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ALLIGATOR-BRUCE-SPRINGSTEEN

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“The Fever”
When Bruce Springsteen tickets went on sale in Lakeland last week, thousands of people lined up and camped out for days, but got much more than they bargained for in their quest for a ticket.
((( sally scores )))

PM

By Kevin Turley
Alligator Writer  

It’s 40 degrees and raining on the ever-thickening line. Bootleg Bruce Springsteen tunes fill the air. For some, the line is in its third day.

The rock of Tampa Bay, broadcasting from the stuffed parking lot, serves up Jungleland.

**Oh, this is it. This is the best,” a girl, adorned with streaking make-up and soggy hair, says. “He’s the one. The only one.” Her voice raises to a shrill. “He’s the Boss, the Chairman of the Board, the Great One, the Master of the Universe.

She’s dancing now, hopping to and fro as “Jungleland’ reaches its crescendo. “Oh, I can’t wait I can’t wait, she screams as the song finishes.

Breathing heavily, she plops back down on a cooler and squeezes her head and shoulders back under the makeshift tarpaulin – a ragged hunk of plastic propped up by four sticks of different lengths.

“God,” she says to her friend, “the way he moves. Those hips. I really want him.” The line is approaching 2,000 and the Lakeland Civic Center lady with the cold hands and the pretty white sweater is passing out blue tickets. Only the first 650 will get the precious blue ticket. “Too much of anordeal,” a Civic Center official explains.

The blue ticket is vital to the crowd – it can get you through the door at 9:30 a.m. to buy the real thing – the red ticket. The passport to see the Boss.

He greeted the world from Asbury Park nearly a decade ago, like a spirit in the night, and almost immediately was kissed to die as the newest “new Dylan.” But he didn’t and he’s not. Alive and well, he reigns as King Bruce the First.

He reigns despite another kiss in ’75 — the “Future of Rock.” Newsweek and Time cover stories the same week. These created a huge schism in the world of rock ‘n roll.

On one side, those who had seen him. On the other, those who hadn’t. To those who had, “Bruce Springsteen didn’t invent rock ‘n roll, he just perfected it,” says the girl with the caking make-up, as much of a verity as “the sky is blue” or “the grass is green.”

“Where’d you get that tape?” someone shouts to a passerby carrying a small Sony stereo cassette deck from which live Bruce blares.

“Where’s it from?”

“The Agora,” he shouts from around his umbrella. The umbrella protects the deck, the owner faces the elements.

“76,78, I’m not sure when.”

“Which Agora?”

“Cleveland.”

“Sit down,” someone says. “Stay a while. Have some beers, some cookies. Stay and party. AND TURN IT UP.”

The blue ticket lady has long since disappeared, the crowd is quieter, but Bruce still fills the air. New Bruce, old Bruce. “Which is better?” people argue. “It’s all Bruce,” someone says.

At 4 a.m. the chaos begins to organize. Newcomers, oblivious to the blue tickets, add to the already long line.

At five, the line has become a sea. Sally begins to get frantic, despite the promises her blue ticket holds.

“I can’t risk it.” She says, disdaining the guarantees from the lady with the cold hands and pretty sweater. She heads for the front.

“There’s going to be a riot,” she says.

The sun comes up, and the line is still growing, as Sally holds down the fort. Some folks are seeking a dry (who cares about warm?) place to sleep. Others are looking for love.

The Civic Center is circled as the minutes count slowly down toward zero.

At 9, a single door opens, and all at once, ten thousand bodies want to go through it.

“Everything will be orderly,” a cop explains. “We’re going to call the numbers of the blue tickets one by one.”

Some people actually believe him.

*Let’s get out of here,” Sally cries, hustling away from the door. “It’s crazy. You could get killed up there.”

“You’re crazy. We didn’t come here and sleep in the Goddamn freezing rain to leave without tickets.”

“I got six tickets,” Sally blurts out, smiling, and still edging away from the crowd.

“What?”

“I got six tickets. That’s enough for us.’

“You got six tickets? Where?”

“Second row.”

“Second row?”

“Yeah.”

“How?” squeaks out of two incredulous, gaping mouths.

“I was getting scared. I was getting frantic. I was getting killed, and a cop pulled me in, and I got six tickets.”

She catches her breath, slowly.

Let’s go home.”

The crowd is screaming. Bodies and bodies and still more bodies. Off in the distance a single open, and well guarded, door beckons. A door that only a blue ticket can get you through.

“Take the keys,” I say to Sally. “Relax. We’re going in.”

Sally catches the keys, clutches them like they were solid gold, and bolts.

Sardine city. It’s push and shove and hope for the best. So few bodies have blue tickets, and those without are really trying to let those with through.

But too many people are on too little real estate. Security is getting frantic. And a little violent.

Inside the open door, red tickets are going 20 at a time, $13 a shot, and being turned over outside for $20, $30, $50.

Even a blue ticket gets that much.

“My brother got $500 a piece for two front row Springsteen seats in the Garden,” a guy says.

“I got 50 bucks for two blue tickets.”

“$50 each?” someone asks, and the guy nods yes.

The price paid to get in the door is a heavy one. Three men, big strong men, not little boys, not little girls, big strong men, sit against the far wall, pictures of agony. It’s been no easy trek through that door.

Every few minutes a select few are let in. Diving, crawling, rolling on their asses, in the air. It’s touchdown time, victory dances and reunions full of heart and soul.

“I got in!” they scream, if they’re able.

“I got in!”

“You got in!” and it’s a dancing envelope.

The throng outside — it’s angrier now, the red tickets are going fast — pushes on the door. Pounds on the door. It’s only plexiglass.

“Please don’t break,” a voice trembles.

The Lakeland riot squad is getting ready. Like the Oakland Raiders, someone says, they strap on their helmets and warm up their billy clubs against sweaty palms. Head ’em up, move ’em out, they march like soldiers toward the door.

It’s a standing ovation from the crowd inside. The riot squad, looking mean, takes its place in front of the door. A few heads get popped and a semblance of order returns.

For a lucky few, the ordeal is over and it’s homeward bound. Dade City, McDonalds for Mcburgers and Mcfries, and little Chicken Mcnuggets that don’t look anything like their picture.

Where are the Mcnapkins? The laughter is giddy and slaphappy, but it’s real.

Second row! Second goddamn row for the Boss. Sally’s a hero. Whoops and hollers of “Second row!” and the Dade Cityers curl up their foreheads. They don’t understand.

“Look up there.” The McDonalds menu stares blankly back. “Second row, huh? We’ll be as close to the Boss as we are to ‘Big Mac, a buck nineteen.”

—30—

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On.