Monday, May 22, 2006

A GA diary: U2, Chicago, Sept. 20-21, 2005

Still updating from last fall:
U2 log
Part one of three, the log I kept in Chicago.

Monday 9/19
5:10 p.m.
Already the train is late, and I try not to worry that I’ve forgotten something. As Ally says, as long as I have the actual concert tickets, we can work around the rest. My suitcase seems unnecessarily large because it’s our only suitcase that has wheels. I learned my lesson last time. Maybe I’m anxious about arriving in Chicago at night & having to hail a cab in the dark, a woman alone, with luggage. I’m so small-town. I promised J I’d “be so careful I’d barely have any fun.” I don’t want to be extremely late & worry my friends. Only 20 minutes so far, but they don’t tend to improve.
5:50 p.m.
On train, coming into Lincoln, listening to the Allman Bros “Eat a Peach” on my iPod. Looks very ominous, dark and low’ring outside, with lightning. Does lightning strike trains? Will it rain in Chicago? Did I bring an umbrella? I did not.
8:00 p.m.
You know that scene in War of the Worlds when the flaming train speeds by in ruin? It’s a lot like that, only very slow, more crowded, and with a crying baby.
Arrived! Thank goodness. I was getting a headache, and the cab ride was wonderful, with the lake on my right and the skyline on my left. My friends Ally and Melissa were waiting outside the hotel.

