Monday, October 19, 2009

Washington, DC, 9/28/09

I went to Washington, DC at the end of September to visit several old friends and, of course, to go to a U2 show with one of them.

I’d never been to DC before, and Monday before the show my friend and host spent a day taking me to some of the major attractions. Since it was a Tourism Blitz, we didn’t really go into any of the museums or anything – just hit the high points. It was amazing! I had no idea it was possible to see so many monumental sites (really, no pun intended) in one day, so close together.

First, I learned to ride the Metro, DC’s light rail system, which seemed like a great system run sensibly – buy a card, prepay it, scan it when you get on and when you get off, and it deducts you for that ride. Fill it up at a kiosk at the station with your atm card. How much more convenient could it be?

We started at Arlington National Cemetery, the national cemetery for war dead, home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and several Kennedys. Our ‘hit the high points’ agenda included the grave of John F. Kennedy (now with more Jacqueline and eternal flame).


It was smaller and flatter than I imagined – I think I was thinking of something more like the tomb of the unknowns. I liked it, though – relatively plain and simple – and I liked the stonework.

Nearby is Robert Kennedy’s much simpler grave, then Teddy’s.


You can see the outline of the new sod.

Arlington itself was a good place to visit, too. I’d like to go back when I have more time. A cemetery is a very effective monument to the glories of war. Imho.

One long walk across a long bridge later (well, the bridge was long if you’re walking it) and we came up behind the Lincoln Memorial. You know it, you love it.


Looking over the national mall from the Lincoln Memorial:


From there, on the right is the Korean War Memorial, and on the left is the Vietnam War Memorial. (and, of course, straight ahead is the Washington Monument, and waaay past that, the Capitol.) We went to the Korean memorial first; apparently I have never seen any pictures of it – it was amazing. I’d never seen anything like it. The pictures don’t really do it justice. A striking kind of diorama of a unit of soldiers with all their gear, looking tired and brave.


And then, of course, the Vietnam Memorial. I liked how one’s path sank gradually, as into a grave. You read one name, another name, and another, and they go on and on, and it’s like the rows and rows of tombstones at Arlington. Absolutely overwhelming.


We went on to the World War II memorial, which was gigantic with a plinth for each state and lot of water. I don’t know that I’ve ever used the word “plinth” before, by the way. Then we walked several blocks away – past many important government buildings and the Red Cross headquarters – to the White House’s back yard. Which, wow. One of the many, many places it was very difficult to tear myself away from.


At this point we were hot and tired and footsore, so we went a few blocks further to the Press Club and had lunch at a little sandwich place there (and did a bit of touristy shopping, too) before heading back to the mall and eyeing the Washington Monument from yet another angle before admitting we were too pooped to go right up to it. We also admired many great views of the Capitol and various places where Josh Lyman went jogging on “The West Wing.” Finally we limped into the Air and Space Museum just to use their bathroom, but on the way to the facilities I touched a moon rock that’s on exhibit for that purpose, so that was cool.

Here’s my whole flickr set for the day:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

U2, Chicago, Soldier Field, 9/13/09

U2 in Chicago: the madness continues

As stated, after the 9/12 show my friend Ally and I got numbers 46 and 47, which was awesome. We went back to our group by the loading dock and eventually ended up asking a cab driver where we could get something to eat near our hotel at that hour; eight or ten of us ended up with late-night subs, also availing ourselves of the opportunity to buy some pastry and/or chips for the next day.

After the first day, some of us were really tired (okay, ALL of us were really tired), and some of us felt less urgency for the second day. However, Ally and I planned to hit it hard again; we wanted to be there about 4:30. Unfortunately, we overslept – I can’t imagine why, besides the exhaustion, other than the fact that four educated, intelligent, capable women from three continents apparently can’t figure out how to work a hotel alarm clock. At any rate, the two of us got to the off-site underpass encampment around 5:30 (again, the venue wouldn’t let people line up overnight on the property, but with security’s knowledge they lined up very nearby). We were just in the nick of time, AGAIN, because (as happens) some people were missing, and security was getting ready to move us to the on-site line again – the underpass. So the line organizers were going down the line taking roll again and renumbering to skip over the absentees. Ally and I bumped up to 35 and 36, which is the best number I’ve ever had and could not be more awesome. Then security let us on site to the real line, which, again, it wasn’t a single-file waiting area, so the numbers weren’t kept as strictly as at other lines I’ve seen, but it worked for us. The wait was much more pleasant Sunday because we’d been there before, we knew the ropes, we had more room because it wasn’t a line-merging rush at the last minute. Time seemed to pass much faster.

