WASHINGTON - There was a line to see the man in charge.
"Artie," people called.
"Artie, did you see?"
"Artie," they said. "You gotta do something."
It was the Sunday before Memorial Day, and in Washington, that has long meant that one of the world's largest motorcycle rallies was in town. Every year since 1988, riders have roared into the District of Columbia for Rolling Thunder, a demonstration in support of veterans, prisoners of war and service members who were missing in action. But this year, the organization's leader, Artie Muller, had announced that the financial and logistical burden of making the rally happen had become too much; after 2019, the event in the nation's capital would be no more.
The news inspired hundreds of thousands of bikers, likely a record-breaking number, to flock to the Pentagon parking lot Sunday morning, ready for their final ride into the city and around the National Mall.
And then word started spreading: President Donald Trump had just tweeted asserting that Rolling Thunder wasn't going to end after all.
"The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, & hopefully for many years to come," he wrote. "It is where they want to be, & where they should be."
Rolling Thunder devotees gathered around Muller, thinking the event had been saved.
But all around him, the team members behind Rolling Thunder were shaking their heads. They had not received a call from The White House. The Pentagon had not been in touch. The rally would still cost about $200,000 to put on - far too much of which, the organizers believe, goes to parking lot rental and security. The ordeal of dealing with the Pentagon's security demands, they said, was no longer worth it.
"Effective preparation for an event the size and scale of a Rolling Thunder ride is a complicated and lengthy process," a Pentagon representative said Saturday.
When the tweet from Trump - who was in Japan - went out, the Pentagon referred reporters to the White House. A White House representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Unless the venue started costing Rolling Thunder less, its organizers said, nothing was going to change. Instead of having the one ride in Washington, local chapters would put on smaller rallies across the country next year. Spokeswoman Nancy Regg repeated to reporters who called her Sunday: "If we are invited to the White House, we'll go, but as of right now, this is our final ride."
Around her, the parking lot was packed with motorcycles, lined edge to edge with only a foot of space between them. They had started rumbling in at dawn, six hours before the ride was set to begin.
In came Bob Bradford, a 79-year-old from Maryland, his oxygen machine strapped onto the Harley Trike, its tubes slipped beneath his helmet so he could breathe through all the fumes.
In rode 49-year-old Randy Day, and his passenger Mitzi, an 8-year-old chiweenie (part Chihuahua, part dachshund) who had ridden 370 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. Mitzi wore a leather helmet and hot-pink goggles to protect her eyes from the wind.
On another bike was Harjot Pannu, a 51-year-old from New Jersey who always orders his helmets one size too big, so he can still wear his crisp white turban underneath. The back of his leather vest read "Sikh Motorcycle Club." He had long ago grown used to the looks that his headwear and his long salt-and-pepper beard would attract at events like these.
"It's not easy to fit in. People keep their distance," he said, "But I don't have to change myself. That's what America is about."
Nearby, another leather-vested man was holding forth on what he believes America is all about: "People talk about what's going on today and call it a divided country? I say, you have no idea," said Myke Shelby, recalling the divisions after his return from Vietnam. He rode his Harley from New York to witness the unveiling of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982. The next year on Memorial Day, he made the trip again.
The journey became a ritual for him and hundreds of Vietnam vets, and in 1988, he learned that someone was going to make the annual meetup official, with something called Rolling Thunder.
"I was like, what the hell are you doing man, why are you trying to commercialize something so grassroots?" said Shelby, who now owns a Harley Davidson dealership in San Diego.
He changed his mind when he saw so many veterans turn out and changes the organization was able to advocate for, including the display of the POW/MIA flag on government buildings.
As Shelby spoke, he was interrupted by a small girl wearing her own patch-covered leather vest, aviator sunglasses and a bandana slipped over her braid.
"Excuse me, sir," she said. "Are you a veteran?"
He knew who she was: Sawyer Hendrickson, a 10-year-old from Michigan, junior Rolling Thunder member and quasicelebrity here. She'd come to hand out rocks she hand painted to every veteran she met. Her mom was behind her, lugging all the rocks in a Michael Kors backpack.
Shelby already had one, so Sawyer handed the rock to someone else.
"Thank you for your service," she said with a firm handshake.
This, Sawyer said, was so much better than the fourth grade.
"I do like some subjects, like lunch," she explained. Then she headed into the crowd, where the collectible T-shirts were selling out and people were still wondering whether they would be back next year.
"The thing to do is work it out," a man was telling Muller.
"We're gonna see what happens," Muller replied, repeating what he'd had to say so many times that morning.
He retreated into his car, needing the air conditioning, and for a moment, the quiet. To him, a tweet didn't mean much of anything.
"They would have to do a lot before we would agree to come back next year," he said.
He was tired and hot and 74 years old. His signature expletives had been flying all day. But the truth was, he didn't want Rolling Thunder to end. That's why he thought the smaller rallies in cities across the country would be better. Get the message out, without the hassle. But now he was looking at the biggest crowd he'd ever seen.
"You know, he said, starting to choke up. "It really gets to you. Because it shows you there are people who do care about others," when too many people care "about nobody but themselves."
All he could do now was treat this ride like it was his last. His sleek black Harley was waiting in the front of the procession. He traded his hat for a helmet that said across the forehead: "Proud to be American."
"Come on," he said to his 11-year-old grandson Gavin. The boy climbed into the seat behind him. Muller looked up at the Washington Monument, and his engine roared to life.
TOKYO - Finally, after a full day of matches, perhaps the biggest star of all - weighing in at 243 pounds, according to his most recent physical - climbed into the sumo ring.
