Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wanna Be Startin' Somethin

When I was young, I remember anxiously placing a borrowed copy of Thriller by Michael Jackson on my Fisher Price record player. I remember how awe inspiring the music was to my, still developing mind. I remember dancing in my bedroom. And, I remember when my Aunt Karen asked for the record back. What I don't remember is ever being able to part with it.

As a child, I had no idea where Michael Jackson came from, I didn't understand the controversy that followed him...what I did understand was that his music was magic. His music inspired me to dance (poorly) in my bedroom with an Indiana Jones style fedora and my dad's leather jacket. His music comforted me as I grew up and started to learn that life wasn't always easy. Whether I felt happy or sad, it was a constant force in my life.

As I grew older, times changed and Michael's music wasn't considered 'cool' anymore. I followed a different path led by a whiny, bald headed guitar player...but, deep down inside, I never lost that connection with Michael Jackson. His music still felt like home.

On June 25, 2009 Michael Jackson died and I felt like I lost a little bit of myself, but, I would soon discover that an incredible life lesson lay in the wake of his death.

With a level of grandiosity that could only occur in the world of Michael Jackson, I was soon on my way back 'home' to his music...and to discover a new perspective on life.

Will You Be There?

To say that my opportunity to attend Michael Jackson's memorial service was a historic, once-in-a-lifetime, amazing opportunity brimming with good fortune, is to underestimate the magnitude of the experience.

In 1988, my parents bought tickets to see Michael on the Bad world tour. In the weeks and months leading to this event; my cousin Katie and I would discuss, at length, our plans to communicate via walkie talkie en route to the Tacoma Dome. Everyone was excited...I was beside myself. Michael was my hero. Bad was THE album. It was something of a dream come true...

Sadly, Michael cancelled the show due to illness. He would never return to my area of the world again...

My faith in the great Michael Jackson was undeterred by this event. Through thick and thin, cool and uncool...I still carried with me a love for his music and a great compassion for the man. While I can't claim to have not taken part in the various jokes, speculations and sensationalism that followed Michael in his later years; I can say that deep in my heart I have carried him with me through all my years on this earth. His influence on my life is undeniable. Sadly, this is something I have come to learn only in the few weeks since his passing.

I was at the dry cleaners dropping of pants to be hemmed when Megan (my lovely girlfriend) sent me the text that Michael had died. I had seen reports that he had been hospitalized, but, I could not believe that he would ever die. So, I checked Twitter, I checked Google News....when the reports were confirmed, when my friends started calling, offering condolences...I had to come to terms with his death. It was strange, people die all the time, celebrities come and go. But, losing Michael had a deep impact on me, it was as if my childhood had been taken away.

Through the next week, Megan and I watched hours and hours of concert footage and YouTube videos. We searched the news, we listened to his music. When it was rumored that his memorial and burial was to be held at Neverland, my Mom and I made plans to fly down, carpool, whatever it took to be there. I talked about it all the time at work (which happens to be for a regional airline..more on that later). I felt a very strong need to be present, to say goodbye and more important, say thank you to Michael. As the plans changed and the story unfolded, my feelings never changed, but, I came to terms with the fact that I wouldn't be able to say goodbye in person...Especially when it was announced that a lottery would be held for the public memorial at the Staples center.

On Saturday afternoon, I read the news of the 8,750 tickets being given away to the Staples center memorial via lottery. I immediately entered my name, but never expected to have my name drawn. Later that evening, a good friend and co worker, Mindy, sent me a text message. She had entered to win the tickets as well, she wanted to increase my chances of going to the service. I thanked her and felt that it was very sweet but, once again, I didn't expect that anything would happen.

On Sunday morning I woke up with the word to Man In The Mirror echoing in my head. My parents had asked me to attend church with them, I agreed and thought it a good opportunity to, perhaps, learn something. During the service, a thought occurred to me. My friend Jason and I had been talking over the past year about the Law of Attraction and the power of positive thinking. At some point, as the pastor spoke, I decided to test this theory in a very simple way. I decided to expect to win tickets to the Michael Jackson memorial. What seemed like a simple, almost trivial favor to ask of the universe soon became a life lesson that I won't soon forget.

