Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I love Bruce Springsteen. Not just like…LOVE. Like, if this were middle school, I would “like him, like him”, not just “like him”.
A life long Jersey girl growing up in the suburbs just outside of Philly, my parents were big fans, to the point that my grandfather would reminisce about getting sick of hearing the “Darkness on the Edge of Town” record blare for hours on end from my mom’s room as a teenager and record sleeves strewn about and various tour t-shirts being frequent sightings in our household.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager myself that I really started to appreciate his music, but when I did, it was like a lightbulb went off. The pure passion and excitement of his music just all of a sudden made sense to me and grabbed me, and I wondered why I didn’t get it before or whether I just hadn’t listened to it closely enough. I even noticed, intrigued, how if you listened to his music down the shore, it seemed to inexplicably just make sense and capture that aura. Watching recordings of his live shows really sealed the deal, as I would just watch in awe of the seemingly life affirming and contagious energy he and the band would expel on the audience. Anyone with a pulse would be taken on an emotional rollercoaster that ranged from gutwrenching heartache to spiritual elation and most of all, pure, unbridled joy, or perhaps, ecstasy. As I amassed my own copies of albums and shows, I began to long to be in one of those audiences.
I finally made it to my first show at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia in 2007 during the tour for his album, “Magic”. I was hooked from there and have seen nine incredible shows since then (an embarrassingly low number compared to many fans, but I am still extremely grateful for the experiences I have been able to have).
I met John on an online dating site, where I had used a line from “Dancing in the Dark” and listed Bruce first in my musical interests on my profile page. John, also being a fan, referenced him in his first pickup line message, and as if he weren’t the most adorable thing I’d ever seen and appeared to have his life together, he seemed almost too good to be true.
We have since finally seen our first show together this past January. I wept during “I Wanna Marry You” at this show as we had just gotten recently gotten engaged.
We danced to an outtake song called, “The Way”, for our first dance at our wedding, and got total goosebumps when E Street Radio played it the only time we’d ever heard it on the radio the following morning.
And since embarking on our trip, he has understandably provided some of the best soundtracks for our journey across this incredible nation of ours, including pounding out the verses of “Badlands” ferociously together as we drove through Badlands National Park (come on, we had to!).
When it came to meeting Bruce, I always personally felt like I didn’t even want to meet him for fear that expectations would not be met due to some circumstance or another and I would be disappointed. Or that I would run into him on the Jersey shore and not want to bother him. He has never been known to do specific meet and greet events, though I have heard accounts of him and the band members signing for occasionally lucky fans who are patient enough to wait after a show and that he is quite approachable by himself out in public.
One day though, after spending several days off grid without phone reception or internet, I noticed that a few meet and greet events had been scheduled around the country to promote the release of Bruce’s autobiography, and much to my chagrin, had already all sold out, only having been announced a few days before the sale. However, we noticed that one was still attainable – Los Angeles was doing their tickets on a first-come, first-served basis AND we happened to already be on the West Coast! At first hesitant because we figured we would never have a shot at making it in as these types of events were unprecedented in his forty-plus year career, we eventually decided that we would kick ourselves if we didn’t at least try, especially as it would not terribly alter our expected rough itinerary anyway. (Again, getting to make our own schedule as we go along is the greatest perk of being on the road!)
So after a few amazing stops in California, we headed towards Los Angeles, or an hour and a half outside of it anyway, to one of the closest and most affordable camp sites we could find near the city. We had been checking the information page for the event periodically for updates and after touring Dodger Stadium two days before the event, we scoped out The Grove shopping center, the well known, high end shopping center where it was to be held. The aim was to strategize a bit and talk to some Barnes and Noble employees to hopefully get some more reliable information on how the event was to be executed, particularly as some especially zealous fans had already begun to camp out on the sidewalk just off the property.
