ATLANTA — The best seats were gone by noon. Oysters were served on the half-shell; cold beer foamed in plastic cups. Girls in strappy sandals perched on barstools; television reporters lolled in beach chairs; and everyone, but everyone, stared into the sky.
They were looking at the speck that was Carl Edward Roland. For more than two days, Roland sat on the narrow arm of a crane, suspended 350 feet above Peachtree Road. Ten police negotiators tried to coax him down, but Roland stayed where he was, occasionally waving to spectators, until early today when police took him into custody.
Authorities said that Roland was tackled and handcuffed when he edged over toward the negotiators.
"Apparently he was thirsty," Atlanta police Sgt. John Quigley told reporters.
Roland and several officers remained on the crane early today as police weighed the safest way to get him down from the precarious perch.
As the drama continued during the day Friday, the gaudy entertainment strip in Atlanta's Buckhead section developed into the strangest of block parties.
"This is the ultimate reality TV," Jennifer O'Donnell, 37, a tourist from Nashville, said between cellphone calls to friends at home. "We're drinking Bloody Marys on a patio, watching a guy try to kill himself."
But she tempered her remarks. "I don't want someone to get hurt," she said. "I think that is just people talking. No one wants to see him die."
Roland, a 41-year-old former computer salesman, drove to Atlanta from his home in Florida. He is a suspect in the slaying of his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Gonzalez, whose body was found Tuesday floating in a retention pond behind her apartment in Pinellas County, Fla. She had been strangled, police said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Roland began scaling the crane, which hovers above a half-built luxury condominium complex, the Ovation. He threatened construction workers with a knife, Quigley said. Roland then dropped his wallet from the crane, which allowed police to identify him.
Various strategies were employed in an effort to persuade Roland to come down.
On Thursday, a woman who identified herself as Roland's younger sister tried to signal him with a hand mirror she borrowed from a hair salon.
On Friday, police flew a helicopter near Roland and hovered for a few minutes over his head before circling him several times at high speed. A siren, apparently placed in a concrete bucket near him, whined intermittently.
Roland did not accept food or water during the 56-hour standoff, although he did wear a jacket police gave him. At times, he crept out to the far end of the crane's arm, or in toward the platform where police negotiators stood.
The sun on Friday was dazzling. Along Peachtree Road were men in sherbet-colored polo shirts and women in orange-tinted sunglasses; a dance club called Mako's advertised "Mardi Gras 365 Days a Year."
Mordecai Stephen, 29, had been standing on a curb for two hours, chatting easily with all kinds of strangers -- an unusual experience in a "segregated city" like Atlanta, he said.
"It's a spectacle," said Stephen, who wore a mesh shirt and track pants. "It brings down normal human barriers."
When two women drove slowly by in a sport utility vehicle, he leaned toward them and said, "You look beautiful today."
"I have actually come into contact with a couple of females since I got out here," he said.
All along the street, spectators stood as still as statues, watching Roland. They had different reasons.
Gordon Mattox, 61, stood alone in a doorway for an hour, certain that as soon as he took his eyes off Roland, something terrible would happen.
A parking valet named Mesfin Wolde prayed. He had been praying since lunch on Thursday.
"I feel really sorry for him now," said Wolde, 28, who is from Ethiopia. "Right now, he is between life and death."
"I just pray for him," said Julius Johnson, a waiter at Chops restaurant. "I think he should come down, don't end your life like that."
Others stuck their heads out of cars and yelled, "Jump!" Ray McCoy, a mortgage banker, took a circuitous route to work, hoping to be in Buckhead for the exact moment that interested him.
"I want to see the jump," McCoy said. "If he's going to jump, he should jump. He's just wasting everybody's time and money."
Others at the scene marveled at the string of extraordinary occurrences that had taken place in Atlanta over the last few months.
In March, the nation was riveted by the story of Ashley Smith, the waitress who talked courthouse slaying suspect Brian Nichols into surrendering to police.
In April, Jennifer Wilbanks vanished days before her wedding, then made up a story that she had been kidnapped, launching a nationwide frenzy of kibitzing.
By Friday, Roland seemed to have supplanted Wilbanks from the news, at least temporarily.
"This is Hotlanta," said Quinton Maddox, 47, who had been sitting on the patio of the East Village Grill for 4 1/2 hours. "Hotlanta. This is what they call the Dirty South."
Maddox said he planned to "turn his head" if Roland decided to jump from the crane, although he had a feeling he would be able to hear the man's body hit the ground. Giving a little shudder, he wondered aloud whether somebody should call the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Other questions occurred to Tamika Anderson, a 25-year-old dental assistant, who looked up at Roland through binoculars.
"I want to know why he came to Atlanta. They have cranes in Florida. Isn't this town crazy?" she said. "We have a bunch of kooks in this town."