At 11:30pm on Sunday night, I had nearly forgotten about my request. Though, I still felt its urgency I had accepted the fact that it wouldn't come to fruition. When I checked my email and saw that I hadn't won the Staples Center lottery, I felt at peace and was ready to go to bed and face the next day. It was then that Mindy and I exchanged the following text messages:

Mindy: "did u get mj mem tickets?"
Bobby: "Nope. :( I heard that 1.5 million people applied..."
M: "i did. can i call u?"

Words fail to describe the shock I felt when I read that final message. In my mind, there was no way it could be real.

A quick word about Mindy: She is a great friend and one of the few honest people in this world. She also goes to bed pretty damn early. For her to be up at 11:30 on a Sunday night is, to put it mildly, unexpected. For her to check her email at that hour? Something of a miracle.

The story continues....

Workin' Day and Night

Your application to attend the Michael Jackson Public Memorial Service at STAPLES Center this Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time, was successful!
Print the Ticketmaster voucher. THIS IS YOUR VOUCHER. Your voucher will read "This is your ticket" and contain a barcode. You must print out this voucher and bring it with you, along with your valid I.D. to Dodger Stadium on Monday, July 6, 2009, between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time to obtain your two tickets and two wristbands.

After the initial confusion, shock and awe of our conversation passed Mindy and I figured out how to negotiate the Ticketmaster process to obtain a voucher for the Staples Center memorial. To give perspective, you should know that the voucher had to be redeemed by midnight. Mindy forwarded her confirmation email to me at 11:39. We had to do some quick say the least.

After the voucher application was complete, all I needed to do was print the voucher and find a way to Dodger Stadium by 6pm on Monday. First problem? My printer had run out of ink two weeks earlier...

I called my parent's house around midnight, my Dad answered the phone and we shared a moment of disbelief over my good fortune. Then, in typical fashion, my Mom woke up from a dead sleep to help me navigate the situation. In a quick to act and generous fashion that, I believe, only she possesses she helped me negotiate the nearly overwhelming task of processing this information. Over the phone, we found the best possible deals for hotel rooms and rental cars available. By 12:15am; she had reserved a rental car, I had booked a hotel room and she was on her way to my house with the voucher, freshly printed on her home computer. If there was an award for coolest Mom ever, she certainly would get it.

Megan and I both have Monday off of work, so getting to Dodger Stadium was certainly a possibility. The memorial service on Tuesday was something we'd have to negotiate with our respective bosses in the morning. Because I work for a regional airline, Megan and I were able to fly standby for free to Los Angeles. The only issue was that it was a holiday weekend and there were very few open seats to the Los Angeles area before 6pm. Finally, I found our best bet. A connection through Redmond, OR leaving at 9am.

At this point, I finally put the phone down, having secured a room, flight and car...Megan and I hugged, jumped up and down, kissed. In short...we freaked out. By 1am we were as packed as we could be and went to bed. Of course, on this night, we were both far too excited to actually sleep for any length of time.

To be continued...

Break Of Dawn

5:45am, Monday morning:

The scream of genero-rock coming from my alarm clock radio is abruptly ended by the force of my hand applied to the snooze button. We are awake. We have been awake, on and off, for most of the night. As quickly as possible, Megan and I come to. We prepare for the coming adventure. Basic necessities of living are met (brush teeth, shower..), animals are taken care of, bags are packed and employers are called...

A Quick Note: It's at this point that I need to acknowledge Megan's boss, Tracy and my manager Pam, who both gave us the vacation time on short notice that allowed us to take part in this amazing opportunity. For that, we are extremely thankful.

Back to the story. With all our affairs settled, we head to Portland International Airport where we have exactly one chance of making it to Los Angeles using the stand-by, non revenue flight privilages provided to me by my employer. We are listed on a flight to Los Angeles with a stop in Redmond, OR. The Portland to Redmond flight is not a problem. From Redmond to Los Angeles, there are two open seats with ten people standing by. To say our chances are slim, is a bit of an understatement.

