Expats Stay Up All Night to Cheer Obama

MTNicholas Hewitt and Kristen Engelbert celebrating Barack Obama's victory with dozens of other U.S. citizens in the Starlite Diner early Wednesday.
Amid pitchers of coffee, plates with half-eaten burgers and a scattering of shot glasses, bleary-eyed U.S. Democrats cheered at the Starlite Diner on Wednesday morning as Barack Obama gave his victory speech, ending a two-year campaign for the U.S. presidency and their all-night vigil watching CNN.

"The mood here was electric," said Andrew Hardisty, head of Democrats Abroad, the group that organized the event in the restaurant near Oktyabrskaya metro station.

About 100 U.S. citizens showed up for the election-night marathon from 12:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., Hardisty said.

Many, like Kristen Engelbert, 20, spent the entire night under the neon lights of the American-style greasy spoon watching the television.

"I haven't been to sleep yet," she said, as the other students at her table laughed.

Like others in the restaurant, Engelbert had faced difficulties mailing absentee ballots, but almost everyone had voted.

"There was a tense mood here tonight," she said, sitting at a table with a rapidly disappearing fishbowl-sized dish of ice cream and hot fudge. "You could feel the relief as states went one after another to Obama."

A group of 40 to 50 U.S. citizens also went to the Starlite Diner near Mayakovskaya metro station starting at around 3 a.m. to watch coverage of the vote.

Besides staring at the TV, many people talked about the congressional races and cheered as seats went to Democratic candidates. "People really started cheering when they called Ohio. Then there was more cheering and clapping and shouting when they called the Senate and general race in Virginia. People just kind of woke up as the map turned blue," said Anna Weisfeiler, an official with Democrats Abroad who arrived at the Oktyabrskaya Starlite Diner at 12:45 a.m.

Other spectators in the crowd had a less emotional reaction. "I'm very interested in the process and am hoping that things go in a good direction from here on out. It's an historic day for America," said Avraham Berkowitz, a Michigan native who has served as a rabbi in Moscow for nine years.

The elections may mean something else for Russians, though none could be found in the throng of people. "People were talking here a lot about international relations and what it will mean for Russia. I can't imagine that anyone in Russia will be sad about the result," said James Brooke, a real estate consultant.

Preparations for voting and the event itself reached a level of organization usually only seen for those planning a pre-game tail gate party before the Super Bowl, the American football championship."The level of excitement in this campaign encouraged me to go through a very difficult process to apply for an absentee ballot," said Bill Cunningham, who registered to vote in Pennsylvania, one of many swing states in the strongly contested election.

"We figured we'd get here around 4 a.m. when the results started to come in for Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. We thought that if Obama took one or two of these it would be a foregone conclusion," said Cunningham, a banker. "By Mountain Time we'd know the winner. Basically, we looked at the schedule and decided to get as much sleep as possible without missing anything."

Erica Lally said she had voted for McCain in Pennsylvania's general election but said she was also inspired and happy Obama had won. She said the Republicans had not organized any events in Moscow for the elections.

Some diners arrived later in the morning and saw the aftermath of those who had stayed up all night. "We got here at 6 a.m., right at the transition time when the people who had been here all night started to head out. They looked pretty tired, but happy," said Lydia Troncale, 24, a worker at a nongovernmental organization who ordered an omelet and a shot of vodka for breakfast.

"McCain was gracious in his concession speech, and Obama was very humble and very inspiring," she said.