Tyler Bradley had been waiting for Wednesday night.
He and his friends began planning their stakeout of the Maple Avenue McDonald's since they received a flyer in the mail earlier this month announcing the store, , would give away free food for a year to the first 100 customers at its grand re-opening,
At 7 p.m. Wednesday night, Bradley came to 544 Maple Ave W. in a rush after a friend called to say the line had started. The friend was lying, Bradley said, but it paid off: He was the first in line.
Bradley waited as a crowd started forming behind him – young kids straight from a football game, teenagers in pickup trucks, families with camping chairs and some with rugs and blankets, stretching around and beyond the front of the brick facade. An hour or so later, a group of employees entered the store, Bradley said.
He waited some more.
About four hours after he first arrived, an employee appeared at the door to post a sign: "Due to construction, we are unable to open tomorrow," it said. "We might open on Monday or Tuesday. We let you know by radio or online. Sorry."
The crowd tried to ask the employees what would happen to their status in line, even flagging down a driver making a delivery to the restaurant, who said he wasn't employed by McDonald's.
Some people packed up their chairs and left. But resident Jim Briody decided to take action.
Briody, who had brought his kids straight from a football game and the local pool to wait in line around 8:30 p.m., began collecting the names of people waiting on a few stray sheets of paper. He and his sons were among the first 30 customers - and he wasn't going to walk away without at least an attempt to document who was there at the advertised time, he said.
Martin Cooley, another father whose SUV was loaded with kids, teens and blankets, began to help him.
"The news didn't seem to come from an authoritative source -- it left us hanging," cooley said. "What we tried to do is capture the people here ... free food for a year is no small award, it's a significant thing people are waiting for. We're hoping [McDonald's] will provide them that, or, some kind of freebie."
Around 12:30 a.m., Briody and Cooley counted 85 names on their list, though many in line said the crowd easily numbered more than 100 at 11 p.m., when the sign was posted. By the time the list was started, a good part of the crowd left.
Employees did not return to the front of the store after posting the sign; McDonald's was not able to be reached at the time of this story's publication.
Bradley doesn't know why the employees didn't tell him they weren't opening when they arrived – or as more and more people started lining up outside the door in the hours that followed. Customers in line who spoke to Patch said they heard about the opening from a mailed flyer announcing the re-opening and giveaway. A large red banner hung across the front of the building for the past week, counting down the days until the opening.
Michael Frye, a 2011 James Madison graduate, said what's known as the "Madison McDonald's" is "how I gain my football weight" – it's a constant stop for him and his friends during quick lunch breaks or late snacks, he said.
He leaves to start his freshman year at William and Mary at 6 a.m. Thursday; waiting for his free year of food was his last Vienna stop.
"This is crazy," he said, standing with his arms on his head, his back against the window glass. "You have no idea how much I gave up for this."
While several people decided to leave, many were still camped out at 12:45 a.m. Thursday. Charissa Youngblood had walked past the store with her son almost every day this spring and summer as walls were torn down, concrete was poured and bricks were put back up. He was counting down the days until it reopened, she said.
"I would tell him, 'I'm gonna get you a ticket so you can have a happy meal every day,'" she said. "He's expecting that to come home with me. I have to try."
Tiphanie Lumry, who had walked with her grandparents to the store for many years, waited with her.
On an oriental rug with tasseled pillows behind her, Haz-Sun Jin waited with two other women to get the golden ticket for her husband, who leaves at 4:30 a.m. every day to open their store in Washington, D.C. He usually stops at McDonald's on the way, as it's usually the only restaurant open in the area that can give him breakfast for the road.
"We've lived here for 18 years. For 18 years we've been customers," she said. "I've lost time, I've lost sleep. I'm waiting."
Hany Herakly, who lives in an apartment across the street, stood under the neon store lights unsure what he would do. He comes to McDonald's nearly every day with his daughters, and for more than just the good food, he said – it's for a neighborhood gathering place where he gets good service, fast.
"It's the best restaurant in America – without any exaggeration," he said.
"We'll see what happens," Briody said.
Vienna Patch will update this story as more information becomes available.