5:13 a.m.
You have got to be kidding me.
We arrive at the United Center. My friends and I are numbers 59, 60, and 61 in line. There are about 8 tents and campers crashed out on sleeping bags and camp chairs. We spread our blanket and get our bearings. Laura, a tall girl who got to play guitar onstage last time we were here, gets out of a car with her blanket. We’re home.
7:45 a.m.
Andrea and the Belgian women arrive (separately). [Note: I know there’s a Belgian and a Frenchwoman, but let’s call them Belgian for convenience.] Belgian women were in Toronto, and Andrea asks about GA at the box office there.
I’m cold! At what time of day should I apply sunscreen? People are gradually streaming in. Ally and Melissa walk around the United Center to check out what we call the stalking area - where the band arrives, mid-late afternoon, and sometimes comes out to meet the fans.
8:30 a.m.
The Irish flag makes its first appearance, draped over some guy’s shoulder.
We lie on the blanket and attempt to nap for a while. It’s hard to fall asleep, with people talking and coming and going. I give up around 9:15 when Mandi arrives. The official parking lot opens so people can move their cars. I decide to apply sunscreen.
We move the blanket uphill into the shade and spend quality time discussing how hot Adam is, which is basically the theme of the morning. Adam is very popular among our group. The port-a-pottys are already gross. Mandi sits up and says “Oh my God, my bra just totally came undone.” It’s amazing how many people in the line look familiar.
We are so bored. The coming and going is at a lull, and people are sitting in the shade, just waiting, for the most part.
11:40 a.m.
We sit or lie on the blanket. The guys uphill are listening to the May 12 bootleg and talking about prior shows. (I recognize it from the guy in the audience who yells “I love you, Bono!” at intervals.) The group of women behind us are playing trivial pursuit. A guy who’s clearly impersonating Bono walks by and causes almost no sensation at all. My friends recognize him. “Oh, that guy.” Mandi and Andrea are waiting at the box office for them to release GAs. I’m hungry. I don’t know whether we’re going to try to find some lunch or not. The beauty of the number system - written on our inner wrists in blue sharpie - is that we can leave and return without causing animosity. On the other hand, my friend Melissa has arthritic knees, and we’re all trying to preserve our feet and legs for later. It’s the standing, but it’s the being still, unable to really shift your weight or change your position, that’s so grueling.
I’m getting hungry.
12:00 Ally offers to walk to taco bell for us. We gladly accept and make a list. The United Center general manager came by with a couple of staffers and made chitchat with some of the line. Last spring he rode around on a Segway and gave out some free bottles of water on a very hot day. He’s awfully corporate, but he says he’ll come by later with free water. We encourage him to do so. He teases us with the possibility of a free tour later, but he doesn’t seem very sincere about it.
Ally sets off for Taco Bell. Guys behind us still listening to May 12 bootleg. There hasn’t been much consistent traffic, although the spread-out, straggling line has grown to the end of the block. There’s still lots of room between groups, blankets outspread. By 5:00 the line will be solid to the end of the block and beyond with people standing in an actual more-or-less line close together.
On closer, but still not extremely close, look, fake Bono’s not really that bad. The guys behind us gave me a free bottle of water. I forgive them everything.
Ally returns w/taco bell. We gobble - delicious - and prepare to go around back for stalking.
1:20 p.m.
We join the 25 or so fans already waiting at the performer entrance, which consists of standing on the sidewalk between a fairly busy street and a chain-link fence. It’s two or three hours before anyone could reasonably expect the band to show up. The baking glare of the sidewalk is a poor substitute for the shady, grassy hillside where we waited earlier. Sunscreen has been slathered and re-slathered, and all that’s to be done now is wait and sweat.
1:50 p.m.
The manager came back with miniature bottles of water for those who want them. I chugged mine. I have to pee already, but I can wait a couple of hours. It’ll re-absorb as I dehydrate. People are further in than it seems will be allowed, but there aren’t any barricades like there were in May. People have brought a strange, ragtag assortment of items to be autographed, including postcards and what looks like an ink drawing of Bono. The Belgian women wears a cardboard sign around her neck with what might be her name written on it. This puzzles me. The crowd has grown to some 40 stalkers.
Apparently they’re only releasing GAs one at a time, and they’ve only released 3. Andrea got one - she started the line - but Mandi’s still waiting. Melissa’s blanket, her jacket, and Ally’s jacket are still back in the shade, but I brought all my stuff with me. Still cooking; far too hot to wear my denim jacket. Once in a while a car slows down and someone asks who we’re waiting for. I don’t know why they ask. They never seem particularly impressed by the answer. I think my brain is cooking. I am greasy with sunscreen. At least we ate, thanks to Ally’s valiant Taco Bell run. Otherwise we’d probably faint.
2:53 p.m. More people asking what we’re waiting for and not being particularly impressed with the answer. Lonely guy has recently turned into Jesus Guy. Never trust a man in a yellow necktie.
Additional security arrives and moves everyone back to the sidewalk outside the gates. We stand and crowd in anticipation.
People who look like Head Honcho security arrive. Anticipation builds. We eye every shiny black SUV that passes, and the drivers return our gazes uncomprehendingly.
Band members arrive. Bono and Edge both work the fence for a while, signing autographs. Bono takes someone’s cell phone and speaks into it. You can hear him chat people up: “What’s your name? Ryan! A good Irish name.” He speaks to the crowd a couple of times, mostly inaudibly, and poses with a family for a picture. He doesn’t quite come close enough. Edge comes close enough for eye contact. Response to my “Send Adam” sign was inadequate.
4:30 long bathroom line.
The GA line seems awfully short. Word is the box office only released like 8. In the line for the bathroom, Andrea and I at the same moment saw a guy at the front of the line who bore a striking resemblance to Adam from just that one angle. We cracked the fuck up, and he totally had to have heard us, because he was looking at us and cracking up. Also he was holding a “need tickets” sign, which, for Adam, was surreal.
4:45 The lineup
5:05 The line stretches to infinity.
5:30 Melissa breaks into Arcade Fire. Everyone within earshot gets it.
5:55 We stand. We fidget. We freak the hell out. Melissa sings various film and TV themes.
6:15 We - Mel, Ally and I get onto the rail exactly where we were May 10. In the ellipse: Mandi, Jessie, Andrea, the Belgian, the Frenchwoman, and everybody. The UC manager comes and gives us more funny looks.
6:50 p.m.
The twelve-hour mark is reached. We three are sitting with out backs to the rail wall. There isn’t really room - I can’t breathe. Mel gave her camera to Jessie. I’m just waiting, waiting for the Arcade Fire and the moment we can applaud Dallas.
7:06 p.m. C’mon, C’mon!
Melissa has agreed to be in charge of the two signs I made, since she doesn’t have a camera. They say “SEND ADAM” and “THANK YOU.” We’re gonna try to write a list for the post-opener, pre U2 music.
Manager came around with wine for people in the middle. Melissa keeps talking to him, so he brought another case of those small water bottles to pass around. I tucked mine into my bag for later, lest I have to pee too soon. I mean, I’ll have to anyway, but I want to be able to refrain.
7:40 Dashboard Confessional doesn’t suck but isn’t really my thing either. I keep wanting to call them Collective Soul.
8:02 The kind of straightforward pop-rock that all kind of sounds alike to me. I’m too old for ‘em.
8:14 intermediate music, list assembled by us three with help from the people around us.
1. unknown
2. E Pro - Beck
3. unknown
4. Idioteque - Radiohead
5. Mr. Brightside - the Killers

