Sometimes you find America in the strangest of places. I was certainly not prepared to discover deep truths about my country in a queue of people waiting all night to buy tickets for the Michael Jackson concert. But I did.
Being the father of two pre-teen-age boys has its compensations, such as having to buy only one pair of "glitter gloves," both of which get used; but the thought of spending a brisk night under the stars in Anacostia with $300 in my pocket isn't tops on my list of things one does for one's children. Still, off I trudged, armed with a blanket, folding chair, peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, and more than a little trepidation.
Any fears concerning my personal well-being disappeared on my arrival, when I found a well- lighted RFK stadium inhabited by a large number of like-minded (like-mindless?) parents, along with a moderate force of D.C. police and stadium security guards.
Within each of the several lines, there seemed to form small communities of eight or 10 based solely on proximity rather than ethnic or other apparent mutuality. My group consisted of Bev and Kevin, a black couple who own a chain of gourmet hot dog stands in posh malls; Judy, a blonde woman decked out entirely in Redskin regalia; Mike, a black workman who had put together $40 so his daughter could see her idol perform; Bill and Laura, a white couple about whom I know little except that they own farmland in Virginia; Skip, a black sometime chauffeur who had no interest in the Jackson concert but was spending the night in line to get tickets for his sister; and me, a white businessman.
People united in some causes form a political party. We formed a party of a different kind, and oh, what a party it was. Joint holdings were combined into a feast consisting of fried chicken, stuffed shrimp, coffee, beer, Courvoisier, and of course a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
As the hour took its toll on our diverse party, we went to sleep side by side, huddled against the chill. I can't recall a sounder night's rest (vouched for by Bev, who awarded me the prize for loudest snorer in a cast of thousands). I awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and doughnuts, provided for the group by Kevin and Bill, the early risers. As we sat around warming our hands and flexing the stiffness from our muscles, another drama developed. It was getting close to the magical 9 o'clock when ticket sales were to begin, and Skip's sister, who had to get the ticket money from the bank, had not arrived. Skip, it seems, had come with no money, just a desire to help his sister get good seats.
Spontaneously came three offers to advance as much as $100 to this young man, from people who didn't even know his last name. Although Skip refused the offered money, he graciously accepted our plan to insist that he be allowed to maintain his place in line until his sister arrived. Even the crowd-hardened security guards would be no match for this coalition.
It was then that I noticed Mike trying surreptitiously to wipe a tear from his eye. "This is America," he said, "This is what it's all about." A suggestion: as the leaders of nations continue to feud, fight, and bewail the fact that their basic differences are simply insurmountable, put them together in an all-night line for Michael Jackson concert tickets. Maybe they, too, will discover what it's all about.
The writer lives in Silver Spring.