DionRabouin.com (sort of)

Outside Michael Jackson’s Memorial Service

Posted in Features by dionrabouin on July 8, 2009

When 1.6 million people signed up online to attend the proceedings, Los Angeles city officials were understandably worried, especially after a half-billion dollar budget deficit and having just sneaked out a way to pay for the recent parade for the NBA-champion Lakers.

Rather than holding Michael Jackson’s memorial at his former home, Neverland Ranch, Jackson family brass decided to hold it at downtown LA’s Staples Center and the adjacent Nokia Theater.

The mayor, the illustrious Antonio Villaraigosa, was on vacation in Africa and the city’s number two man, City Council President Eric Garcetti, was in Japan. California has been cutting back on hours for city, state and county government workers since the year began and rough estimates before the day’s events had a $4 million price tag in city services alone. People were asked to stay home and watch the ceremony on one of the five confirmed networks carrying the broadcast of the service.

The city braced itself for the worst, closing several ramps on the 110 (southbound at Olympic Boulevard and northbound at Pico) and 134 (and three on the 134 (eastbound at Riverside Drive and both directions at Forest Lawn Drive) freeways to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible.

As the 4,000 police officers assigned to keep the peace descended upon downtown by air, car and horseback, the combination of helicopters, construction, road blocks and noticeably increased police presence made downtown Los Angeles look more like a war zone in a third-world country than the home of a memorial.

The 1.6 million that signed up had a 1-in-183 chance of being selected and tickets on Craigslist were listed for north of $10,000. Tickets to the memorial were like loaves of bread during a famine and anyone willing to spare one immediately became eligible for sainthood.

At 9 am a man in a white suit, who would identify himself only as Michael shouted, “Who wants one ticket?” He was immediately rushed and encircled by fans and cameras on all sides.

“Who came from the furthest away?” he asked; followed by, “Tell me why you deserve this ticket.” Michael made the crowd stand on their tiptoes, raise their hands, touch their feet and scream to show their love and they obliged him with enthusiasm. Eventually he settled on a young lady named Jessica Majilla, who had to leave her mother on the outside.

“I just came to be as close as I could get,” Majilla said. “I can’t believe that this happened. This is just awesome.”

But outside of the ticket giveaways and occasional Jackson impersonators, the only thing that really distinguished downtown Los Angeles from any other city on Tuesday morning was the presence of the police and street vendors. Of those two parties, the former came away much more happy about the way the day ended than the latter.

Standing at the nexus of the action, where those with tickets crossed the barrier imposed to filter out those without them, it was plain to see that the number of people on the outside would not even come close to the number of people inside. To be completely honest, if you discounted all the cops, street vendors and others hoping to make a quick buck, the number of people in any single place was never more than a couple hundred.

“I’m a bit pleasantly shocked that it was so quiet,” LAPD Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger told ABC News.

The reaction from street vendors, who sold products ranging from T-shirts and buttons to Michael Jackson watches and “King of Pop” soda, was mixed at best.

“We were expecting half a million to a quarter of a million people,” said a vendor who identified himself only as Antoine. “I made about 10 percent of what I expected coming in. There are just too many [vendors] is what it is.”

Others blamed the exhaustive police presence for their decreased revenue.

“It seems like all of law enforcement is out here today. I think if it wasn’t for that it would be a lot better,” said James, who also did not want his last name revealed. “I think if it wasn’t for that it would be a lot better.”

As the memorial service began at 10 am, many gathered inside local bars and restaurants, while others huddled outside. At La bella Cucina on 10th and Figueroa, patrons packed the restaurant to capacity, while others lined the windows and watched the single television screen from outside. Still more began their own Michael Jackson memorial tributes independently, singing his songs and routinely yelling Jackson’s trademark, “Ohh!”

Inside, four women who had traveled to LA from Germany sat around a table covering their faces with scarves, weeping openly and intermittently from the time the service opened until Paris Michael Jackson uttered those heartbreaking words, “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him — so much,” as the service went off the air.
“We love him too, he meant so much to us,” Annika Kalk said, choking back her own tears.

The ceremony ended as quietly as it had begun. Police ushered people out of the streets and the small crowds that had formed disbursed without much fanfare. “I don’t think we made even one arrest today,” Paysinger said smiling.

Michael Jackson’s memorial was the antithesis of the chaos that ensued downtown after the Lakers won the NBA championship. The police were prepared, the crowds were placid and cooperative and everything went according to plan – even if there was never really a plan.

As fans departed the Staples Center and made their way out of downtown, a skywriter etched ‘MJ’ into the sky with a heart around it. It was corny, certainly, and perhaps a bit on the nose, but I can’t imagine Michael would have wanted it any other way.

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