8:30 Dallas in full effect.

6. Beverly Hills - Weezer
7. unknown

8:39 Stuart passes by

8. Picture the View? - the Cure
9. Rebel Rebel - David Bowie

8:45 Dallas passes by.

10: Float On - Modest Mouse

8:47 Ashley and Wynnona Judd walk by. I see Wynona but I don’t recognize or register Ashley; Melissa does.

11. Rock the Casbah!
12. unknown
13. Arcade Fire omg

11:45 p.m. I didn’t write anything during the show. When I was making the list, a security guard came by and asked if I was a reporter. I said aloud, pretending to write, “Security is nice!!” Guy smiled - laughed and made a cha-ching gesture. Then later he came back - much later - and I recognized him and waved. And he handed me a setlist. Not a stage setlist, but a security copy. And ten minutes later he came back and handed one to Melissa. Later when the lights came up we waved and mouthed “thank you” and Melissa blew him kisses. We walked around back and saw him again and waved at each other. Now we’re waiting around at the band entrance/exit to see if they come out again. I’d love to have my set list autographed.
It must be the United Center. My contacts are doing that fuzzy fucked-up thing they did in May.
12:20 a.m.
There are almost 20 of us at the exit gates, but we’re not sure whether the band is still around or not. We don’t see “regulars” type people we recognize or, really, anyone official to ask, either. I wonder whether, if they were still here, there would be security in sight. We’ve seen employee-types leaving, and someone’s walking a wee Jack Russell-type pup down by the loading docks. Everyone else has phone calls to make, friends to tell about the show. I talked to J, but I really don’t have anyone to gush with. During the show I called Shannon, Eileen, and Lisa three or four times, but I didn’t know whether she picked up or not.
12:34 a.m.
We’re down to 14 stalkers. Hope wanes.
12:45 Larry Mullen. Larry. Mullen. Junior. Signed us autographs for all and let us take pictures. I cupped his hand under the set list as he signed it.

