Fans who were lucky enough to score tickets to Michael Jackson’s memorial service Tuesday knew they were witnessing history.
“It was amazing,” said 35-year-old Gregory Vernon, who wore sunglasses as he walked solemnly out of Staples Center after the service. “We’ll probably never see anything like it again.”
Two stay-at-home moms from Arizona left their kids with their husbands and caught a last-minute flight to attend the memorial.
“Love him or hate him, this is the experience of a lifetime,” said 38-year-old Carly Stoltenberg of Gilbert, Ariz. “This brought back his humanness.”
Her friend Katey McPhearson said the service, like the man it memorialized, “totally transcended all races, all cultures, all ages.”
Erma Trinidad of Irvine, Calif., was thrilled to be among the fans outside Staples, but she felt guilty for calling in sick to her job as a defense contractor.
“This is the most unprofessional I’ve ever been,” said the 34-year-old Jackson fan.
Clarisse Que was feeling guilty, too. Instead of inviting her father to the memorial, she took a friend, Trinidad.
“I’m DVR-ing it for my dad,” Que said.
Fans gathered outside Staples beforehand to snap photos of the scene, the giant sympathy card for Jackson and a tribute in red and white roses that read, “We love you Michael.”
Guests were mostly orderly as they moved through metal detectors. Each was handed a program, submitted to a check of their purses or packages and shuffled into the giant arena. Once inside, audience members mostly remained seated and sedate.
But they also cheered the arrival of celebrities such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Kobe Bryant. Once the ceremony began, they stood and sang along with Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz, who reprised their cover of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There,” and gave a standing ovation to Stevie Wonder, who sang “They Won’t Go When I Go.”
‘It’s something that I’ll tell my kids about’The ceremony had all the trappings of any big Hollywood show, relying on Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich and veteran stage manager Valdez Flagg, who works on the Oscars and Grammys.
But plenty of people without tickets to enjoy the spectacle still made the pilgrimage downtown. Fans crowded the corner just outside the police perimeter, where more than 20 uniformed officers kept watch. Dozens of street vendors also were in the mix, selling buttons, posters, T-shirts, bouquets and glittery gloves.
“Show your love, get a glove,” a woman shouted, carrying a cardboard box of spangled white gloves.
Single mom Tamanika Hines made her own Jackson tribute T-shirt and asked her son’s father to watch the baby so she could come to the memorial. Her friend, Sharhon Tinsley, took the day off from her day care job to attend.
“Everyone knows this is my Michael Jackson day,” she said.
Andrea Hernandez of Los Angeles said she was looking forward to seeing photos of Jackson at the memorial: “I like how he looked when he was younger.”
The 21-year-old Hernandez was also excited that Jackson’s body would be at the service, “only because it makes it that much more special. Spiritually ... he’s here. But physically, it’s just like, whoa. It makes it that much more powerful. It’s something that I’ll tell my kids about.”
Norma Paramo of Fontana, Calif., said she used to sing “I’ll Be There,” translated into Spanish, to her aunt who raised her.
“He was a hero for me as I was growing up,” Paramo said of Jackson. “When there was hard times, his music would make me feel happy. I could get lost in his music and forget about everything we were going through, and I’m going to miss him.”
She wiped away tears as she said, “This will be closure for me.”