We were told by several employees that the line forming now was not sanctioned and that we should be okay arriving closer to the still terribly early 4am opening of the Grove property the day of the noon event. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we stopped and asked a few questions of the people already camped out on the sidewalk, who proceeded to try to peer pressure us into dropping what we were doing and camp out with them immediately. They warned us that we were taking our chances if we waited at all since they considered themselves the front of the line and counted on hundreds more showing up that night. We figured they were catastrophizing a bit and as much as we wanted to see Bruce, knew that this would not be the healthiest of decisions, particularly considering we only had the clothes on our back. So we just continued to track down information from Barnes and Noble, who suggested that we check back the following day for updates.
The next morning, we called soon after the store opened and were told frankly by an employee that in the past, the unofficial line had become the real line and that about 60 people of the 1100 who were scheduled to be let in were already camped out on the sidewalk of 3rd Street. We began to realize that our original plan to leave in the middle of the night before the event would not be as reliable as we thought it would be and that we’d probably be too excited to nap that afternoon anyway. So we excitedly packed some clothes, blankets, toiletries, our soon-to-be jealousy-invoking reclining lawn chairs, and snacks, and arrived in the city by noon. We were a little intimidated by the prospect of camping out 24 hours early for the event, but also recognized that we were in a unique point in our lives where we didn’t have to worry about work schedules, catching up on sleep afterwards, and that we had already slept in lots of unusual places, this was just the first without the comfort and privacy of our own bed. We were excited to add it to the list of our adventures and knew that we wouldn’t do this to see just anyone. And if all panned out, we would cherish and share the moment with others for the rest of our lives. We wanted to meet THE BOSS!
The whole experience wound up being super positive. We instantly made friends with the people around us in line, as we shared in each other’s excitement, swapped Bruce related stories, learned about one another’s lives, and kept an eye on each other’s places as we came and went to use the restroom, get food, and stretch our legs. This made the time pass exceptionally fast and made it all that much more memorable.
The line was also continually monitored by Grove security and police presence was never far, so we felt safe. Information on the execution of the event would change somewhat frequently, but overall, the staff handled the event very well and the crowd remained calm throughout, at least where we were in the first group of 100 people. (We eventually realized that we didn’t have to get there quite as early but really didn’t mind.) In fact, all of the employees were genuinely excited for us throughout and treated us with great kindness and respect, something you do not always see with event staff and security!
Passersby would continually ask what we were waiting for, and it soon dawned on us that seeing our favorite celebrity in L.A. seemed just the L.A. thing to do while we were in town. Most people thought the event was really exciting, a few thought we were crazy, and others were a little confused or amused as some of our neighbors would have fun with it and tell them we were waiting in line to get a free monkey or for a political press conference.
As the night wore on, I never really fell into a deep sleep, but we all dozed off a few times as traffic thinned to a trickle and the occasional group walking home from local bars.
In the three’o’clock hour, we all reluctantly stood up to put our chairs in the car to line up to enter Grove property. Though we were so close to the front of the line, none of us were convinced that we were guaranteed a spot until we officially got all of the required wristbands and through the doors of the store!
With great anticipation and excitement, we inched closer to our goal with employees serving hot coffee and pastries to us in line, which we all thought was a nice touch! The line had formed to over one thousand people by the 4am opening time, and we sadly watched people driving up after that get turned away for already being at capacity, even some who had come from as far as Europe!! (I told you, people REALLY love Bruce.)
We still didn’t believe we were getting in yet though; we knew things can always change with these types of things, plus it just didn’t feel real! Finally, the moment of truth came…. around 6:30am, our group was allowed into the Barnes and Noble to make the required purchase of a copy of the book to gain entrance to the event! As it was a specially printed copy of the book for these events, came pre-signed by Bruce himself and was on sale for a mere $24, it felt like a steal to get so much for so little (though our time certainly counts for a lot, too)! We walked away from the register to line up in the store in disbelief that it was really going to happen, we were going to meet one of our heroes!!
The restrooms quickly filled up with event goers changing their clothes and freshening up from their time camping overnight. Quite a sight to see, it further helped build solidarity among the already friendly crowd as we were clearly all in the same boat. We all anxiously went over in our heads what we wanted to say to Bruce, trying to whittle down so many thoughts into a possibly five second speech.
