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. He didn't know Bieber, not really.
"I know he sings or does something," he said.
His two granddaughters, 11 and 13, were in the concert with his son, 51. The kids had come from Boynton Beach to stay with Peacock in Hudson. The girls started crying hours before the concert and had not really stopped, he said. When Peacock visits their home, he bunks in a room plastered with Bieber posters. He's afraid to get changed in there. The eyes.
Still, Peacock gladly offered to drive to the concert. They were good girls, he said, and had saved their allowance to buy the tickets. Not what he would have done with the cash, but he tried to understand.
He raised three sons, no daughters.
"Little boys don't react the same way," he said. "Little girls are the same, ever since Sinatra or Frankie Avalon, or . . . who did you like?"
He asked Kimberley Moritz, 45, a stranger from Brandon he had just met. (You don't deny a pretty lady a seat at your table.) Moritz guarded her daughter's posters in a garbage bag, blue and pink flecks of glitter dotting her top.
"Donny Osmond," she said.
Moritz's daughter was 15, that tricky age between need and freedom, at her third Bieber concert. The first time, Mom went in. The second time, she did curbside pick-up. This time, she heard about the waiting area on the radio and decided it was a happy medium.
Peacock loved Glenn Miller, he said. Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Debbie Reynolds, Paul Revere and the Raiders, a little Lynyrd Skynyrd, some Charo.
"Remember Charo? The hoochie coochie? Oh, she's good."
He went to a Herman's Hermits concert not long ago and was flanked by mature women screaming at Peter Noone the way he heard the girls scream for Bieber. People never forget their loves.
Peacock's wife died 20 years ago. He dropped his smile only to talk about the void.
He liked concerts because they made people happy. Actually, he liked going anywhere you could make a new friend.
"I'm starving," said Moritz.
"Are you?" Peacock said. "Do you want to go get a hamburger?"
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3394.