10:00am, still Monday morning:

We arrive in Redmond, OR. As the plane is being empited, I over hear a ground service agent talking to our flight attendent:

"How many people do you have standing by for the Los Angeles flight?"

"Ten, I think"

"Well, let them off, we'll take them into the boarding area. There aren't any seats available for that LA f LA flight. There's no way they're getting on."

At this point, I begin to feel a bit nervous. But, I quickly remember that this whole experience has been based on the power of positivity. So, I remind myself that if we don't make it to Los Angeles, it's not the end of the world. At least we had an adventure. At the same time, I imagine Megan and I boarding the plane headed for LAX.

Thirty minutes pass. The small boarding area at the Redmond airport is a flurry of tension and confusion. A party of eight that are standing by for the Los Angeles flight crowd around the gate agent. The patience of paying passengers is tested as the details for this flight are sorted out. All the while, Megan and I stand back and wait. Our hearts are pounding. Our nerves are shot. But, still, we hold hands and wait.

At 10:30am, as nearly all the passengers have been boarded for this flight, the gate agent announces that there are two seats open. She looks to Megan and I and asks if we are with the party of eight that is anxiously pacing the boarding area. We say no.

"Are you my party of two?"

We sure are. We are given the last two seats on the flight. We are on our way to pay tribute to Michael Jackson. We are about to take part in one of the biggest media events in history...

Speed Demon

Around 2:00pm, we left the rental car lot on our way to Dodger Stadium to exchange the Ticketmaster voucher for a pair of tickets.

From the passenger seat, Megan read me the directions given by Google Maps as I quickly relearned how to drive in Los Angeles.

About a half hour later, after a few missed turns and misunderstood directions, we arrived at the entrance to Dodger Stadium where we were greeted by the LAPD. Every car ahead of us was being stopped, I figured it was a sobriety check. Megan, being the brains of the operation, declared that they were checking for valid Ticketmaster vouchers. A declaration that I ignored...until we were two cars away. At this point, in all my wisdom, I turned to Megan and said:

"Oh, crap. Baby. They need to see the voucher. It's in the very back of the car. I need you to get it."

And so, with Megan crawling through the back seat of the car, I roll down my window to greet the LAPD. I didn't even have to explain my situation. They simply looked at my girlfriend crawling through the car and decided it was proof enough to let us pass. Let me rephrase that. I didn't have to explain my situation to the LAPD. Megan on the other hand, was less than thrilled with the situation. I believe more than a few "I told you so's" were directed my way.

From the LAPD check point, we followed the road to a drive thru ticket booth, where an attendant scanned and validated our voucher. From there, we were directed to the surprisingly empty parking lot, save for a few rows of cars in orderly lines. We got in a line, waited for our turn and finally, handed over our voucher. Two tickets were given to me and a bracelet was secured around both our wrists. We were quite clearly told that the tickets were not valid without the bracelet and that the bracelet had to be in perfect condition for it to be considered valid. With that we are sent on our merry way, past news cameras and general onlookers and out the exit of the parking lot at Dodger Stadium.

We had heard rumors that the tickets would be for either the Staples Center or a broadcast at the Nokia Theater. As we drove away, Megan scanned the tickets to find that we would be seated at the Staples Center for the service. We had to pull over to text, email, and call as many people as we could...

I'll Be There

Whatever Happens

5:30am, Tuesday morning. I had fallen asleep to the endless parade of Michael Jackson reports provided by cable and local new networks. The last thing I specifically remember is listening to Michael answer various questions during the now infamous Martin Bashir interview; "Living With Michael Jackson". Except for the fact that we woke up in a hotel suite, this morning was suspiciously similar to the morning that preceded it. T
here was a lot to be done in this day, a lot to experience. Megan and I were at the same time anxious, excited and exhausted. But we carried on. We ate breakfast, packed our bags and checked out of the hotel. We were on the road by 6:45am.

The drive to the Staples Center was a bit nerve racking. Los Angeles freeways are unpredictable on a good day, today there was no way for us to know how Michael's memorial service would affect traffic headed towards the Staples Center. Exits were reported to have closed and the news was warning people to stay away unless you possessed a ticket and wrist band. I was just hoping that I could navigate the chaos.