Wednesday 9/21
6:00 a.m.
5:15 came even earlier this morning than yesterday. My contacts are still all blurry; I’m packing eyedrops and specs, but I’m not sure what to do about it. We were up till well past 3:00, riding the Larry high. We were giggly and hysterical. I’ll finish updating at the venue, but after Larry we took a cab back and went to a 24-hour breakfast dive down the street. My food got gross very quickly, but it was good that we ate something. I’m - I think we all are - hoping to get several hours’ sleep at the venue. My eyes feel all red and weary. It’s like college but without the booze. At my age that’s far, far too close to an all-nighter for my comfort. And we have about 12 hours before we go in!
Last night the SUV stopped and I couldn’t see who was getting out of it - you could tell it was someone, from the buzz - until Ally, behind me, said “Oh my God, it’s Larry.” He stood there kind of looking and not-looking at us. Someone gave him something to sign and he asked, “Do you have a pen?” Andrea gave him one. He said “Please don’t video me,” and the guy didn’t really hear him, so he said a bit more forcefully, “I don’t want to be video’d.” The guy asked if we could photo him and Larry said yes. He asked if Andrea liked the show, and she said it kicked. More later.
7:20 a.m.
We got here just a bit after 7:00. I’m number 108, which is a bit disappointing, but I’ve had much worse. It’ll work out, though.
… So Larry signed autographs. I handed him my set list and tried to give him my sharpie, but he wouldn’t take it because he already had the pen. From behind me, Melissa said “You’re the holy grail!” I said, “Shh, don’t scare him!” I stepped back a bit and I said “We miss the boom chas.” He looked almost as though he wanted to smile. His shirt was way unbuttoned.
After he signed each thing he glanced at the person and gave a little nod like “We’re done here, right? Check.” He was very patient in a “not sure I really want to be doing this” kind of way. He tried to get to everyone and we all thanked him. My camera battery was basically dead at that point. I got one off-center picture of him with Ally in the frame. My camera didn’t snap in time when Ally, Melissa, and Mandi were posing with him. There aren’t any pictures of me and Larry. When he signed my set list, he put his hand flat under it to sign on it, and I put my hand under his in a gesture meant to help give support or a platform for him to write on, but it ended as my hand flat under his hand. Which probably was offputting, but it’s a nice memory.
Ally returns from Walgreens with blankets. Melissa makes what I assume is her first phone post of the day. We’ve been telling everyone in line “we met Larry last night” as they walk up. I have a general impression that we’re really obnoxious. Still hoping I don’t have to take out my contacts. I’m gonna try to get some sleep.
I slept about 90% for 45 minutes or so. I kept hearing conversations and planes. I gave it up and made a “BOOM CHA” sign. P.S. Still have met Larry.
I’ve been lying down relaxing but I just can’t sleep. Can’t let go that last 5 or 10 percent. I put in foam earplugs, but I just can’t shut out the conversations around me. There’s some talk of renumbering. I hope that’s to my advantage. I don’t have access to a good shade patch. I managed not to burn yesterday. I should write the Neutragena company and thank them.
They renumbered to account for people who signed up as though they were camping but didn’t seem to be around. I dropped from 108 to 81. Which probably doesn’t make much difference except that the people with those numbers are going to be really pissed off when they come back. I smell a rumble in Brighton.
Mandi went to box office line. We get snacks from the wagon. I get a cold Pepsi. He didn’t have any meatless sandwiches. I’m hoping I can totally avoid pooping for the whole day. Stinky Guy from May is here. He’s talking to someone who looks like Mysterious Ways woman from May but probably isn’t. We’re planning to go around back to stalk around noon.
12:00 noon
We head around back to stalk. Andrea shows up, and she and Ally both brought umbrellas. We just got here when they brought out the small free water and said they’d be back 3:00-4:00. Don’t know if I can get any sleep on a hard sidewalk next to a busy, smelly street, but if I could it would be awesome. I feel physically unwell from lack of sleep, because I am. I put in my earplugs, but I can still hear conversations and cars loud & clear.
12:20 This really is the ridiculous part, the long, hot wait round back, but meeting Larry last night made anything seem possible.
12:45. It’s way too hot. I decide that if I don’t get some sleep, I’ll be ill later. I leave the stalkers and go back to the blankets, leaving “SEND ADAM” with Mel.
I got a couple hours’ nap time. Mandi and I came over to the gate to stalk now. I don’t feel hungry, but I feel weak.
Larry came at 4:30, w/Adam and Edge soon after. We waited for Bono till 5:00 Line=clusterfuck.
Clusterfuck continues, but we all went to the fan club line. Looks ok. Took out contacts.
None of us scanned in. Rail to the right of Larry. Ally, Mandi, me. Melissa went over to the right corner like last night.
Something I meant to mention was how emotional a reaction fans have when they meet a band member. I remember in May when Bono got out of his car, a woman near us took several steps backward in reaction. When Melissa met Edge in May she cried afterward; yesterday afternoon a woman was sobbing; & last night Mandi wept after we met Larry.
8:15 D. Confessional still emo. We’re clearly all exhausted w/ hurting feet. Just waiting for Arcade Fire!
11:30 Melissa texted me earlier that she saw Billy Corgan.
Thursday 5/22
6:45 a.m.
Last night after the show we walked around to the stalking area. The first night it was pretty abandoned, but the last night in the city there was a certain amount of bustle going on. One of the guards told us the band had left already. We knew there was a peace museum fundraiser that night also. Mandi’s mom, on the phone, told her she’d seen them go too - guess they had a police escort. Andrea’s mom had driven (and let us put junk in her car), and I called J as we went to the car. I babbled meaninglessly for a while. They’d just closed with ‘40’ with Sheriff Larry leaving the stage last, that stud. Andrea’s mom had all this cold bottled water and some potato chips & stuff. To be handed a cold bottle of water as we came out of there - priceless. She drove us back to the hotel, too, so we saved cab fare and had a giggly, chatty good time.
We decompressed for about half an hour. Such a luxury, such a gift to have plumbing. Just to wash one’s hands w/ soap and running water instead of a precious handful of bottled, not to mention using a real toilet that flushes and is clean. 6:15 a.m. wasn’t nearly as early as I’d have guessed. I slept really well for a change. Nothing to anticipate, I suppose.
I have mixed feelings. I’m so glad I don’t have to do that again. My God, it was grueling. And I’m homesick and I miss my things. But the hardship is kind of cool, since a couple of hundred people are doing the same thing. There were so many people we recognized. Fellow autograph seeker. Dancing Spanish speaker. Joy from Phoenix. Guy who slept all day. The guy next to us at the rail. All the people Ally’s met along the way. The concerts themselves, completely awesome. I never want it to end.

