No, tickets to the Michael Jackson concerts had not evaporated by yesterday afternoon, and Henry (Hank) Smith, at the front gate of the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, was savoring his surprise.
"Just look how relaxed I am," he said, his back leaning against the ticket booth, elbows anchored on the ledge, gaze slowly scanning the trickle of ticket takers. "I'm sitting here thinking maybe I'll buy a ticket and maybe I won't. It's incredible. I can actually contemplate the idea of buying a ticket. I can choose my booth, choose my time and what concert I want to go to. I can even take a few minutes to talk to the guy selling the tickets."
Smith, grateful for his quick trip through the ticket line, said he might even go back to buy a ticket for himself. He would not have been at RFK if there hadn't been "a kid involved," he said, a friend's kid. It was those wide pleading eyes, and that broken hip that made Smith go. "He's darn near dancing on his crutches," he said.
But Smith, like other ticket buyers at the stadium yesterday, had expected to endure long lines of fans overheating with anticipation. And he had imagined that the disappointed ones would not leave without making a scene.
Several radio stations had reported that the first day's purchasing had left only 2,000 tickets (not true), and newspapers depicted an avalanche of tenacious fans descending on the stadium and the other two concert locations, the Capital Centre in Largo and the Civic Center in Baltimore.
"I like Michael Jackson, but not enough to go through all this insanity for him," said Smith. "I had visions of being trampled to death."
Instead, the columns of 200 buyers at each of the three ticket outlets had vanished by about 10 a.m. yesterday, an hour after the booths opened. And from then on, ticket buying became as lazy as a Sunday morning. Buyers could shuffle up to a booth and return to their cars before the motor had cooled.
John Rhamstine, box office manager at the stadium, was confounded by what he said was a sudden slackening of sales on Saturday. "It was kind of strange. It just petered out around 3 p.m. The interest died," he said.
That meant that when tickets went on sale yesterday, there were 500 to 600 left for the Saturday, Sept. 22 concert, and more than 4,000 for the one on Friday, Sept. 21.
By closing time yesterday, 80 seats remained for the Saturday show and only a couple hundred of Friday's 4,000 had been sold, according to Rhamstine. He said that at this sluggish pace, the sale of tickets would probably continue through today and tomorrow.
Organizers of the Jacksons' Victory tour could not be reached yesterday. But officials at the stadium said the sales slowed down partly because they had been going so fast. "I guess a lot of people assumed they were not going to get tickets," Rhamstine said.
Also, even devotees of Jackson find it hard to spend $30 for the upper deck seats, the last ones in the house. That was one reason given for why the tour's Philadelphia concert last month, for instance, did not sell out.
And, Rhamstine said, the 90,000 tickets were on sale over two beautiful weekend days. "I think that although it was more convenient, a lot of people made other plans, and waiting in line wasn't one of them."
One person determined to hold out yesterday was Tammi Martin, 22, who had driven a ticket buyer to the stadium. "Ask me why I'm not buying one," she yelled. "Thirty dollars is too much money. I'm waiting for it to come on video. I can't see spending that much money for a bunch of humans." But, edging toward the booth, she added: "Well, he is supposed to be superhuman."