The restrooms continued to see action as the link snaked around the store and everyone’s anxiety made them feel like they had to go every five seconds. This is not my first celebrity sighting, but Bruce is just in a whole other league of celebrity by comparison. I honestly feel like Bruce’s fan base even sits above historically fanatical fan groups like the Deadheads or Parrotheads, and even supercedes Beatlemania in the sincere admiration, longevity, and enthusiasm of his fandom. So the fact that almost every fan wonders what it would be like to meet him, and knows that it is likely never to happen, it’s no wonder that every person in the store felt like they were going to pee their pants as the time approached!
Finally, everyone perked up from their sleepy or anxious daze as The Boss entered the third story of the store a whole hour before his scheduled arrival time. Shrouded by black barriers to maintain privacy and order, we craned our necks to catch early glimpses of our hero up close and to see how they were ushering people through. As we got close, we realized that they were understandably moving people through the line very fast to accommodate the now 1500 people that they were going to allow in to see him. We quickly narrowed down our practiced elevator speeches to several seconds in our heads as we were still unsure what would come out of mouths, if anything, when the time came. I even watched John, who had said all along that he was excited, but that this was more for me than him, get wide eyed and sweaty as it sunk in that the moment was near.
Before we knew it, we were up. Suddenly and somehow, I didn’t feel as nervous as I realized the moment was becoming real. I quickly blurted out how to use our DSLR camera as it was passed down the line of employee photographers. I rushed up first as we got two pictures for having two wristbands, aaaand…said nothing, but shed a tear.
Just kidding! That’s what I was afraid would happen! In reality, in what felt like were the fastest words I’d ever spoken, I told him “Hey, I’m a Jersey girl on her honeymoon, but I still love YOU!” and posed for the picture, having my arm around him and his tightly around me before I even realized it (I’ve complained about John skipping one too many showers on this trip, but now feel like I never want to shower AGAIN!). As we posed, Bruce replied in his smooth, raspy voice, “Alright, Jersey girl, congratulations!”. And I quickly asked for a hug, and got it!!
While I was still up there, John then was able to convince the security guard to let him quickly jump into a picture with the three of us for his photo as they had originally told us we had to do them alone to keep things simple. (The longer I am with John, the more apparent it becomes that what John wants, John can get!) John then introduced himself, shook his hand, and adorably reveled in the fact afterwards that Bruce had said HIS name. He then quickly told him how his music had brought us together and Bruce thanked US! Even with thousands of people being rushed past him, we learned firsthand that the grace and kindness we had always heard about were real, as you could tell he wanted to be sincere and as interactive as he could possibly be in ten seconds’ time with everyone.
The whole process for the two of us had to be over in twenty or thirty seconds, but it felt totally worth it. We would have been happy just to have the pictures to reflect on for years to come, but the extra interaction was that much more special to us. We left the stage area, shaky and excitedly checking out our photos and those of our line neighbors before picking up our books. As we exited the store and said goodbye to everyone we had spent the last day with, we still almost couldn’t believe it had happened. But we felt a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, like a desire had been fulfilled and that our hard work and patience had paid off. Plus, we got interviewed by an ABC 7 reporter! We later found we didn’t make the newsroom cut, but it was still exciting!
To a lot of people, the excitement and enthusiasm around this event probably seems quite overblown, and many I’m sure couldn’t fathom camping overnight to spend ten seconds with someone who was, in fact, just another human being. Like I said though, there’s just something special about Bruce Springsteen, who, inspiringly, still pours his heart out for four hours on end every night at the young age of 67 and brings so much joy to so many millions of people.
We drove home while we still under the effects of the adrenaline to keep us perky and awake, feeling so special that we had been able to share in this moment together. It also further affirmed our gratitude that we have been able to do this trip. Though it isn’t always easy being on the road and we certainly miss our family and friends back home, we continue to be eternally grateful every day for the opportunity to feel so free and to have so many memorable experiences such as this.
By the way, remember how I said I felt calm when I went up? I think my face says it all…