Odyssey of a U2 addict
A dream vacation is different for many people. I would never tell you that a trip to the Swiss Alps is a waste of time and money. Yet I have turned many heads when I told people that for the last two years that I have worked at this newspaper, I have not used a single vacation day, have saved $60 from every paycheck and have constantly thought about my dream vacation: Seeing U2 in concert ” 10 times in one year.
Hello, my name is Roman Gokhman and I am a U2 addict. I have other interests as well: Sports, movies, my girlfriend and my cat. I have respect for many types of music, from ska to hip hop. Yet there is nothing like the rush of blood to the head when a stadium fills with red lights and Bono (the lead singer, for non-die-hards) begins to hum “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
My first CD was “Achtung Baby.” I got it in the eighth grade as my prize for selling enough magazines to get a CD, but not enough for the super-cool siren that I really wanted. I knew nothing of the music. I liked the cover. When I played the CD for my mom the first time, I warned her that there would be cursing (there wasn’t). This is my favorite album, and the only one I have never had to replace ” it is in pristine condition.
I saw U2 live before: My first concert was on their Popmart tour in the late ’90s. I sat at the back of the stadium, and despite the largest video screen ever used at a concert, I could not see well. I walked out happy.
Four years ago is when I got really hooked. I saw the band twice in the Pacific Northwest. This is where I learned about the die-hard fans: They come early to a show. Not hours early, but a day early. This ensured them a spot in “the heart,” the inner pit area that was encircled by a catwalk ” just feet away from the band.
I met Bono and mumbled to him how much I admired his work in music and as a humanitarian. I met new friends.
Then, I flew to Las Vegas to see U2 there. It was my first night of sleep on a sidewalk. The following week I drove 12 hours to Phoenix for another show. Another night spent outside with fellow fans. It was Thanksgiving, and we celebrated with pizza and M&Ms.
One week later, I flew to Miami for the last show of that tour. It was finals week ” my teachers knew that I had a family reunion, and then a family member died, and then … (you get the point).
And that was the end of it. I hugged my by-then good friends good bye, took one last walk on Miami Beach, and took a cab to the airport. In my head, I was already planning for now.
This is my U2005 year in review:
One month after the release of “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” I was frequently checking all online fan message boards for any rumors of the upcoming tour. These Web sites are the best source anywhere for news of the band ” even better than the official source.
They are updated every time there is something new, and some people have made a career out of running them. Here’s an example: I have a friend who works at a Starbucks in New York. Her side job, which doesn’t really pay, has included interviewing Bill Clinton, covering the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame ceremony and getting behind the scenes of various high-profile ceremonies across the east coast. My friend has no professional journalism experience, but she’s a contributing writer to one of U2’s fan Web sites ” http://www.u2log.com.
70 days. 69 days. 68 days. 67 days ….
I will skip the ticket buying fiasco. To become a new fan of U2, you must overlook such things as incredible demand, little supply, and what seems like millions of scalpers. You must have deep pockets, and a lot of patience.
The tickets went on sale in chunks over several weekends. I had five friends helping to get me tickets. Each time four out of the five would fail. I did better than most other fans I know.
After having spent a day at Joshua Tree National Park, the mecca for U2 fans in the states, I, my girlfriend and a friend pull into San Diego at 8 p.m. I drive around the newly renamed iPayOne Center three times to figure out where the fans will meet beforehand, where the band will arrive, where security is located (and where they are not).
This is first show of the tour and I expect the scene will be crazy. Web sites are reporting that Dave Fanning, a famous Irish DJ, will be hosting his radio show from the parking lot. But no one is there.
Instead, the three of us get a hotel room and hunker down until morning. I can’t sleep, and when I do, I dream that I wake up, run to the arena, and there are hundreds of people ahead of me in line.
I wake up early and quickly discover that the hotel where I am staying is filled with other U2 fans. They are from all parts of the country and beyond. I meet up with a couple of friends I made four years earlier, and then head over to the arena to see if someone has started the General Admission line (the blokes from the other side of the pond like to call it the queue).
There are six other people there wearing U2 shirts, and a group of French Canadians who are desperately hoping to find tickets. The six of us with GA tickets sit down and share stories. The group includes Brad, a Maryland man known as “superfan” in U2 fan circles. This guy says that he has patrolled the area for a week to make sure he didn’t miss anything. There is Affa, a member of an all-female U2 tribute band. There is a woman there with her 11-year-old son.
We write our names on a pad of paper and get numbers on our wrists. I am #2. This is how a U2 GA line is organized. Everybody stays in order. They can leave to eat, go to the bathroom to catch a couple hours of sleep, but everyone must make required check-ins. If they don’t show up for roll call at 8 p.m., midnight, 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., their names get crossed of a list. Don’t you dare write down the names of your friends, wife or brother who has to work, because those names will be crossed off. This is fair. Usually, only a couple of people argue it.
