I've written a lot about my experiences as a Bruce Springsteen fan over the years. When I was in law school something like 30 years ago, I was determined to write the definitive piece about how the Nijinsky of Asbury Park fit into my world view. I wrote and wrote and wrote, on a portable typewriter that I dragged around with me in those days. What emerged was a jumbled mess of an article that the editor of the law school newspaper couldn't understand, much less publish. It made sense to me, but no one else would get it. I was happy to get what I felt out of my system for a while, but what I wrote never saw the light of day.
I didn't get the manuscript back from that guy. It would make interesting reading now.
Anyway, there are always a lot of layers to Bruce stories. There's the music, the star, the performances, the crowd, the scene, the politics, and probably most importantly, how all of the above tie into the real world that happens before the music starts and after it stops. Having just come off last night's show at the Rose Garden in Portland, I think I'll try something that I wasn't smart enough to go for back in law school: I'll take the layers one at a time.
The last time Bruce and his band were here, playing the album "The Rising," the Mrs. and I got to the arena early enough to camp out in a line all afternoon and stand in the mosh pit right in front of the stage. There were no seats on the main floor of the arena, and no reserved spots on which to stand, but 350 lucky fans got to stand in the pit. Being that close to the E Street Band is a wonderful experience, and of course we wanted to do it again, and so for the present tour we again bought a pair of general admission, standing room spots.
This time around, the Bruce people eliminated the need for us to stand around all afternoon waiting for the show. Instead, from 2 to 5 they issued wristbands to all floor ticketholders who requested one, each with a number, issued in ascending numerical order. At 5:15 they would pick a number, and that number would be first in line to get in. Everyone after that number would line up behind him or her, in order. Once they reached the last number that had been issued, the patron with number 1 would get to go in, then 2, etc.
We popped over to the Rose Garden with the kids in tow a little before 3 and got our orange wristbands -- numbers 297 and 298. "Left wrist, please," the Springsteen man said. Nice silver-haired Jersey guy, around my age.
At the number assignment session, we saw some folks we know, right off the bat. Bean was there, along with Jim the Musician Lawyer, and our numbers were right next to theirs. We mused briefly about where we would stand in the pit if we got in. Then we went home for a cup of coffee before coming back for the 5:15 Moment of Truth.
When we arrived back at the arena at the appointed time, there were about a thousand people milling around outside. Everybody was lining up, as instructed, in number order. There was a KGON truck parked there, playing a 30-second commercial on a large screen over and over. The "We Will Rock You" one. I was able to tune it out, but it drove some people crazy. Eventually one of the fans climbed into the KGON truck and pulled the plug on the music. The crowd let out a big cheer.
There were some other folks in the crowd that we recognized. Craig the Guy I Work With and his daughter were there, and a young fellow I know, Charles. They were back in the 600's somewhere. In the line, we had some time for some nice conversation with the people behind us, whom we were meeting for the first time. Bruce concertgoers are always good company.
It had been a crazy weather day, with sun, then driving hail; temperatures were unseasonably cool, but the skies were sunny and blue. When the Springsteen guy came out and shook up the big bowl with the numbers in it, everybody stood up. A guy behind me said that the last number they had issued was 796. Bean and I deduced that if they drew a number lower than ours or higher than 750, we were in the pit. We all silently applied our powers of persuasion on the gods of fortune.
A fan out of the crowd picked the number and handed it to the tour guy. Then a young fellow with a bullhorn made the announcement: "670."
And so everybody from 670 to the end, and from the start of the line to number 230, would get to hang in the pit. For the rest of us, and for hundreds more who would be showing up in the next couple of hours, we'd have the back two-thirds of the arena floor to stand on.
We stood there pondering our fate. We had had about a 40 percent chance of making it to heaven, and we didn't quite get there.
Now, when you get as old as I am, you tend to have a Plan B for just about everything. In our case, we had heard through the grapevine earlier in the week that some nice lower-level seats had suddenly gone on sale, and we had also purchased two of them. And so I had four tickets in my pocket -- two floors, two decent seats. Knowing we would have an extra pair of tickets, and taking advantage of this era of bar-coded electronic tickets, we had parked an extra copy of both pairs with a friend. We told her we would call her after the drawing and tell her which pair she should use. After the Magic Number had been announced, we punched her digits into the cell and told her she'd be using the floor tickets. We would be sitting in the seats.
After I hung up, we stuck around in the line for a while. With Bruce's organization, there are sometimes pleasant surprises. Maybe, we thought, they'd let some extra folks into the pit. But the drawing had been so well organized, and the counting so exact, we eventually reached the conclusion that no, there would be no reprieve.
Given that they had numbers right around ours, Bean and Jim were also out of luck. Craig had a number in the low 600's, and so he missed the cut, too. Only Charles made it, and he scored big time, in the first 20 or so. "I hate you," I told him with a big smile. He and his lady friend were in for the big ride.
It was only 6:00, and the show wasn't scheduled to start for another hour and a half, and so the Mrs. and I decided to find a drink somewhere. We bid farewell to our erstwhile standing-room buddies, stepped over the yellow crime scene tape that was marking the lineup area, and walked off.