President Donald Trump stepped into the dohyō shortly after 5:30 p.m. Sunday to present "The President's Cup" - a roughly 4 1/2-foot, more than 60-pound trophy that is also the most physical manifestation of the gilded, ceremonial nature of Trump's four-day trip here.
The president seemed to enjoy his low-key star-turn at Ryōgoku Kokugikan Stadium here, exclaiming afterward, "That was an incredible evening at sumo."
"Sumo wrestling," he marveled later.
Trump took in just five matches - some lasting but several seconds - alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Sunday evening. But he spent the morning seemingly determined to put on a show of his own; at roughly 7:30 a.m. local time, the president fired off a tweet that, in a single social media missive, managed to undercut his national security adviser, reaffirm his ties with a dictator and attack a domestic political rival on foreign soil, all while misspelling the rival's name.
"North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me," Trump wrote, in a second tweet that corrected his initial misspelling of former vice president Joe Biden's last name. "I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that's sending me a signal?"
Less than a day earlier, Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, had argued the very opposite to reporters here, warning there is "no doubt" North Korea's missile tests violated United Nations Security Council resolutions, and adding that Trump was determined to maintain sanctions pressure on the regime until it backs down.
In a conference call with reporters before Trump departed for Japan, a senior administration official had promised a "substantive" trip, with "some substantive things to announce." But until the president made news with his impromptu tweet Sunday morning, Trump's appearance at the sumo championship seemed to be one of the main events of his visit.
Indeed, Trump spent his first full day in Japan largely as a tourist. Earlier in the day, the president and Abe had played golf at Mobara Country Club in Chiba - complete with selfies and double cheeseburgers made with U.S. beef - and after the sumo championship, the two leaders and their wives headed for dinner at a traditional Japanese charcoal grill robatayaki. (The menu seemed specifically designed for Trump's generally bland tastes in food - a five-course meal that included buttered potatoes, grilled chicken, Wagyu beef with vegetables, and vanilla ice cream).
Trump's planned appearance at the sumo match was relatively restrained for a president who became a household name as a reality TV star and often seems to thrive amid - and even encourage - chaos. Gone were his days as a World Wrestling Entertainment personality who, in 2007, clotheslined WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and faux-pounded him, ringside, before shaving him bald in a viral pay-per-view moment.
Instead, Trump entered the sumo ring after donning slippers - no shoes are allowed in the dohyō - and read from a scroll, the "Certificate of commemoration Asanoyama," in honor of the 25-year-old victor, Asanoyama.
"In honor of your outstanding achievement as sumo grand champion I hereby award you the President's Cup," Trump said.
A sumo official helped him lift the heavy cup and hand it to Asanoyama, who bowed several times. The president shook his hand, clapped, at one point bowed ever so slightly himself, and exited the ring.
Perhaps the most dramatic moment of Trump's award presentation came before the president was even onstage; the silver trophy - which also features an eagle atop it, wings high, and which was displayed Sunday afternoon to some fanfare in the lobby of the hotel where the president is staying - was brought out draped in white cloth, and the crowd gasped audibly when its covering was removed.
Jaime Tiktin, 54, a tourist from Mexico City, said it was a "strange surprise" to learn Trump would be attending the sumo match. Tiktin said he read in the Japan Times that the Japanese "kind of made up this prize to make him feel good," but noted that Trump seemed somewhat subdued.
"He didn't smile at all, he didn't do any gestures," Tiktin said. "It was kind of strange to see him not moving his lips at all."
Tiktin and his wife - who came bearing a homemade "Viva Mexico" sign - said they are not fans of Trump because of the way he has treated Mexicans, but added that maybe Trump was trying to abide by sumo protocol. "I think he was being respectful," Tiktin said. "I hate to say that, but I think he was respectful."
In the run-up to the sumo championship, Trump prompted some griping among the Japanese. Some were annoyed that Trump and his wife, Melania, received special treatment and were allowed to sit in chairs close to the ring. Normally, attendees on the lower levels sit on cushions, called zabutons, and VIPs opt for seats on the second floor designed specifically for them. There was also concern the president's entourage and large security detail would take away seats from Japanese sumo fans.
One widely shared article in the Japanese news media pointed out that the Japan Sumo Association is happy to follow the anachronistic tradition of keeping women from standing in the ring - it would have to be reconsecrated if a woman entered - and asked rhetorically "is not it against their traditions to let Trump sit on a seat by the ring and wear slippers into the ring to present his cup?" (Sumo wrestlers fight barefoot, though slippers were an acceptable alternative to shoes for Trump.)
The zabutons - which spectators often throw into the air to cheer or show their dissatisfaction after a spectacular match - also posed a potential security headache. Sankei, a Japanese daily, even featured a story, complete with a photo of a flying zabuton, headlined, "Mr. Trump to watch the final day matches. Fear of zabuton."
But in the end, Trump proved more a curiosity than a nuisance, the mere mention of his name almost invariably prompting giggles among the spectators.
"He's a crazy guy, yeah?" said Ryugo Kato, 45, a salaryman in Tokyo.
Kato said he thought Trump should have sat on the floor if he wanted to be close to the ring. "That's the way this place is set up," Kato said. "He should respect the custom. It's the culture."
Nonetheless, he also welcomed Trump to the match. "If he wants to come, fine," Kato said. "There's nothing wrong with watching the sport and paying some respect to Japan's national sport."
Asanoyama, for his part, seemed to be a potential Trump convert. According to Nikkan Sports, in an interview Saturday, the champion said, "I am going to check Wikipedia for Trump-san," apparently to be better prepared.
Yet by Sunday, asked after his victory about being the first person to receive the "President's Cup," Asanoyama was emotional.
"I was overjoyed," the said. "It was almost too much to say in words."
The Washington Post's Akiko Kashiwagi contributed to this report.