8:04 a.m.
Getting on this train reminds me of the time we met Larry.
The strangest adjustment isn’t back to civilization, or to work. The weirdest thing, and oddly difficult, is - for me - the first time (as when waiting for the train) that you’re in a crowd that’s not the crowd at the concert. All these people together waiting for something, and none of them waiting for U2. I don’t recognize any of them, none of them have numbers, none of them camped here overnight. They don’t know what I’m going through. We’re not going to just start a conversation because, unlike the GA line, these people and I are not neighbors. We’re not sort-of suffering together, and we won’t celebrate together later. Arcade Fire means nothing to them.
I’m imaging J’s reaction to my reaction to Arcade Fire in December. December is not enough. I want more. More love, more madness. More face time. More autographs!
It occurs to me this morning that I basically just ate potato chips yesterday. I was thinking how on the way up to Chicago on Monday I really wanted to - and did - avoid using the train bathroom because yecch. 24 hours later, what luxury the train toilet would have seemed.
General notes on train home:

Soundtrack home: Arcade Fire
Miss Sarajevo
“We recorded this with Luciano Pavarotti. He’s not here, but I have been putting on a little weight.”

After a while your ass is sore from sitting on pavement, concrete, and the ground. Your feet hurt from standing and walking. Your knees and joints ache from confinement. You think you can’t bear to stand, but if you squat or kneel it hurts something else just as badly. You have to rotate the aches.
You monitor your intake, trying to stay hydrated enough to feel well but trying to juggle it so you won’t have to pee between 5-11 p.m.
That last hour is horrible. When you’re all lined up but the gates aren’t open yet and you don’t know where you’ll be, and you start making plans about pairing up or teaming up if someone scans. It’s what you waited all day for, it’s the payoff moment for all the late night, early morning, lack of sleep dirty sweaty hungry hot cold sick thirstyness. It’s horrid. The suspense is horrid.

Wed. night the guy behind me asked me what they’d opened with the night before, and I pulled out my setlist. The half-dozen or dozen people who could see it all took a good look and a couple of people took pictures of it, which cracked me up. It felt like my thirty seconds of fame, to cause an extremely small stir. They were looking over our shoulders at our pictures of Larry, too. Ally was looking at her picture with the group and Larry and was zooming in on his chest, and I, standing behind Ally, heard a guy like two people behind me say something about it. (“They’re zooming in on his nipple!”)

