To my right, Enrique snores in B major. On the left, Matt is dissonant in C. Two thin blankets separate my posterior from the pavement. My socks are wet and my feet numb. This is a camping trip like no other.
We are going to the World Series.
Never mind that the Angels are packing for one last road trip to Fenway. Never mind 1979. Never mind 1982. Never mind that Mr. October looks more like December each time he steps to the plate.
We are encamped on the asphalt plain--500, maybe 600 strong. By dawn, the crowd seeking numbered blue bracelets, strips of plastic that will allow them to buy Series tickets today, will number at least 2,000.
But that is of little concern to this phalanx of the front, the first 50 to set their lawn chairs on a grassy knoll outside Anaheim Stadium, alongside State College Boulevard, before the ink was dry on Sunday's score cards.
These are the hard core. And they are exhausted, sacked out in sleeping bags on cheap chaise lounges, the tension of those last three innings--homers and hit batsmen, the RBI single, the sacrifice fly--finally releasing its grip on their chests.
A few still stir, though. They are the self-appointed lawmen of the line, the protectors of order who throughout the afternoon and night have pleaded and threatened and persuaded and intimidated those who would violate the sanctified queue.
Line Swells With Strangers
They sit upright in their lawn chairs, wrapped in blankets, or they pace alongside the line, hands pushed deep into pockets.
Before stadium officials allowed us into the parking lot about midnight and allowed us to make camp alongside sawhorses and fences, we saw the line ahead of us swell with strangers.
Once I stood 20th in line. Now I lie, shivering, about 120th.
I try to sleep, but the night air is cold and damp. A half dozen men drink beer and toss a football under the harsh, white street lights. On the glowing screen of a five-inch, battery-powered television, Gammera the Invincible swings around a horizontal bar, the sole competitor in a giant post-nuclear reptilian gymnastics meet. A helicopter buzzes past. I spy Orion, stalking unknown beasts in the clear sky.
It is, technically speaking, Monday morning. But it is 3:42 a.m.
An outdoor bathroom, which the stadium has opened "for our convenience," is half a mile away. But rumors have begun to circulate again, rumors that "they" will begin issuing numbered bracelets before the appointed 6 o'clock hour--at 4, maybe, or 4:30.
Sunday, such paranoid tales flew furiously: Anaheim police wouldn't let us stay here; automated lawn sprinklers would drench us; priority numbers would be issued randomly; we would have to sprint a third of a mile and battle off incoming cars to get in the real line for wristbands.
People take turns dashing to Winchell's or Naugles. Someone fires up a pot of water on a Coleman stove.
A latecomer offers Matt 10 bucks to cut in line ahead of us. Everyone has his price, but this guy's not even in the ballpark. Later in the morning, a well-dressed man--light beige sport coat, white shirt, blue tie--has the gall to walk over and offer me $5.
A woman walks alongside the line, heading toward the front, obviously looking for a spot to nudge her way in. But this crowd can feel the plastic bands pulled tight around their wrists, can see the words on their tickets: World Series, Anaheim Stadium. She only tries to cut in once.
"It's scary up there," the woman announces as she again walks past, this time toward the back of the line. Each attempt to jump the line is met with a louder, more threatening response.
We have been walking on the edge of pure ugliness for 13 hours. Now the line--which has, indeed, become an organism itself--is telling the stadium security guards to let the rats cross the line of wooden horses, let them try to cut in. "We'll take care of them," one man shouts, to applause.
A man who left hours ago, to eat hot food and sleep in a soft bed, tries to rejoin his buddies in line. "No more friends," someone screams and a chant is born. "No more friends! -- No more friends! -- No more friends!" He leaves. No more friends.
Another yahoo makes a run at the barricades. The crowd hollers for a security officer, who sends the villain to the end of the queue, a third of a mile across the asphalt parking lot. "Go to bracelet hell," a heckler calls after him.
This is bracelet hell.
After 14 hours, the line shuffles forward.
Security guards, understandably surly at this hour, pull the precious bracelets tight around eager arms. Do not bend, fold, spindle or mutilate, they warn, or you'll lose your priority for buying tickets.
Faces I've come to recognize walk away, finally, trying to remember where they left their cars. Lawn chairs are slung over sagging shoulders.
What'd you get? "Five" and "23" and "87" come the responses, often as not punctuated by a right wrist, raised to prove it really had been tagged with a bright-blue band.
My turn. For the next 51 hours, call me Number 131.
As I leave, I'm tempted to drive out to State College, curious to see the line, still growing, now stretching at least half a mile around three sides of the stadium's west parking lot. Instead, I head straight for the freeway.
A brilliant, golden dawn lends the Saddleback peaks a dramatic silhouette. Orion's gaze fades into morning as I head home to a hot shower.