The day went very similarly. People looked familiar; we tried to save our strength. I was exhausted from the day before and from lack of sleep, but I can’t really fall asleep in line very well. I can relax and rest and come very close to dozing, but not really sleep. I was so tired, I kept thinking that if I kept eating, it would be the same as sleep – energy acquisition, right? I ate everything I could. You also end up analyzing your liquid intake in strange ways. Like, I have to have caffeine to live and to not have a headache. And it’s very important to keep hydrated all day so you don’t faint during the show. But after 3:30 or 4:00 you can’t go to the bathroom from the line, and you don’t want to have to go once you’re inside – it’s such a madhouse. So you drink a lot at some times, cut yourself off at others – it’s kind of weird.

The first night, however, I discovered my secret weapons to surviving, even tired and/or hungry, which is that I sneaked a water bottle into the place each night – later you need that water! – as well as a soyjoy bar and one of those “5-hour energy drinks,” which I don’t usually have. I don’t know whether it’s a psychological thing – certainly those drinks taste horrible – but having the bar and drinking the thing after the opening band gives you just that extra bit of energy to get through.

The second day, the head security guy (“Tony”) told us he’d been trying to get us better organized and safer, because the charge into the stadium had been kind of a dangerous cluster the night before. This time they roped us off again, but a phalanx of security actually walked us through the first area to the turnstiles. Again there was some confusion – people in all the other lines were getting wristbands, and the staff person in our line was holding a bunch of them, so going through, we all stopped and asked, “Don’t we need wristbands?” and he said “No – don’t hold up the line!” so we went ahead without them, because, what can you do? A guy after him hole-punched our tickets for reasons I don’t understand. We ran inside and around the corner and waited again. Then we were supposed to hold up our tickets and wristbands as we ran past security. I HAVE NO WRISTBAND. but it was a mob scene, there was no way they could see or could have stopped me, so I just held up my ticket with the rest and ran ran ran. Again Ally and I wanted the same spot and she promised to hold a space for me, so I ran and looked for her and ran and walked past security and ran-walked and nearly died - football fields are BIG - and there she was as promised, so there we were!

This second night we decided to try for the inner pit – in past tours this was lottery-based or random, but on this tour it’s strictly first come first serve, which, frankly, is the only way I’ll ever get in there. So with Ally’s superior running skills coming into play once again, we got inside the pit at the stage rail right in front of Adam Clayton. Hooray!



Sunday night's show was even better than Saturday’s. It has to be the best concert I've ever seen. they made a few changes in the set list and took out 'Pride' for the first time in years but added back in "until the end of the world," which made me very very happy. That’s not only a song I love a ton, but it’s one of my favorite U2 songs live. Ally and I had a great time jumping up and down and singing and cheering and taking pictures.

At first I didn’t feel that way; I was kind of discouraged, because from that close to the stage, your view is most excellent of some of the stage but very limited when it comes to other parts of the show. And when the bridge swung out and was almost directly over us, it was so chaotic, security had to come out into the crowd, you couldn’t really see anything – I felt kind of less than 100 percent thrilled about our choice.


But the bridge was only right over us for one song, and security got out of our way, and we were right at the stage, and the sound was amazing, and the show was amazing, and everything went right. Oh, not only that, but they played a rare track “Your Blue Room” live for the first time ever anywhere that night. It’s not even on my short list of favorite U2 songs, but it joins many less-than-my-favorite U2 songs that is totally redeemed live (I never liked Miss Sarejevo that much until I saw it live on the Vertigo tour, for instance). Plus it was such a rare experience.

Sometimes something happens at a concert that you really can’t explain. It’s the same people doing the same thing, but everything just kind of clicks and comes together, and the audience is better and pushes the band a little further, and they give a little more and provokes the audience to respond a little more – this was that kind of night. Afterward people were just kind of gasping, “amazing – wow – WOW.”


Afterward we went back out to the loading dock again. Let me mention here that, regardless of the facts, venue staff will invariably tell you that the band left a long time ago and that you are wasting your time waiting. Sometimes this is true and sometimes it isn’t. However, this time there weren’t really any security people around, and someone came and took down some barriers, so it didn’t look good for stalking on this particular occasion. So we gave up and went away – exhausted and satisfied.


