gate en route from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace. As there as there can be. There were no video monitors. There were speakers, but we couldn’t hear them. Me, two Finns, a mother and son from Venezuela, two sisters from Georgia (state, not country), and lots of Britons.
“I wasn’t going to come, but then I woke up,” says Steve King, a jewelry maker. “And I said, ‘Right, Citizen Steve here, on the case, for the wedding!’ ” He makes me a paper crown.
What the squished, squirmy people of the concrete blockade learned of the wedding, we learned from the helpful e-mails and texts sent by friends watching the wedding the way sane people watched the wedding — on their televisions.
“My son says that Harry wiped a tear!” one of the Finns says excitedly, staring down at her iPhone.
“I HEARD THEY PUT ON THE RINGS,” someone else yells over the media helicopter.
“DO YOU THINK,” her friend asks, “THAT’S WHY WE ALL STARTED CLAPPING?”
Being “there” doesn’t really hold the same meaning that it once did. Everything looks better on television, can be instantly replayed, comes with snack breaks — and a bathroom. Those who wanted to be there, along the procession route, wanted to be there because they were making the judgment call that being a part of history couldn’t happen through pixels.
“I figure we can always compile the wedding over time,” says Cathy Collins, one of the Georgians. Gather news footage, photo galleries, “watch it on YouTube later.”
Here is what we, the people of the concrete blockade, did see during the course of the procession to and from the abbey:
We saw a parade of color-coded buses emerge from the gates carrying the “minor” royal guests to the wedding. It looked like a school field trip for people with giant hats.
We saw the queen emerge in what appeared to be a sombrero. “I’m not sure about that,” King said fretfully. “If she’s going to wear a sombrero, she’s got to really commit.”
We then saw the real queen, and realized that the woman with the other hat had been Camilla Parker Bowles.
At some point I realized that someone nearby had stepped in poop from one of the mounted police officers’ horses. At some other point I realized it was me.
“Look at William in his blue!”
“Harry is in blue!”
(If I just say that I saw Kate Middleton, is that really lying? Is that so wrong?)
On days like this, you want the bride and groom to move in slow motion, soft focus, the way they will on the recaps later in the night. They don’t. They clop-clopped quickly past.
Everyone was wonderfully polite. People clapped loudest for the queen — yes, louder, even, than for the bride. That’s as it should be. Also as it should be: When the faint strains of “God Save the Queen” could be heard from those reedy speakers, people paused whatever they were doing to mumble tenderly along.
After the ceremony and the procession were over, the people of the concrete blockade moved en masse to Buckingham Palace, to see the traditional balcony appearance of the bride and groom.
The force was strong. The masses were huge. We compressed as tightly as we could, and still it seemed I was miles away. Way up ahead, the balcony doors opened. A jubilant, lusty cheer began at the front of the crowd and migrated to the back as the royal family appeared: William and Catherine, and the queen in yellow, no bigger than a speck of pollen.
Then I looked up, over my head, into a perfect image: the magnified screen of my neighbor’s video camera. On it, as if in a private movie, Prince William softly kissed his new wife, Catherine.
And I saw it. For I was there.