2 p.m.: one day until the show: Here comes Tony the security guard, driving his souped-up golf cart with the sirens on top.
He tells us ” there is now 20 of us ” that there is a hockey game tonight, and that we will have to move ourselves off the property then. We move to the sidewalk, but not before making two huge signs that will let everybody know that we are here, and that if they expect to get inside the “ellipse” ” what they are calling the heart on this tour, they must join us.
5 p.m.: There are about 50 people in line now. There would have been more, but there are rampant rumors of a lottery system that would block access inside the ellipse to anyone who … well, no one knows how it will work ” if it’s true. Some people have decided to skip the day on the sidewalk in favor of sightseeing. I don’t blame them, but I have waited four years for this and don’t want to take a chance that I will not be where I want to be.
The lawn chairs come out, and the sleeping bags. Two people brought their boomboxes. The unwritten rule is that you don’t play U2 music before the show so others would not get burned out, but these people haven’t heard of this rule and are playing two CDs at the same time, 20 feet apart.
There are people from Ireland, England, Australia, the east Coast, Canada, and only about 10 people from California. Some are college students, some are in their 50s and well off financially.
8 p.m.: We have recently had two visits from security officers telling us that our line will not be honored, and newer fans, including the first who came up with me, have been scared off. The rest of us know that is nothing more than talk to get us to leave. Security always ends up supporting the line. The help people get numbers on their wrists, they tell people to stay in order and they throw out cutters.
The line continues to grow, and there is increased worry about the lottery. The current rumor is that all GA tickets have been encrypted with a code that lets people inside the ellipse. The line continues to grow.
11 p.m.: Tony is back again. He thanks the 100 of us for being orderly and tells us that we can move back onto the property, in a more lit area. We are moved to within 100 feet of a Krispy Kreme. Not good. Every hours, some new guy joining the line buys several boxes to thank the people at the front of the line for taking charge. I almost overdose.
4 a.m.: day of the show: There are 300 plus here. Some are sleeping in their cars. Some have pulled out their tents. My girlfriend is playing Uno with the 11-year-old boy. He is winning again. New people being arriving in droves. Superfan, err… Brad, is exhausted, as well as I and three other people who have been watching over the list and numbering system. It is freezing in San Diego; who knew? My hands are covered in ink. I have met every new person who has come here in the last three hours.
8 a.m.: I have slept two hours. Not comfortably. I walk around saying hi to people in line. They pat me on the back, ask me how many people the line is at now. Venue security has made an official announcement that our line will be honored, and everyone cheers.
The television news stations arrive one by one. They all want to talk to #1 (Brad) and #2 (me). It feels refreshing to be on the other side of the media for once. I am interviewed by all of them. I am just a fan here. No matter what your “other life” is, everybody is on an equal level here: fans.
8:30 a.m.: Venue security makes another official announcement. The line will be moved in 30 minutes to the doors where we will be entering. People cheer, but some of them don’t realize that they will have another 10 hours to wait outside in a different spot.
Then, the heartbreaker: There will be a lottery. It will be run by U2 management. There is nothing security can do about it. As people walk inside the building, their tickets will be scanned by a laptop programmed with a random number generator. They will not know where they will be inside until they walk inside. People start panicking.
The good part is that the ones who don’t get inside the ellipse will be the closest on the other side of it. This becomes the official purpose of this line. Chances are slim to get inside, but at least everyone knows what is going on. I later speak to the assistant tour manager, and he tells me that the lottery was shrouded in mystery because we were used as guinea pigs. Whatever.
9 a.m.: Six hundred people are moved in order to the other side of the building. Barricades are put up around us. This is crunchtime. There are only nine hours before the doors are opened.
My head is swimming. I am tired, sunburnt, excited, frustrated about the lottery, happy to be with friends, hungry for anything other than M&Ms, and my feet are killing me.
6:45 p.m.: The doors were supposed to have been opened almost one hour ago. Everyone has been on their feet since 4 p.m., when security told us to put chairs away. There is an intense wind blowing from the coast. Large trash bins are literally being swept away. We huddle together for warmth.
Suddenly, a team of security personnel walks outside and a loud cheer goes up from the crowd. These are the people who will pat us down, but no one cares. We just want to get inside. On their go, we are herded through barricades, searched and are finally let inside the building. I find out quickly that I will not be inside the ellipse, but am happy for the second best sport, right outside of it.
Thirty minutes later, the lights go down, and the show begins. How was it? Well, you will just have to see it for yourself.
As of this writing, I have already seen four shows: Two in San Diego, and one each in Anaheim and San Jose. In Anaheim, my ticket scanned in and won the lottery to get inside the ellipse. For the whole show, I stood in front of my favorite non-biblical role model.
I have six more concerts to go: Seattle, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas, Oakland, and the tour closer in Portland.
U2 will be back in the Bay Area on Nov. 8 and 9 in Oakland. If you have the money, the patience and the love for great music, check U2 out.
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