How the Times' Stephanie Hayes went to a Justin Bieber concert and came away with a story about authentic connection and a man named Rusty Peacock
TAMPA — The fans charged like wildebeests with flat-ironed hair, and they screamed, literally, at nothing. They chewed chicken nuggets and swilled soda through gum-clung braces and crumpled paper towels in volcanic masses in bathrooms. When they could finally take their seats to see Justin Bieber perform, a cloud of glitter revealed their left-behinds.
The guardians. The beleaguered moms and dads and aunts and uncles who did not have a concert ticket, nor want one. But they had to be there, caught in a rite that happens when your child worships a teen idol but is too young to do it alone.
So they waited Thursday night with swollen feet in the Tampa Bay Times Forum's comfy spot marked PARENT WAITING AREA. They slumped in chairs, slept on floors, inserted ear buds, read the paper, looked at calming nature photography on the walls.
On the fringes sat an 81-year-old man in Velcro shoes named Rusty Peacock, grinning like someone with his name should grin.
Poynter's Roy Peter Clark loved it. "If there's a chance to find a black truffle in a bin of carrots," Stephanie told Roy, "you must try." Here's what else she told him that he didn't use:
At the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the atmosphere immediately reminded me of a scene from Tina Fey’s brilliant Mean Girls, when the teenagers morph into wild animals and maul each other in the halls. Someone outside the concert would scream, and they would all take off like a pack, big feet slapping, long arms swinging.
I found the parent waiting room. It was still mobbed with teenagers, and I was stuffed so tightly among them, short and right at their eye level, I could detect the hazy layer of pink gum on their braces. I knew I had to wait, to just exist and feel my heart thump in the stress, go to the bathroom and try to get a towel, just hush and watch.
When they all cleared out, the parents were left.
Honestly, they looked like they wanted to kill. They were tired, fast asleep, puffy, annoyed, bored. I saw an old man with a younger woman, and they were smiling, and my Darwinian instincts to seek safety rather than danger led me to them. It really wasn’t more enlightened than that.
Rusty Peacock, he said. “No,” I said. “What’s your real name?” He was immediately magnetizing, funny, the kind of person you know is going to be interesting. It would be a waste to leave him to collect other mediocre quotes on a very tight deadline (four hours from start to finish). So we just sat and chatted, had a real exchange. When Kimberley revealed she liked Donny Osmond, I told them I once worshiped Hanson, and we laughed. And while Kimberley talked to a friend off to the side, I asked Rusty if he was married, and his face got real sad. And then deadline came and I had to go, and they were hungry anyway.
And here's what she told me the other day: What did I learn? It's okay to be quiet, to listen to your instincts sometimes. You don't have to interview every person in the room. It's quality over quantity.