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[THE OSCARS] | FROM THE CHEAP SEATS

A great place for a bit of carpet shopping

The boards are hard and the day is chilly, but the fans in the bleachers happily endure it to see their favorite stars.

February 26, 2007|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

BY the time the celebrities began moving along the red carpet down the middle of Hollywood Boulevard in midafternoon Sunday, Brian and Jeanne Sikoff of Camarillo had already spent seven hours in the bleachers.

Jeanne's first baby is due Friday -- "or maybe today," her husband said -- and the couple spent most of the morning and afternoon trying to get comfortable at the top of Bleacher 5, then standing on a bench straining for a better view of the river of stars in black tuxes and shimmering evening dresses.

Clouds and a chilly wind added to the discomfort, but the couple, who watch 10 or more movies a month, entertained no second thoughts.

"You spend your whole life watching this on TV," said Brian Sikoff. "This is it -- this is what dreams are made of. Now if I was down there getting nominated ... "

It takes a certain stamina to be a bleacher creature. Several hundred people who won bleacher seats either through promotional contests or an online lottery had to begin showing up about 6:30 a.m., some eight hours before the first celebrity sashayed down the red carpet.

Bring a lunch, they were warned, but no pillows or other napware, just what you could stuff under your legs on the bleachers. And stay in your seat.

About those seats: Bleachers are hard, in this case thick, blue-painted boards. They would be uncomfortable for an hour. Very uncomfortable for three hours. By the fifth hour, the stands become nearly intolerable. Your back hurts. Your hips hurt. You can't flex your knees without damaging the kidneys of the person in front of you.

But you stay. Because these are the Oscars, and people such as Barbara and Milton Johnson have come all the way from Southfield, Mich., just to see the stars move from the big screen to the red carpet -- larger-than-life figures now life-size.

Barbara Johnson tried each of the last three years to get tickets and finally got lucky this time. "Oh, my God, we're so close -- I'm going to call everybody," she said as the couple worked their way to second-row seats.

Still, sacrifices are required, and sometimes in more than comfort. Fifteen friends of Jill Seres, who in a normal year would have spent Sunday at her house in Bricktown, N.J., had to make their own plans. Seres scored four bleacher tickets, and she and three girlfriends decided to make a short vacation of it.

"I called everybody up and said, 'I have good news and bad news,' " Seres said. "The bad news is no party. The good news is I got tickets. I had a lot of disappointed friends."

But three of them were more than happy. The quartet set up their home away from home in Beverly Hills -- a radical change from February in New Jersey.

"We rented a red convertible, and we're just driving around and around," said Tracy January, one of Seres' travel partners.

But the day unfurled slowly. A little after 10 a.m., the first pseudo-celebrity showed -- the guy who plays the caveman in the Geico commercials.

"Hey, caveman! I love you -- I've got Geico!" shouted out Christine Richards, 36, who drove in from Surprise, Ariz., with three co-workers in the medical records office of a Phoenix-area hospital.

But the caveman was not exactly on her list of celebrities to spot. The four friends left Saturday morning, spent a couple of hours at an outlet mall en route, and plan to drive back to Arizona today.

"It's fun," Richards said. "We all took a road trip, a little getaway from home, our kids, work. And we're really big into celebrity culture and gossip. We just have to see our celebrities."

A little after 3 p.m., the real show began, and then the celebrities began coursing down the street in a thickening stream. The Sikoffs had trouble keeping up with them. Will Smith. Penelope Cruz. Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman and Martin Scorsese. On the parade came.

For some, the in-person sightings matter more than the Oscars themselves. Tina Hernandez of Huntington Beach has been coming to the Oscars for 25 years. A decade ago, she joined with other regulars in the Chatter group, which makes an annual convention of it.

About 30 of them landed tickets this year and set up camp in the Hollywood Celebrity Hotel. Saturday night they had their own Governors Ball at the hotel. "We did the white canopy and chafing dishes with Italian food," Hernandez said. "We started planning as we left last year."

On Sunday, most of them were wearing yellow T-shirts marking the anniversary of the group's founding and began arriving before daybreak at the corner of Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard to get passes and seat assignments.

By the time the last celebrity walked by, Hernandez was planning to head back to the hotel, though she thought she might stop in at an ABC Oscar viewing party across the street from the Kodak. "A lot of us went [last year], but I slept through most of it," Hernandez said. "We're here by 6 a.m. It makes for a long day."

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scott.martelle@latimes.com

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