It was sheer cacophony, and it was darkly surreal; not your typical Friday night.
Of course the roadways leading up to the University of South Florida Sun Dome were packed. Of course fans and protesters rallying outside the venue chanted so loudly one could hear them on the other side of the large arena. And, of course, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's speech had all the hits: immigration, Hillary Clinton's emails, what it's like to be a billionaire negotiator extraordinaire.
And so on.
Inside the venue, supporters milled about. Many donned outlandish getups — stars and stripes from head to toe; blond Trumpesque wigs, dark suits and pursed lips a la Trump — and others had rather creative handmade signs, like the couple from Tarpon Springs that pasted candy hearts onto poster board to show their "love" for the Donald.
"It's not about a Republican, it's not about a Democrat," said Kevin Golderg, 48, who drove from Port St. Lucie for the event and carried around a sign featuring Trump's head superimposed onto the body of the King of Hearts and the phrase 'I have my Trump card.' "He's the guy that could get the job done."
Those who got there early had a nearly three-hour wait before their man stepped to the podium, but all seemed in good spirits. A compilation of Rolling Stones, Beatles and Elton John tunes wafted from the sound system, with the odd opera piece thrown into the playlist for added, bizarrely cinematic flair.
A handful of top supporters warmed up the crowd: a pastor, a mother whose son died in combat, a xenophobic talk radio host and a retired colonel — not an elected official among them, a contrast to rallies for more conventional candidates, which usually involve a spattering of high-profile elected officials touting said candidate's accomplishments and conservative cred.
Here, it was largely the crowd that did the talking ahead of Trump's speech.
"Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!" shouted a group of what appeared to be college-age attendees, mostly male, with unsettling rigor, as one of Trump's supporters addressed the crowd.
They were, of course, referring to Trump's controversial proposal to build a wall along the U.S./Mexico border to keep out undocumented immigrants, a wall he believes he could make Mexico pay for if/when elected.
Trump would recite those same words about an hour later as part of his scoffing screed against migrants who come to the U.S. from Mexico and Central America, but not before he remarked on how huge the crowd was, because, yes, the crowd was really big.
“There is love wherever we go," he said after he finally stepped onstage to address the huge crowd. "And I'm the messenger.”
The crowd was big, he noted, adding that he doubted the press would accurately state how big the crowd was. Then he wandered on to another subject, then another.
There was talk of "winning."
"[W]e are in serious, serious trouble," he said. "And, I say it a lot, our country doesn't win anymore. I have another way of saying that...:we lose all the time.' But it doesn't sound as good. We don't win anymore. We don't win, we don't win with the military, ISIS, look ISIS, do we love the military? [Audience cheers.] We love the military. We love the military."
And so on.
Then came guns.
Trump said he reckons that if everyone in Paris had a gun during the November terrorist attack there, good guys with guns would have saved the day. Or something.
“If we had some guns strapped to the waist, believe me, if we had some guns strapped onto the ankle, if we had some bullets going the other way, it would've been a whole different story, folks,” Trump said.
Then it was immigration.
"So, we're going to have strong borders," he said. "One of the reasons I won in New Hampshire is they have a huge problem in New Hampshire.”
The he chanted, "Build that wall! build that wall! build that wall!" and the crowd joined in.
There was also plenty of criticism of Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, whose email scandal he had a good laugh over, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom he called a communist (because to Trump, there is no difference between asserting that the government ought to pay for some stuff and outright Maoism). The crowd, of course, roared.
Then came the attacks on former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whom he called "gutless" and "a total stiff" who is "asleep at the wheel."
"Can you imagine Jeb trying to negotiate with China?" he said.
And so it went on for another 40 minutes or so: Trump careening from sentence fragment to sentence fragment, subject to subject.
He misled his audience (or at least left out a few details) about the Iran nuclear deal. (He said we "gave" Iran $150 million in exchange for hostages when in fact we simply unfroze $150 million in Iranian assets — yuuuge difference.)
He had a protester kicked out at one point (it was a private event after all; he could have kicked out anyone).
Then he came back to the immigration thing.
"So, the president of Mexico, yesterday, or the ex-president. Whatever, whoever, who cares," said the potential leader of the Free World. "He said, 'We won't even consider paying for the wall!' Because, okay, you ready? Who's going to pay for the wall? [he asks the audience]"
"Mexico!" the audience shouts.
"Who?" Trump said.
"One hundred precent," he said. "A hundred percent."
And so on.