I suppose it’s a cliché to be gay and traveling a great distance to see Barbra Streisand in concert. To clarify, it was my straight girl friend who purchased the tickets. And she just happened to think of me. There are far worse types of profiling.
On a frosty Los Angeles night—it may have dipped below 50!—I raced toward my favorite concert venue, the Hollywood Bowl, after a weekend of slogging and slugging it out as a wannabe sitcom writer. I stood out as soon as I got out of my car after generously donating $22 to the Starving Parking Lot Owner fund. “Aren’t you cold?” asked an attendant while I walked past in a t-shirt. That’s when I noticed everyone in the Babs flock wearing winter coats, scarves, gloves and lugging totes with blankies. In the men’s washroom, a fellow mentioned wearing two pairs of long underwear. It wasn’t a lewd come-on. He just needed to talk about the freakish weather. Los Angelinos are a fragile lot.
Despite her New Yorker background, our favorite diva has spent too much time in Malibu. She too made at least two dozen references to the cold and draped a parka over a fabulous red dress that we got to see in a photo that flashed on video screens. Our Funny Girl bantered at length between songs, coming off as amusingly folksy although I suspected that even if the most throwaway lines were fully scripted. (Celine Dion, take note. Divas can still project a real personality.)
Coming just five days after Obama’s re-election, the concert provided a forum for Babs to share the political equivalent to a post-coital glow as the liberal-leaning crowd clapped and whooped in all the right places. (I imagine Romney supporters stayed away, licking their wounds while slouching in La-Z-Boys and catching up on DVR’d episodes of Reba sitcoms at home.)
It was an odd mix of concert goers. I thought I’d glory in a Gay Immersion experience when I saw a drag queen dressed as Liza Minnelli clomp by me before I met up with my friend. Alas, my gaydar lapsed to Inactive mode. The night belonged to seniors and clusters of women who could not persuade their husbands to turn off Sunday football.
As we ascended the steep paved path to our nosebleed seats, I detected a wisp of marijuana, a sign that a lone headbanger was going to be very disappointed when he realized this was not the Iron Maiden show.
One of the charms of the venue is the picnic atmosphere before the show. My friends and I staked out a bench outside the main gate to dine on takeout from California Pizza Kitchen as a hodgepodge of buffets popped up around us. Others feasted at their seats, smuggling in bottles of wine to toast the fact they’d escaped the profane armchair quarterbacking that comes with watching a Cowboys game on the tube.
This charming dining element also proved to be a drawback. Arriving late for the show, an older woman sat behind my friend and me and proceeded to fondle her plastic bag, fishing out munchies throughout Barbra’s quiet, controlled version of “The Way He Makes Me Feel.” Crinkle Bag Lady continued to add her unique percussive sound to “Evergreen” and a truncated version of “Stoney End.” My friend’s shushing and “Could you please stop with the bag?” made no difference.
There were other noise distractions. Ushers moved about, their walkie-talkies blaring loudly as they tried to negotiate conflicts between several clusters of people purporting to have claims on the same seats. Ugh! Why can’t concerts be like tennis matches, whereby ushers refuse to allow movement until logical breaks?
During intermission, Crinkle Bag Lady was forced to mosey along elsewhere as someone else rightfully had a ticket for the spot. Relief! But shortly after the lights went down again, an older woman ascending the stairs fell and remained sprawled in the aisle. I power-focused on music from “Gypsy” and missed most of the hullaballoo as attendants escorted the woman away. Was it a tragic hip injury? A casualty from smuggled wine? Maybe it was the result of a sudden case of rheumatoid arthritis, brought on by the frigid air.
In the end, the sideshow distractions didn’t matter. The Hollywood Bowl will always be a glorious setting. Babs will always be a talented vocalist whose perfectionist tendencies are fascinating to watch unfold. And getting to spend a Sunday evening with a university friend I’ve known for (gasp) thirty years is the ultimate cause for celebration. No force could rain on my parade.