A long line of traffic greeted us as we approached the road blocks that surrounded the Staples Center. As we finally passed through, displaying our wristbands and tickets, I thought we were home free. Sadly, we were due for more confusion and anxiety. While the traffic control and crowd control in Los Angeles had been superb, there had been one glaring oversight, there was nowhere to park. There was nowhere to park and there was, seemingly, no body that knew what to do about it. Emptied parking lots in surrounding businesses were selling spots for $30. Traffic control personnel spoke of a shuttle that was taking people, but couldn't give clear directions. My frustration grew. After all that we had been through to get to this point, I was desperately afraid that we would be defeated by the city of Los Angeles and it's lack of available parking.

But, as is the moral of this story...better forces prevailed. Not only did we find parking, we found affordable parking. As I drove in circles around the Staples Center, losing my sense of direction and distance, we happened across a low cost parking structure just about a mile away from our destination. Our good fortune had continued...we were parked in relative safety and on our way.

Keep The Faith

A thought occurred to me recently.

The strange thing about the Michael Jackson memorial service was that there was nothing strange at all. If you removed the media circus, if you took away all the speculation; you would be simply left with, a respectful and often beautiful event. Why is this important to note? Because it seems to me that if you removed all of those aspects from Michael's life, you would be left viewing a much different picture. Michael's eccentricities are well documented, but what is often overlooked in the 'tale' of Michael Jackson is his genuine love for his fans and their love for him. That was the overwhelming sentiment in the line that gathered outside the Staples Center on Tuesday morning, July 7th. None of us possessed a ticket to some 'freak show', we were there to pay our respects.

Yes, the typical closed-minded protests encouraged by Fred Phelps and the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church were present. And, yes, we all wanted to respond to their childish proclamations that "Jacko Burns in Hell" by telling them where they could stick their signs and exactly where they could go. But, at that moment when my lips parted to allow my venomous attack to travel in their general direction, something strange happened. An officer of the LAPD looked in my direction and addressed the group surrounding me:

"Don't waste your time. It's really not worth it."

You know what? He was right. Because this moment in time was not about negativity. It was not about validating the weak egos of a misinformed cult. It was a time for celebration, a time for grief, but more important, it was a time for understanding. As the line grew through the city blocks of downtown East Los Angeles; a mixture of race, class, gender and political leanings decorated in the accepted uniform of black fedora and bootleg t-shirt came to celebrate a much loved Icon. An Icon that also happened to want to Heal the World.

Gone Too Soon

The public memorial for Michael Jackson was well documented, to say the least. Countless media outlets reported on the service and footage is readily available to you in various forms throughout the internet. Because of this, I am not interested in reporting on the specifics of the service. What I will share in this entry has to do with the emotional impact felt that morning.

Tuesday; July 7, 2009:

Around 9:00 am we entered the Staples Center. As we passed through the doors, we were handed a gold program (viewable on the sidebar of this website). The program was very well put together given the short amount of time allowed to prepare for this service and was an unexpected gift for all of us.

The first thing that struck me as we walked into the Staples Center was that McDonalds was open. People milled around the outside of the arena, eating hamburgers and drinking soda. It felt a little odd. Regardless, Megan was hungry and I desperately needed caffeine, so we purchased a pretzel and sodas. After purchasing our food, we made our way to Section 306 to find our assigned seating in row five.

When we arrived at our seats, it was impossible not to be taken aback. The magnitude of this event became very clear. As I said regarding the memorial programs, it was truly incredible that such an elaborate, even beautiful event was prepared in such a short amount of time. Michael's image and music immediately greeted us as we sat down. In that moment, his death became very, very real to me. It was an odd feeling. In some way, as I gazed upon the stage, I felt like I had lost a loved one. I always understood that I had a deep connection to Michael and his music, but it took sitting down in my assigned seat that morning for me to realize how deep that connection really was.

By 10:00am several announcements were made, informing all in attendance that it was time to be seated. Subtle reminders that we were at a memorial service, not a concert. A few minutes later, a visibly shaken Smokey Robinson opened the service by reading letters sent by Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela. After he finished, there seemed to be a minor confusion coming from the stage. This confusion lasted for roughly ten or fifteen minutes. What followed had an impact that would greatly overshadow any minor error in scheduling.

