As surprising as it was that Donald J. Trump himself flew into Macon on Monday evening for a 72-minute campaign speech, it was perhaps more eye-opening that, on short notice, some 6,000 people showed up to hear him.
The gathering at the Macon Coliseum bordered on the impressive, especially in an arena that in the past has struggled to attract crowds.
Sure, the tickets were free. But it wasn't pro wrestling or the circus or Elvis or Holiday on Ice. Though, in a way, it was Trump on Ice. The venue's frozen hockey rink was covered, and the Republican presidential front-runner's podium was set up at one end of the rink.
It was chilly inside. A man selling snacks at a concession stand said the pretzel warmer was doubling as a heater.
In seats on the north side of the stage, as spectators waited for Trump to arrive, someone asked an old man, "You know where Donald's at?"
"Naw," the man replied, "but I saw Elvis sitting right here in 1977."
The Donald may have been the night's main attraction, but his fans were the show. There were regular folks, church folks, loud folks, quiet folks.
A woman from Kennesaw insisted she was there at Trump's personal behest.
"He sent me an email," she said, adding that she was sitting down front because of her cataracts.
There was some talk among spectators about why Trump chose Macon for a visit.
When state Sen. Burt Jones revved up the audience in the hour or so before Trump took the stage, Jones said he'd known Trump wanted to come to Georgia.
"What better place" than Macon?" Jones said.
Earlier, outside, a woman from Athens who knew Trump has made appearances in Atlanta, suggested, "I guess he's trying to touch base with the more Southern Georgia."
Trump supporter and farmer Pam Liner, who lives near Valdosta, said, "He's going everywhere."
Liner, 53, had on faded jeans, a white blouse and ostrich-skin boots.
She raises goats and geese and chickens and lives in a hamlet called Morven in Brooks County, home to towns with names like Dixie and Barney. "A Democrat-run county," she called it.
(For the record, she wasn't fond of Macon, either: "Macon's a hellhole.")
"People think Trump is an a------, but I see him as a hard-working businessman," Liner said.
"I like that he's a maverick ... because, you know what, I'm the same way."
She said she was once married to a Muslim man.
"They're not here to assimilate," Liner said. "They're not here to be like anybody else. They're here to outbreed us, to force us to change our laws to suit them. ... It's little by little by little.
"America's changing to suit them, and that is wrong, wrong, wrong."
She blamed what she sees as a dwindling goat population on foreigners in America. "Immigrants are eating them faster than (we're) breeding them," she said.
Asked how she would describe Trump's look, Liner said, "He's goofy-looking, but who cares? ... I'm hiring him for somebody with a brain and backbone."
WHAT ABOUT 'BLUE MOON'?
When they opened the doors to let people in, a woman in the Coliseum lobby welcomed them with Trump's campaign catchphrase: "Come on in, we're gonna make America great."
Trump waltzed onstage shortly before 7:45 p.m. and passed on the chance for cheap wordplay about how he would "make Macon great again."
In fact, he didn't mention the city, though he spoke of Georgia a couple of times.
He also missed on another local-tie opportunity. Trump spoke of the three-World Series-winning Oakland A's of the 1970s, how their lower-salaried players were a fine example of economic genius. Macon's John "Blue Moon" Odom was a pitcher on those A's teams.
But political appearances these days are more about playing to the cameras, the audience watching at home. Where Trump was Monday night was less important than what Trump zingers he might unleash.
This night, though, it was the crowd that came through for him.
A New York Times dispatch from the rally included the passage: "As Mr. Trump was hammering Mr. Obama over his strategy against the Islamic State, a man in the crowd shouted that the president was a 'dumbass,' which stopped Mr. Trump cold. 'I didn't say it. I didn't say it,' he repeated, before egging the man on: 'Go ahead, say it again -- louder.' The man shouted the word again. Mr. Trump, clearly amused, said, 'They're very rude in Georgia. You heard what he said.'"
When Ronald Reagan came to town campaigning as president in October 1984, he took his share of shots at his Democratic foe.
Reagan said Walter Mondale would "jeopardize the security of this nation," and he referred to Mondale's plans as "a collection of old and tired ideas."
But he also played to the locality.
"The South will rise again," Reagan told a gathering outside Macon City Hall.
Reagan also saluted the University of Georgia's football team with a "How 'bout them Dawgs?"
(Late Monday Trump did send out a tweet -- along with a picture of himself in the Coliseum -- "Thank You Macon, Georgia!" He called it "a great night in Macon, Georgia!")
Standing behind a barricade near the steps Trump walked down after his speech, there was a man in a Chevrolet baseball cap and a Reagan-Bush '84 T-shirt.
Andy Carter, of Macon, bought the shirt a couple of years ago.
"I don't think we've had this much excitement on the Republican side in a long time," said Carter, 47, who runs a painting business. "I think it's time somebody starts standing up for the country."
In the front row of seats on the side of the left side of stage, Todd Miles, 43, who lives in Macon and owns car lots, said of Trump, "I see myself in him. ... I hope some day to be more like him. ... He's uplifting."
Miles, who said he has plans to open some bars in town, said that in the past he hadn't much cared for Trump.
"I always thought it was more of a show," Miles said. "But he actually says the things that people really want to say that they can't say. That's what's gonna make him win. ... He is the man."
There were reports of people streaming out of the Coliseum before Trump was done, and they were correct.
As Trump's talk went on past the one-hour mark, some folks were apparently leaving to beat traffic.
But one man sitting in the arena's upper level had a different explanation for why they were slipping out early.
"This is the Bible Belt," he said. "They're used to 20-minute sermons."
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.