The fork in the road came at Charter Street and Linden Drive. Those with general admission tickets were directed to go to the left; those with VIP tickets to the right.
It was 12:30 p.m., about five-and-a-half hours after people first started lining up on Observatory Drive to see President Barack Obama's stump speech on Bascom Hill. The line by then extended all the way past Elm Drive, approaching the Natatorium.
The VIP line, however, was much shorter. It took about 15 minutes in all to get from the line through security -- "Open your bags; Get your cell phone out; Buttons need to be taken off; Please keep your shoes on" -- and onto Bascom.
I had a press pass for quick access to the rally and a spot on the riser, but a friend had an extra VIP ticket and I was curious what went on in the VIP section of a political rally. Already I could see the attendant perks: little to no wait and a spot close to the stage. That should have meant a better view of Obama had hundreds of cell phones not been thrust in the air the moment he hit the podium.
There were some political VIPs in the VIP area, including state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), state Reps. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) and Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) and Madison Ald. Mark Clear. But there were also a lot of lot of people sporting union T-shirts, young kids with their parents and campaign volunteers.
Lynn Bonfield, who works "in the basement at Union South," and her husband, a former president of the local plumbers union, scored tickets through the business agent of the union.
Bonfield said she tried to see Obama on campus two years ago but didn't get in. Bonfield would have stood in line again if necessary and wishes everyone could be as close to the action as she was.
"It's unfortunate," she said. "These [rallies] draw a lot of people and not everyone can have a good seat."
Bonfield is a big fan of Obama. "[Republican nominee Mitt] Romney is an elitist. I don't think he relates to everyday people."
Roys, who recently lost the Democratic primary for Congress to fellow state Rep. Mark Pocan and will be out of her state legislative job come January, said she got a call from Obama's campaign asking if she wanted tickets. Thinking it might be her last chance to take her two stepdaughters to see the president, she said "yes."
VIP tickets are usually offered to elected officials at all levels of government -- city, county and state -- but volunteers and activists also get the perk, Roys said.
And sometimes you get a ticket because you know a volunteer, activist or contributor.
That's how Corey Mosley ended up there. A native of Racine, who now lives in Maryland, Mosley's sister-in-law was the one with the goods. And Mosley just happened to be home for a visit.
He said Obama has done a good job trying to turn things around after eight years of George W. Bush, even as House Republicans pledged not to cooperate. Mosley, 40, is still a big fan of the president and said he knows only a couple of people whose enthusiasm has waned, mainly because they have been downsized from their jobs.
Three friends from West High School ended up in the VIP section by chance. Emma Laube, Sara Easa and Walter Kessinger, all 17, got to campus by 11 a.m. and joined other friends who had already been waiting for four hours.
Another friend, a campaign volunteer, walked by and gave them VIP tickets. That got them inside the rally gates quickly, but they couldn't carry in the sandwiches they had just bought.
"No food is a little frustrating," said Laube.
Kessinger cited the Affordable Care Act as one reason for voting for Obama, even though he's too young himself to vote November 6: "You get to stay on your parent's health insurance plan until you're 26."
Annie Weatherby-Flowers, who is an investigator with the Madison Department of Civil Rights, had much to praise about Obama. But, as the mother of two African-American sons, one reason is near to her heart: "To me, he's a beacon for young black men."
"If they work hard," she added, "they, too, could be president."
Weatherby-Flowers, who was born in 1959 in Milwaukee, calls herself "first generation civil rights." Her parents, she said, were from the Jim Crow era.
Weatherby-Flowers got access to the VIP section because she volunteers with the Madison East Side Progressives' Canvass in support of Obama. She said she wishes others, including low-income people, had the opportunity to get up close to the president. But she added, "it's evidently who you know that gets you here, not necessarily who you are."