My flickr set from 9/13/09:

set list:

No Line On The Horizon
Get On Your Boots
Beautiful Day
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Your Blue Room
Unknown Caller
Until the End of the World
Stay (Faraway, So Close)
The Unforgettable Fire
City of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy
Encore 1:One
Where the Streets Have No Name
Encore 2:
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender

U2, Sept. 12, 2009, Soldier Field, Chicago

I’ve totally neglected this blog for forever – the result of too much other ‘social media,’ I think.

But I have some shows to tell you about – in September I went to three U2 shows and got some great pics.

First I went to the two Chicago shows on Sept. 12 and 13th; I met a bunch of friends from across the country and abroad for the occasion, which was great – some I hadn’t seen in a few years, and some I hadn’t met in person before, so it was loads of fun catching up and/or getting to know one another. (California, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Vermont, Illinois, Indiana, Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden, and I know I’m forgetting some. There was a large California contingent.)

I had general admission tickets, as one does. The Sept. 12 show (Chicago 1) was the North American tour opener, so it was a big draw. There’s a tradition at U2 shows that the fans organize the line, so it’s first come first serve and you get on a numbered list. This allows you to come and go during the day with a measure of security and makes it harder to cut in line (until chaos happens). However, it’s considered good form and good manners to be physically present in the line for most of the day; that way you’ve done your time and earned it, and also the people around you in line recognize you; it eliminates misunderstandings and hard feelings.

So, since it was the tour leg opener, we heard that people had lined up a day or two earlier – to begin establishing the line and the numbering, although the facility (Soldier Field) wouldn’t allow them on the property overnight, so they had to leave, come back, stand across the street, etc. When we got there at 5 a.m. there was a bit of confusion; the ‘two days earlier’ group apparently had wristbands they were giving out to establish the order, but a different group seemed to be giving out numbers, as is the custom, so there seemed to be two lines. We were in a tunnel under a street, so the lines formed on opposite sides, and we got in the non-wristband line and got the numbers chick to give us some numbers (we got in the 60s, which is pretty good). One always does worry that there’ll be some kind of drama, and I never feel secure until I have my number – although this case was particularly worrisome! As it turned out, the tunnel area was used heavily by bikers, joggers, etc., so security had us all move over to one side, and the lines really kind of merged and fell apart at that point. At that point it really worked to our benefit; people kind of ignored the numbers and our group probably ended up further ahead in line than we would have. However, given the awkward scramble, we ended up more crowded under there than we should have, which made for some discomfort during a long day of sitting on cement. (oh, my elderly joints!)


Once in our proper places, we were well launched into the ‘hurry up and wait’ cycle. It’s always an anxious rush to get there and get your space established, and then you just wait and wait and wait, anxious for the next rush. People brought blankets, lawn chairs, etc; there was a lot of resting and sleeping, and some card playing, and a lot of chatting. It was a very long day for me, because I hadn’t done it in almost exactly four years and because it was the first show of the season; we didn’t know what to expect, most of us hadn’t seen the stage yet, hadn’t been to the venue before, etc. It was cold there under our bridge in the early hours, but the weather actually was great all weekend, and later we were so glad not to be out in the hot sun all day. It worked out really well for us (my U2 experiences often seem to revolve around having gotten somewhere in the nick of time; in this case, to the shade!).


but it was easy to get out of line and walk around, etc. I made a big effort to save my strength - but also we had a thin blanket, and the concrete really started to hurt our joints and ass bones after a while, so it was good to stand up. The best thing was that there was a food kiosk near the field museum north of the stadium, and also a real bathroom with plumbing in the parking garage - and they had staff people there all day both days, stocking and cleaning it - with water fountains and even a vending machine with water and coke. LUXURY. It was so much less horrible just having plumbing and water. I remember some GA lines with only port-a-johns and no vending, and it makes a huge difference. I brought a water bottle to smuggle in and refilled it a few times during the day. the rest of the time, it was just boring. we checked our phones for the time like every three minutes all day long.

Sometimes one can accost the band at the loading dock when they arrive in the afternoon for soundcheck (as well as after the show), but given that there had been some confusion over the line earlier, and the band usually arrives mid-afternoon when things are starting to get anxious at the line, we didn’t really go over there to wait. Apparently they signed some autographs at the hotel but not at the venue anyway.