It had been reported that the Jackson family held a private memorial for Michael earlier in the morning. Because of this, I was under the assumption that we would see flowers, pictures and generally pay tribute to his life on that morning. So, it came as something of a shock when I could see pallbearers carrying a gold casket to the center of the stage. At that moment, I could feel my heart sink along with the thousands of others in attendance. A wave of emotions filled the arena. The audience stood in unison to applaud Michael Jackson, our fallen hero.

A gospel choir opened the morning's service, in a powerful and joyous performance they reminded all in attendance of the morning's purpose which was not to say goodby, but to celebrate. An emotional performance from Mairah Carey immediately followed and gave a more somber tone for the morning's service. Though she seemed shaken, I felt that her performance was amazingly honest and heartfelt. I read later that she had sent a message via Twitter apologizing for her performance. Personally, I feel that she had no reason to apologize. It's easy enough to get emotional listening to I'll Be There on the radio, I can't imagine singing it at Michael Jackson's memorial service in front of his family let alone the thousands in attendance.

The following performances and eulogies often oscillated between the somber and celebritory. More than anything, every word spoken and every note played reminded us that Michael was human. I believe Michael's humanity was something often overlook, particularly in the later years of his life. Many of us got lost in the scandals and the tribulations that often surrounded his name and image in news reports. But, for all the gossip and all the eccentricities of his life, sitting in the Staples Center that morning you could not deny the honesty of his spirit and his heart. For me, his spirit was tragically evident as Jennifer Hudson sang Will You Be There and his voice filled the arena:

In our darkest hour, in my deepest despair, will you still care?
Will you be there?
In my trials and my tribulations, through our doubts and frustrations.
In my violence.
In my turbulence.
Through my fear and confessions.
In my anguish and my pain.
Through my joy and my sorrow.
In the promise of another tomorrow.
I'll never let you part.
For you're always in my heart.

It would be difficult not to be impressed by the sheer volume of work Michael Jackson created, let alone the number of lives he affected. Even harder, would be to exit the arena that morning and not feel that the world had lost someone very special. That is precisely what the service that morning was about. From John Mayer's stunningly respectful take on Human Nature to Jermaine Jackson's achingly beautiful tribute to his fallen brother and even Al Sharpton, simply being Al Sharpton; all present were simply there to express their gratitude to this amazing, inspirational man.

But, for all the masterful performances and all the touching eulogies, one tearful sentence made the reality of this situation painfully clear:

“Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine and I just wanted to say I love him so much.”

Paris Michael Jackson, reminded us all that behind the talent, beneath the scandal there was a father. A father with a daughter and two sons that didn't care what he looked like or how many records he sold. They just wanted to love him and they just wanted him to come back. Perhaps that was a sentiment we all shared that morning...


We exited the Staples Center in a daze. We made our way through the crowd of thousands to the walls where fans and well wishers had left their marks on two large pictures of Michael. We tried to take pictures, we tried to document this whole experience, but a simple two dimensions simply couldn't convey the significance of that morning's service.

So, we made our way back towards the rental car...

Apparently, Lil' Kim was headed that way too...

Beat It

If you're from Oregon, as I am, driving in downtown Los Angeles can be tiring,to say the least. By the time we made it out of the Staples Center area and back towards Los Angeles International Airport, we were exhausted. After the long hours, little sleep and sheer emotion of the past two days, we were ready to crash. It was with this in mind that we made the decision to check in for our return flight home early, rather than try to 'find something else to do' in LA. As it so happens I was, also, getting a bit cranky (sorry Megan). So, we found the rental car drop off, I ran over a HUGE pot hole (again, sorry Megan), we dropped off said car and headed to the airport.

As we sat in a bar/restaurant in the Los Angeles airport, it was intensely surreal to see the wall to wall CNN coverage of the Michael Jackson memorial depicted on nearly every television screen. To think that we had just been a part of such a historical moment was fact, it was nearly shocking. One by one waiters and waitresses walked by, each stopping at a nearby television to take in bits and pieces of the memorial service. Megan and I stared at each other, both exhausted, both overwhelmed in desperate need for food and some time to process the days events.

