James Earl Smith hardly noticed the glow of dawn as he counted and recounted the $240 he had kept rolled tightly in his left sock. In a few more hours, his 17-hour wait to buy the first tickets sold yesterday at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium for the Jacksons' RFK-bound Victory tour would be over.
Smith, 29, a Walter Reed Hospital operating-room technician, was officially the first among about 2,000 people who bedded down on the stadium's damp, cold grounds for a chance to plunk down $30 a ticket to see probably the world's best-known entertainer, Michael Jackson, the sequined Peter Pan of Pop.
"I got a 4-year-old son dying to see Michael Jackson," Smith said, before admitting that he is just as much a fan of the Jacksons as his son. "Let's say it's 50-50."
The scene of eager ticket buyers patiently standing in blocks-long lines that sometimes moved with inchworm speed, was, in general, repeated in Largo at the Capital Centre and at Baltimore's Civic Center yesterday.
More than 1,000 people, some claiming to have arrived as early as 6 p.m. Friday, lined up outside four gates at the Capital Centre and dropped their names in a box for a drawing that would allow them to stand, hours later, in another line to buy tickets.
Centre officials said they used the lottery system to help reduce the crush of crowds waiting all night for the ticket offices to open and also to frustrate ticket scalpers.
Chuck Zorb, who ran the lottery Friday night, said the system gave everyone a fair chance to be at the front of the ticket line. The lottery was just part of a military-like order that prevailed at the Capital Centre throughout the day's ticket sales.
Thirty-two men built like Redskin linebackers, clad in neon yellow windbreakers and blaring their authority as official peacekeepers, stood guard beginning at midnight Friday over a crowd of Jacksonmaniacs that by dawn yesterday had swelled to an estimated 3,300.
As the magic ticket-selling hour of 9 a.m. neared, the security guards became drill sergeants. "Numbers 7,250-through-60 line up. In order. . . . Can we back it up please . . . " a security guard grinned.
"What is this, the military?" shouted one tall, unamused young man as he lined up.
For the most part, the crowd was well behaved.
Willa Coleman, 73, said she thought the "good manners" of the crowd reflected the love and religious commitment of Michael Jackson's Jehovah's Witness way of life.
As a favor to her nieces, Coleman said she drove from Falls Church to Largo at 11 p.m. Friday to purchase a passel of tickets, including, of course, one for herself.
She drew a number in the ticket lottery, went home, took care of her poodles and returned to collect her tickets.
The scene in Largo contrasted with the more festive atmosphere at RFK stadium and in Baltimore.
Charles A. Neutstadt, executive director of Baltimore's Civic Center, said he hadn't seen so much excitement over concert ticket sales since Elvis Presley performed in Baltimore in 1977.
Bathed in the warmth of the morning sun, ticket buyers at RFK found ways to wait creatively. Battery-powered television sets flickered Saturday morning cartoons to the delight of young children standing nearby.
Card games, word games and board games, balanced on picnic coolers or on the backs of sleeping buddies, abounded. There were also industrial-strength "boom boxes" that blared out the latest Jackson tunes, with a serious amount of Prince also in the electronic air.
"There have been no problems of any kind," said Edward Spurlock, acting commander of the D.C. police Special Operations Division. "These were nice people, well behaved and polite."
But satisfaction wasn't measured by how well one passed the time in line.
At 9:04 a.m., James Earl Smith became the first person to walk away from one of four windows at RFK's main ticket gate with eight tickets in the middle of the third row.
"I feel good," said Smith, a slight man dressed in a bulky gray sweater and cranberry-colored cords and sneakers. "I'm going to be right up front and see Michael Jackson sweat."
Brett Bagley, 13, and Darren Lubetzky, 12, said they are not big Michael Jackson fans, but the two said they sensed the potential profits of a performer who could make grownups sleep all night in a parking lot.
"We are both going to buy three tickets apiece," said Bagley. "We are going to use one ticket for ourselves and sell the others for a profit."
Bagley said his father advanced the boys the capital to begin their venture. "This is just a business," he said.
By midafternoon, demand for the tickets had slowed since only the most distant seats -- 12,000 of them -- at RFK were left, said Joseph J. Wisnewski, director of administration for TicketCenter, the computerized ticket sales agency for Victory Tour tickets.
Officials said last night that about 85,000 tickets for the two shows were sold yesterday and that the remaining tickets -- about 2,000 for Friday and 1,000 for Saturday -- would go on sale today at 9 a.m. at the three locations. The locations will remain open until 6 p.m., or until all tickets are sold.
Washington Post staff writer John Ward Anderson also contributed to this story.