Word is that Kanye West will open in St. Louis.

At the end it’s weird, strangers saying goodbye. “Did you say you’re going to Detroit? See you in Cleveland!” It’s amazing where everyone’s from. The first night Ally was right next to some other guys from LA.

“The Edge is from the future. Not just the future, but from another planet in another galaxy in the future. … I’m serious. … When his spaceship came down in the north side of Dublin it was making that sound. And Larry asked him, “Where are you from?” And Edge said, “I’m from the future.” And Adam asked him, “What’s it like in the future?” And Edge said, … “It’s better.”

I swear Melissa (or Andrea?) was talking to someone who was like “last May they were filming the scan-in line for Good Morning America,” and (Andrea?) said “We have a friend who was scanned in and she was so excited she kind of freaked out and they showed it on TV” and the guy said - no shit - “Oh! Was she wearing a pink tank top??”

It’s weird how the body responds. I don’t exert myself much, so this is strange. There are moments in the day where all you can think about is how hungry you are or how thirsty you are or how much your feet hurt or whatever, but it passes. Mostly it passes in the euphoria and excitement and anticipation of the event. But like today, yeah, I’m looking forward to an actual decent meal, but at the same time it makes you realize how much people overeat. I know there’s a happy medium, but it makes you just go, Do I really need to eat so much?

Bono, toward the back, hesitantly: “This is … this is a song that …” Comes forward, checks monitor, continues with assurance. “Yeah. This is a song that we haven’t played much …”

The first night there wasn’t any doubt that Bono saw our “send Adam” sign. He kind of did a little double-take. I MADE BONO DO A DOUBLE-TAKE.

Also the first night some people in the second tier on Adam’s end had a big sheet-sign that just said ADAM. At the end he shaded his eyes to look up at them, then gave them a big wave.

The second night when Adam was on the ramp by us he most definitely made eye contact with me and Ally and gave us a big grin.

Bono impersonator was a different Bono both days. First day, he was straw-cowboy-hat, all-denim Bono. Second day, he was green military cap, Love and Peace jacket Bono. He’s a bit younger, but he really does look startlingly like Bono. Guess he’s from a tribute band. That guy’s always in the ellipse, but he doesn’t camp out, he shows up late. He’s always working the crowd, too. Wish I’d managed to get a picture of him, but I hardly even got pictures of my real friends, because I was trying to save my camera battery for later.

Dear God, I like U2 more than ever. This can’t be over. Can I find a way to get to Cleveland?

Thursday night
A day later and it’s surreal. I feel so empowered … it’s weird not to have anything on the horizon. My sharpie numbers are nearly worn off. Yesterday Ally and I were saying how everything was The Best Ever because we were so desperate. The best water, the best potato chips, even the best nap on the ground with the sun in your face. This afternoon, today, I feel like everything is kind of new. Running water, not just for a half hour but all the time. Access to a toilet. I was home for hours before I thought to look in the fridge. Milk! Oh, God, milk! I took a big drink. It was the Best Milk Ever. Dinner had vegetables in it and I ate a whole meal with silverware off plates. Corn! Best corn ever!
It’s the little things.
One thing I learned is that it’s worth the weight of an extra bottle of water in your bag just so you’ll have it later. It doesn’t matter how warm the water is, it just matters that there’s water. My hands are clean. My fingernails are clean. After putting on sunscreen a couple of times, my nails were always filthy. It got to the point where you’d pick up someone’s discarded nearly-empty bottle of water to pour some in your hand and do a quick wipe-wash. This afternoon I took a nap in a bed with sheets and a pillow, indoors. In two days I became obsessed with water and how much and when, and with where and when I could urinate. I felt compelled to have a bottle of water on the train this afternoon.

I thought when I got back from city driving, I was a faster driver here. But when I got home from 3 days of being in a car only when I was a passenger in a Chicago taxicab, I noticed that I drove … like a cab driver once I got back home.

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