This was published in The South Asian Times on July 11th, 2009.
Today was perhaps the first and the last time I saw something of this magnitude.
I did my part in getting up at 5:45 this morning and heading out to work soon after, only to realize it wasn't gonna be easy. Streets in half a mile radius of Staples Center were declared high security zone and completely shut down and getting to my parking lot required a lot more than patience. I would have nearly killed someone if there weren't a zillion cops around. Too many check points later, I got in, flashing my badge at every step.
As I took a stroll around at 7:30 am or so, I noticed thousands of media folks with truck loads of equipment lined up for a mile. At a first glance, one could easily think of it as Michael Jackson's comeback concert, but it was a very different environment inside the venue.
The slightly-further-away streets that were shut down had turned into somewhat of a mini street fair. First there were the food vendors selling everything from hot dogs, water, muffins, ice cream and what not. The second set of vendors was all about the Jackson memorabilia: giant posters, badges, buttons, bad quality t-shirts, stickers and ancient circular records for a lot more money that you'd want to pay. Of course there was a gang of Michael Jackson impersonators. Why? Then there was the crazy category. A white car with RIP MJ written all over, a clown with balloons (what on earth?), a woman proclaiming on the corner that she is "the smooth criminal Michael Jackson" and a kid trying to sell a cute black rabbit in a cage. Lastly, there was the not-so-popular-media-peeps category. Those who weren't recognized as 'popular media' perhaps didn't get a coveted spot in the main area and had to hang around far away. I saw lotsa 2-people teams: a cameraman accompanied by a teenage girl with a mike trying to ask people if they were available for an interview. Since every onlooker was getting interviewed by a variety of known news channels across the world, they were getting picky and not giving interviews to the small fellas far away!
The memorial service was a remarkable and a highly dignified event with several touching moments that captured the humanity of the greatest musician of all times.
There were quite a few things I liked about the memorial service. The Staples Center set up that was different than every other time I've seen it. The blue dim lights that reminded me of the hindi movie Sawariyaan. The glass podium with beautiful spring flowers underneath. The uniformity of all of Michael Jackson's brothers sporting yellow ties paired with sparkly white gloves. The exquisite gold casket on wheels covered in red flowers and wreaths carrying Michael Jackson as they sang Hallelujah. Mariah Carey's 'I'll be there' song that gave me goose bumps. Stevie Wonder saying he didn't wanna be alive to see this day. That's deep. Brooke Shields being so genuine with a straight-from-the-heart speech. Magic Johnson cracking a joke about Michael Jackson loving chicken wings from KFC to lighten it up. Michael Jackson's video montage that blew me away. The fact that the casket wasn’t open. I have seen one and never wanna see another. Usher attributing his success to Michael Jackson. And the guitar that John Mayor played. How cool was that? I want it!
There were also a few things I could have lived without. Brooke Shields reading every line of her very emotional speech. Michael Jackson's elder son chewing gum. Speech by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson. I just didn't get why she was speaking. I would have loved to hear Janet Jackson instead. Michael Jackson's little girl Paris's speech. It was heartbreaking. And learning that Michael Jackson's third kid is named Blanket!
I had countless mascara smearing moments. And I wasn't alone. Emotions were overflowing from all around today. Made me wonder if what Kanye West once said is true "People never get the flowers while they can still smell them."
Here's raising a gloved hand in remembrance of you Michael.