Thinking that we were going to make it home without a problem, we made our way to the boarding area to wait for our flight. I had forgotten my laptop charger and my phone charger at home in the frenzied packing a day earlier so I used this time to turn on my phone and return some of my many missed calls. It was interesting to look around the boarding area and see several people sporting the same gold wristband that we were. A sort of badge of honor. I would see these people and exchange knowing looks. It would be very interesting to find out how far people came from to experience this once in a lifetime event.

A short time before our 6pm departure, I decided to look at the standby list for our direct flight to Portland. To my dismay, a large group of paying passengers had checked in early for their flight and had asked to be put on the same waiting list we were on. In short, we weren't getting home on that flight. So, I made a quick decision, Megan and I rebooked for a flight to Seattle
leaving in 15 minutes. The logic was to get as close to home as possible as quickly as possible. The flight loads from Seattle to Portland looked a little tough, but, I figured we'd be alright. So we boarded the flight to Seattle.


A short step ahead in time, we have landed in Seattle where I am staring down the gate agent who is waiting untill the very last minute to clear the standby list. This is the same gate agent who told me that I should consider renting a car to drive home because the two Portland flights are overbooked. We are waiting for her to clear the standby list so she can assign us seats. I am
anxious, I am tired, I am increasingly frustrated.

When we landed in Seattle, we were told that a cancelled flight from San Jose to Portland had been redirected to Seattle, greatly affecting our chances of flying standby home. We rushed to the gate to make sense of the situation and then we waited, and waited...

As my stress levels became nearly too much for me, it was Megan that reminded me of the positive thinking that had gotten us so far. It was in that moment, I took a deep breath and accepted that everything would work out one way or the other. After I accepted this two things happened: first, my Mom called to let us know she'd gladly drive the three hours to pick us up then, our names got called for the last two seats on the second to last flight home to Portland.

As we walked to the gate to collect our tickets, a woman and a baby who were paying customers and had a higher priorty than our freshly printed tickets came running towards the gate. They were given one of our seats. Because she had to be at work the next day, I sent Megan ahead of me to Portland, instructing her to call my Mom who would pick her up when she landed. We said goodbye as quickly as possible as the agent ushered her to the soon departing flight and I ran to find the next flight to Portland, leaving in 30 minutes.

With no the battery on low on my laptop, I attempted to transfer a small amount of power to my long dead iPhone, in hopes that I'd be able to make that one last phone call to let someone know I was making it home or book a hotel for the night...whichever it turned out to be.

Twenty minutes passed and I had an odd feeling. This flight to Portland was fully booked and the standby list was extensive, I had to wonder if my name had made it on that list. It hadn't. I asked to be added to the standby list and was soon awarded the final seat on the final flight home to Portland, OR.

Remember the Time

As I write this entry, it has been nearly two months since Michael's passing. Two months and Michael Jackson remains a top story on the Google News homepage. While this is a typical reaction to a high profile death, it is sad to think that it took death to bring about a true 'comeback' for the King of Pop. As the reported stories slowly shift from the tributes to the tragic, I would encourage anyone reading this to remember the time...

Remember the time, not just for Michael Jackson but for yourself. Remember the good parts of life, remember to be thankful for what you have, because you don't know when it can be taken away. More important, remember to look out for those with less fortune. All we have is right now, this minute, so let's do something with it. That is what I've learned from Michael's passing and I truly believe this is what he'd want remembered as his legacy.

So, lets put aside the rumors of who fathered who and who had what done. Let's stop allowing TMZ, OK, US Weekly, and the countless other sources of sensationalized gossip to fill our minds with empty calories and negativity. Next time you want to see what snarky remark Perez Hilton has for a celebrity, pick up a book and enrich your mind instead. Next time you want to watch the latest celebrity scandal unfold, why not find a charitable cause you can align yourself with? Above all else, remember that when someone loves you, you should love them more. These are trying times we live in, we don't need to make them any harder for ourselves and those around us.

As a great man once sang:

"If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change."

Schmon! Aaow...