Last month, J. and I were on the El in Chicago, feeling very proud of ourselves. We’d gotten up somewhat early, muddled our way through the city’s public transportation system, and were now rattling along to Wrigleyville. We were in Chicago to see Pearl Jam; they were playing Wrigley Field the very next day. They’d opened the merchandise stands a day early due to high demand for things like posters and T-shirts and key chains and bottle openers; J. wanted a poster and a T-shirt. “We’ll get there early,” he said. “We’ll beat the crowds and probably only have to wait for an hour or two. Then the second half of the day we can do what you want to do.” I booked the river cruise architectural tour for that evening. We were the masters of compromise.
We got off the El a little after 11am with a swarm of Pearl Jam fans, and then we saw it: the line, snaking three times through an outdoor bar, then along a fence, and then, finally, up to the first person, who had been camped out since about 9am. The stands didn’t open until noon.
“It’ll move fast,” J. said. But it didn’t, and we ended up standing in line, winding back and forth, back and forth, like we were in one of those zigzagging roped lines at the bank. We didn’t reach the merchandise stand until 5:15pm. J. got one of the last posters left before they sold out. He considers this a personal victory of epic proportions.
The line didn’t surprise me—Pearl Jam fans are diehard. And they’re all really nice, too, which is why I think standing in line for six hours for a T-shirt didn’t bother me all that much. We became friends with the couples flanking us. The couple in front of us—Mike and Marisa, married three years, from D.C., she was six months pregnant—bowed out after about three hours. She was hot, uncomfortable, and exhausted. I didn’t blame her. And then there was the couple right behind us, Marianne and Andy, a sweet twosome who’d met at college in Montana. They’d gotten married on Saturday. It was Thursday. They were spending their honeymoon in Chicago, standing in line for hours with complete strangers, listening to me badger them with questions about their wedding, how they met, her dress, whether or not he cried as she walked down the aisle, their first dance, and—the burning question—how the heck they ended up in Chicago standing in line for a Pearl Jam poster on their honeymoon.
“So, how many shows have you been to?” I ask Marianne, figuring the number would be astounding. She giggled.
“This is actually my first one. Andy’s the diehard fan. He’s been listening to them since he was, like, 10.”
Marisa and Mike hadn’t left yet, and Marisa and I stared at Marianne in utter fascination. But Marianne wasn’t faking her smile or her happiness at being here, in Chicago, in the heat, surrounded by beer-guzzling fans in the blazing noontime sun, all for the concert of a band she didn’t even particularly like.
“I mean, would you have ever …” I asked Marisa, who answered before I could finish the question.
“No. Never. Do you hear that, Mike? Never. Would. Have. Happened. You?”
Marisa and I stood next to each other, feeling like old marrieds, wizened and bitter, basking in the glow of this newly married couple, who didn’t need cabanas on a beach or $25 cocktails in Maui.
“I got T-shirts made,” Marianne said. “For the concert. They have our wedding date on the front and on the back they say ‘Honeymooning with Pearl Jam.’” Andy smiled down at her. I could practically feel J.’s eyes burning into the side of my head. I knew what he was thinking: You would never do any of this.
And he was right. For better or worse, our honeymoon was spent without cell phones, in Hawaii, thousands of miles away from everyone, in billowy caftans and swimming trunks, drinking cocktails with pretty flowers tucked in them. If he’d brought up standing in line for hours to buy a T-shirt, I’d have killed him on the spot.
But Marianne was there, and she was a good sport, right up until the last 30 minutes, when her porcelain skin started to turn bright red. We all took turns sitting in the shade. When we finally got to the merchandise stand, after exactly six hours, it was like we’d reached Mecca.
“Just buy it all,” I whispered to J. “We’ve been in line all day—get yourself all the T-shirts you want. Here, want a key chain? Let’s get a key chain.” But J., being J., showed restraint. He’d come here for exactly one T-shirt and one particular poster, and that was what he was leaving with. I could see the excitement on his face, and I could tell that he was hurrying up his decision so that the hundreds of people in line behind us could hurry up and get their stuff, too. Suddenly I wanted to cry. I pushed him to look at it all—“Are you sure? Do you want to look at that shirt, too?”—and I felt a tiny bit like parents must feel when they see their kids eyes light up on Christmas. J. was happy, and the day was worth it.
We met up with both couples the following day. We gave Marisa and Mike the poster we’d picked up for them; they’ve gotten it framed and are hanging it in the baby’s nursery. There’s another Pearl Jam concert the day before her due date. They’re not going.
Marianne and Andy showed up wearing their matching T-shirts. She was excited for her first Pearl Jam concert; we told her she’d become an instant fan. I watched them a little bit that afternoon, fresh from their wedding, excited for their new life, happy to be anywhere together, even if it anywhere was a jam-packed, musty dive bar in the middle of Wrigleyville on what is generally supposed to be the most romantic week of your life. I snapped a picture of them before we split up to go to our separate seats, and I’m sure she felt that same Christmas-morning feeling I’d felt the day before, watching her new husband sing along to his favorite band under the blazing lights of Wrigley Field, wearing his apple-green shirt that matched hers. I leaned in to J. and kissed him on the cheek.
“I love you,” I said. “And just so you know, I would never, ever, ever have done this on our honeymoon.”