As stated, things get anxious starting around 3:00, and people started taking things to their cars, going to the bathroom for the last time, ditching extraneous baggage, and so on, as more security people gather and you can see the ticket takers and staff members getting organized. finally they roped off the first like hundred people or so, and then the second, so they could let us in in groups. However, as soon as they dropped the ropes, we ran across a plaza to the turnstiles, where we waited for another minute. they let some of us through with nothing, and gave some people wristbands, and had some thing where they were hole punching some of the tickets, too. we ran inside and around a corner where we waited for 15 or 20 minutes while they made announcements we couldn't hear. do we need wristbands? nobody knows? etc. during the running there was pushing and shoving and I think they were really lucky nobody was hurt. Then they let the second group follow us in before we'd gotten to progress, so it got very crowded and pushy. It wasn't very well organized at all. Finally they let us through this narrow hallway toward the field. I saw a guy holding a bunch of wristbands and asked him for one. running running running across the field, looking for my friend Ally, who is little and spry and runs much faster. You know you’re going to get separated; the way to go is to agree on what general location you want and then whoever gets there first tries to save a bit of space, so you’re running and looking around for each other, passing security telling you to walk every few steps, slower faster slower faster. There was no way to stay together; it was kind of a madhouse. Ally got at the outside railing in the center and saved as much space as she could, so some 6 or 8 of us got to stand all more or less together. and then I finally had a chance to look up at the monstrous canopy over the stage and just go "holy shit" for a while.


The stage is just amazing. I don’t know what to say about it. It looks kind of ridiculous at first, too much, incomprehensible, but then you start to get used to it a little, and then when U2 are actually on, it’s such a part of the show, the lights, the smoke, the sound, it seems Just Exactly Right.

When you get up at 4 in the morning and haven’t had much sleep, it seems like nothing could be worth all this. And when you get to the venue before dawn and join the ragtag band of folks, with their odds and ends and sleeping bags and supplies and layers and sleeplessness and everything, you know it’s just going to be a big pain. And when you wait in line all day, dealing with whatever the weather throws you, and often physically uncomfortable, eating whatever comes your way, trying to get a nap, well, I seriously thought this might be the last time for me. Why do I do this? Why do I put myself through this? It’s such a hassle, and it’s so ridiculous. Sure, it’s a lot cheaper than seats, but maybe I’m getting to That Age, you know? A good night’s sleep, decent meals throughout the day, getting to the venue at a leisurely 6 p.m. … all that sounded pretty good.

And then the smoke and the lights, and the band comes out, and the music starts, and it’s all worth it just at that moment, much less throughout the night. It’s divine madness. At one point several of us had a good cry. And you jump up and down and scream and sing and cheer and wave. And they come around and stand right in front of you, and that would never happen if you hadn’t sacrificed for it.




And as soon as it’s over, you start thinking madly of how you can do it again, how soon, when, where, there must be a way, this can’t end. It’s more than a concert. It’s an amazing experience. I’ve seen U2 from the seats, and they’re amazing, but it’s not the same. In line, it’s a community. People share their resources, pass water and food around. You don’t have to explain why or convince anyone; everyone in line left a crowd of family, spouses, friends, coworkers who don’t get it and came here where everyone gets it. You see someone you think you recognize everywhere. Didn’t that chick get up on stage that one time; I know that guy’s in some of my pictures from that other show. It’s a different country.

Yeah, I’m kind of nuts that way.

Did I mention outside rail at the center??


After the show we went around to the loading docks, where a number of people were waiting around. We saw some of U2's crew, and some of them seemed to be carrying wine into the place, which did not indicate the band making their getaway anytime soon. While we waited, one guy (who’d been in line all day with us) told us that the next day’s numbers were being given out. Ally and I, who planned to come back early the next day (our group broke up and came at different times according to sleepiness and insanity), ran to find them. Around the stadium, under the bridge, under another bridge, around the corner, and they were just about to leave for a few hours’ sleep when we found them and got the last two numbers of the night, 46 and 47, which is very, very good. And so off to get something to eat, and so to bed for a few hours.

Here’s my flickr set from Sept. 12, 2009.

set list:

No Line On The Horizon
Get On Your Boots
Beautiful Day
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Stuck In A Moment
Unknown Caller
The Unforgettable Fire
City of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight (remix)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On
Encore 1:
Where the Streets Have No Name
One, Bad
Encore 2: Ultraviolet
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender