Becky and I are not big concert-goers. We are general appreciators of music, and don’t really have that one group or singer who we would drop everything to go and see. But when we heard that Sir Elton John was coming to our city, whose population is smaller than some of his concert attendances, we couldn’t resist. I had seen him play concerts on television, and had grandiose ideas of an evening in the Verizon Civic Center filled with wafting, magnificent piano stylings and Sir Elton’s unmistakeable, powerful voice projected over the crowd with a subtle but effective amplification process.
I am an idiot.
It’s not like I didn’t have a clue. Earlier that day my family and I went for brunch at Olive’s, a Greek-ish restaurant which is right across the street from the civic center. Becky had already taken the kids outside for a couple of minutes while I gathered up the boxed leftovers, and when I got outside she told me that she could hear the rehearsal going on. My eldest daughter confirmed it. That should have been a clue.
But before we get to that aspect, let me tell you a little about Mankato/North Mankato. Despite what you may have read, Mankato is a city undergoing an identity crisis. When a place gets into that 50,000 population range, it has to find a balance between the size it is and the size it wants to be. The same thing happened with my hometown of Rochester, which despite the lack of a four-year college or serious concert draw opted to be a small Big City. Mankato, on the other hand, has decided to stick with being a big Small Town.
As a result, any time anyplace in Mankato engages in anything approaching a special event, like an Easter worship service, or a special sale at Target, or an ELTON JOHN CONCERT, there’s nowhere to park. I like to joke that the closest parking space to the places I like to go is my driveway. This is not an exaggeration in winter. If you are ever driving through town in February and see a guy huffing and puffing as he pulls two or three kids behind him downtown in a big plastic sled, that’s me picking up milk and bananas.
So we drive eight of the twelve blocks from our house to the civic center and decide to try the brand spanking new public parking ramp nearby. A steady trickle of cars seem to be going in and out of it, and there’s no indication that it’s full — no attendant waving people away, or a mechanical arm blocking the entrance. But, to our dismay, we find that it is. And, more to our dismay, we come to realize that there is only one way up and down the parking ramp. Seriously. In order to leave, you have to pull out of your spot and drive back down, passing side by side with the people coming up the ramp. And in circumstances where all the slots are full, you have to force a U-turn somehow. So we had to fight with traffic in both directions to turn around and go back down.
Now the thing about this newfangled parking ramp is that it is completely automated, with a punch card machine outfitted to address all sorts of important problems like “I lost my ticket, can I just give you a ton of money?” or “I don’t have enough money, you wouldn’t also happen to double as an ATM do you?” (The answer to both is yes…). But with all this automation, they couldn’t have set something up where, after the dozenth person pulls back through the exit side of the ramp with a ticket showing that they were in the ramp for less than five minutes, a sign out front turns on that says “SORRY! WE ARE FULL”? (The answer is no, because they hope some angry passenger will drop and lose their less-than-five-minute ticket while navigating the bothways, no parking traffic and have to ask the first, and possibly second, question of the machine listed above).
I give this exact same rant to my wife as we sit at the automated attendant, which lets the cars in front of me clear out. As I pass into the last area before the street, where there are a couple dozen free spaces, the brake lights of a car I am passing kicks on, just as I am passing. Someone is leaving! Thank you, Jesus! However, they are angled in a way where they won’t be able to back out without hitting me, and I can’t back up far enough behind him to let him out, so I turn on my signal and pull in front of the space and stop. He should be able to back out and, if he stays there, I should be able to back in with my mad driving skillz.
As he pulls out of the spot, another vehicle enters the ramp. I try to signal to them to hold up for a second so I can back in before he passes. But no. He not only ignores it, he gets this happy, amused grin as he positions himself in between me and the now empty spot. I have no choice but to move forward and try to give the person behind me a way around past the person entering. I think you can see where this is going. Guy entering takes the spot, and guy who pulled out is nearly nudging my bumper trying to get me to leave so he can get on his way.
We ended up parking in our church’s parking lot, which itself only had a few open spots, and walking about six blocks. We get there at 7:45. Show starts at 8:00. Plenty of time, right? Except no – there’s a line stretching about a quarter mile out from the door. The doors that opened at 7:00. I ask one of the site personnel, “Is this the line just to walk through the door?” He nods. We hear from line scuttlebutt that it’s because of high security precautions: thorough bag checking and so forth.
Becky and I start to talk, because we are aliens to this planet and do not know the culture. Apparently, what line protocol really calls for is to check into the concert on Foursquare and smoke a fuckton of cigarettes. As Denis Leary has been saying since the nineties, ban it, raise taxes on it, slap warning labels with pictures of dead kittens on them, whatever. Smokers will smoke.
Phillip Morris Altria ain’t losing any money, from what I could tell. In front of us, behind us, beside us, around us, everywhere, smoke. It’s like the civic center was auditioning performance artist groups for a fog machine’s understudy.
My wife, an adamant non-smoker, showed quite a bit of restraint when she merely commented, “Wow. I don’t think I’ve been around this many smokers since before they banned smoking in bars and restaurants.” The woman in front of me stiffens. She has processed this statement, and has distilled the underlying disdain Becky and I most clearly hold for her and her fellow freedom smokers and proceeds to promptly light a second cigarette off her current one and begins puffing both together with the sort of rapidly forceful deliberation one normally sees only in someone giving CPR. As we near the entrance to the civic center, a pair of women similarly smoking away sees the couple in front of us and waves. They all know each other.
“You don’t have to be standing out here in line, you know,” they say. “We’ve already been in and back out again. There’s a walkway that takes you around to the concourse that isn’t backed up.”
The couple in front of us hesitates. The show is scheduled to start in ten minutes. Bypassing the line battles with the possible repercussions of getting out of line and having to perhaps get back in again, perhaps at the end, if the tip doesn’t pan out. The women see the hesitation and flick their cigarette butts away at random angles from themselves.
“Come on; we’ll show ya,” one says. They plow through the line and go through a second set of entry doors. Buoyed by their friends’ confidence, the couple in front of us follows. Through the glass doors I can see them walk a short distance, turn right, and disappear down a hall. People in the line watch them in silent wonder. We all wait for them to come back. They don’t.
Like inspired disciples following a new prophet, others peel off from the line and follow down the hallway. They also don’t come back. Once inside the doors, I am motivated to try it. I once was the only person running the proper way on the running track at the Y against a stream of disapproving sheeple, which persisted for some time before one of the wrong-way runners’ small children examined the calender and loudly informed everyone ELSE that they were running the wrong way. So I know that people can be easily led into something like standing around unnecessarily.
However, as soon as I round the hallway corner, I see why others might not have been so willing to follow suit. There are a set of thick closed doors that say, among other things, “Civic Center Staff and Event Personnel Only.” I realize that people are using an area off-limit to the public to make it to the concourse, probably bypassing not only bag checkers but ticket takers as well. I don’t take the “short cut.”
Luckily, “cutting back in” to the line isn’t an issue, as additional staff arrived to try to mitigate the hundreds of people who are danger of missing the beginning of the concert because the civic center wasn’t really cut out to host and manage an honest to God sold-out show. They grab anyone who needs to go to the nosebleed seats (like us) and shuttle us to an elevator. We walk out right next to our section, just in time to see the lights go down and hear the cheering. We rush up to our seats, which are flush against the back wall. The only people behind us are those in the suites. With more than a little trepidation I note the presence of a giant bank of speakers dangling down from the ceiling almost directly in front of us. We are less than a hundred feet away from a major component of the sound system for the whole room.
The whole evening threatens to come crashing down when the first piano notes start and the speakers buffet me. It’s painful. The people taking up the four seats next to us leave, and never come back. I have to hold my fingers in my ears just to hold my ground. I can already feel the damage beginning, and I have flashforwards to a time when I and the rest of today’s youth are all deaf in retirement homes, but it’s okay because everybody just texts each other instead of trying to communicate. I picture the conversation:
- AwsumSauz77: I remember the day my hearing went.
Five Metallica concerts in the eighties.
- BathroomNinj4: Yeah, I remember my dad and I bonded by losing
our hearing together at KISS’s fourteenth farewell tour.
- AwsumSauz77: So, n00b, where’d your hearing go? Ozzfest 2025?
- BathroomNinj4: Bieber’s Vivisextion? That guy could wail on guitar.
- GlaserJ: Um….. eltonjohn.
- BathroomNinj4: What?
- GlaserJ: Elton John. I lost my hearing at an Elton John concert
for about 7,000 people.
- Awsumsauz77: BWAAAAAAHahahahahahahah
- BathroomNinj4: OMG! R U Serious? LOLOLOLOL
My beloved wife noticed my pain and saved me from being the butt of jokes at the old folks’ home by digging out a Kleenex, which I twisted up and shoved in my ears, bringing the volume down to just at the upper limits of tolerable. The crowd remained on their feet for the whole first song, “Honky Cat.” A lot of people sat down at that point, but the group of four in front of us were still on their feet, prompted primarily by a woman who was probably in the running for the world’s biggest Elton John fan. And I don’t mean the person who loves Elton John the most. I mean that when she was standing, she blocked the view of stage for both of us. So we stood also, for a second song, watching them shake from side to side while trying not to spill the mixed drinks in their left hands and the beer in their right hands.
Everyone else sat down. We sat down. Most of the group in front of us sat down. She didn’t sit down. Becky and I leaned apart from each other to see around her. I think we both assumed that at some point someone who didn’t seem to be in a relationship with standing up and moving around much would eventually wear down and take a breather, but no such luck. Our necks and backs began to strain from being leaned and tilted at bad angles. With each song, she waved to Sir Elton in a way that suggested she really expected him to wave back. He did point out toward the crowd in a general way, and she let out a whoop each time he did. She sent her boyfriend/husband/animal trainer off for more drinks and clasped her hands giddily as Elton sang “IIIIII’m still standing…..”
“It’s like he’s singing just for me!” she screamed.
He probably is, I thought to myself.
You might ask yourself, “If this woman was such an inconvenience, why didn’t you just ask her to sit down?” And others among you already know the reason.
Because I’m a Minnesotan. We don’t want to be a bother.
So instead, we moved down into some of the empty seats mercifully vacated by the sound-fleeing four from before. We were finally able to sit upright for a while. But then, unbelievably, Stands With Two Drinks switched seats to stand next to her female friend, whom she yanked out of her seat. She wrapped a meaty arm around her friend’s shoulders, and the two swayed back and forth like an undulating wall of hick right in front of us.
My wife is not from Minnesota. She finally tapped them on the shoulders and asked if they might sit down, or at least part so we could see between them. Which brings us to the other reason I didn’t say anything. Because as a person who has dealt with hyper-aggressive people all my life, I can spot them pretty easily– the person who doesn’t give a rip if you’re being inconvenienced, and if you don’t like it, you’re free to leave America. The sort of person for whom “Why don’t you make me?” was probably more often used than “please,” “thank you,” or “sorry.”
The not-so-tiny dancer turned around indignantly told my wife to go to hell. And then I think she offered to fight. She then doubled down on standing, tried to get everyone around her to stand, and made a point of indicating other people who were standing and saying “Oh, Hey, look at those people standing over there!” Never mind that it was easy to spot those people because they stood out against the 99.97% of people who WEREN’T.
She did sit down eventually. It’d be nice to think that she may have thought it over and realized we had a point, but it’s more likely that after eight drinks she was having trouble standing up. By the end, she was content simply to shoot us daggers with her eyes during “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”
You might read all of this and think that I had a perfectly miserable time. And at some other point in my life, I would have. But at a point almost halfway through the concert, I was struck with the peaceful awareness that I didn’t care about any of that stuff. I was out with my wife, and we were in love. I thought about how lucky I was to have a wife who WAS considerate of others, who can be both compassionate and firm, who was able to call the evening a win even if it meant just being together, holding hands with a husband who dropped $150+ to sit with tissue sticking out his ears behind a canopy of belligerent drunks to listen to songs from the 70s that we didn’t even really know all that well.
I think that’s one of the reasons we don’t go out all that much: because we get so much enjoyment out of simply getting to be together. The following night, when we drank tea, watched Downton Abbey, and read a few chapters out loud from Jenny Lawson’s book (which you should all really buy right now, unless you are allergic to laughter), we agreed it was pretty much the perfect evening.
Congratulations to you if you made it this far. I never meant to do such a lengthy post, and even though I dumped a lot, with some really good lines in it, it’s still gigantic. But I have a thing against spending too much time editing a blog post. I’ve got other writing that could use that time more. But I still felt the need to share and
“I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind
That I put down in words.”