There are certain rites of passage when you grow up in Manhattan: your first solo subway ride, Central Park becoming your hang out, realizing you’re oblivious to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Empire State Building and the flowerbeds that line the Park Avenue malls because you’ve seen them all your life, and they have become invisible. I have just added another social custom to my son’s repertoire: waiting on line for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park.
My husband and I have attended this New York summer theater staple since 1980. Sometimes we waited on line together, other years we’ve taken turns. We’ve always garnered only two tickets and considered it a summer date night. But this year I thought our children, Luke and Meg, were old enough for The Bard under the stars. It would now become a summer family tradition. The only way I could procure four tickets, though, is if my son came and sat with me. I figured a weekday would be best; not as crowded, perhaps, as a weekend.
A few days before, I gave Luke the heads up for the procedure: up at 6 a.m., arrive on line by 6:30 or 6:45 at the latest. He could bring his sleeping bag and we would just hang out until 1 p.m. when they dole out the coveted free tickets. “Are you serious?” he asked. Then he held up seven fingers and said, “This is how many hours we’ll be on line?” I nodded. Then he pointed out what a chance we were taking even if we got tickets, given how much rain we’d been having. “We could wait there for tickets, then still not get to see the show.”
Like he’s telling me something I don’t know. In 1980, it took me three tries to see The Pirates of Penzance with Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt because of torrential downpours. Then a few years ago, when Liev Schreiber played Henry V, the theater gods did not care that I had waited five hours for tickets (plus I bought a T-shirt) when they allowed the heavens to open 15 minutes into the performance. My husband and I (along with the rest of the Delacorte patrons) had to make a run for it. “It’s just the way it goes,” I informed my boy.
We arrived at Central Park a little later than I’d hoped, 7:15 a.m. However, we got a great placement; there were only about 50 people ahead of us. Usually I end up in the same spot by the big rock. I was so excited to have moved up in the world, so to speak. My son could have cared less, sacked out on the blanket and went to sleep. He rose at 10 and spent the next three hours texting, listening to his iPod, reading the paper and brooding. “Why don’t they just sell tickets instead of making people go through this?”
I explained that Joe Papp, who started the Public Theatre, wanted to make Shakespeare available to the masses. Luke rolled his eyes. “Fine, then I’d pay someone to wait here.” With what, the $5 he gets each week from his grandmother?
Honestly, this was the first year in a long time when the hours (six in all) flew by. Before I knew it, we were packing up and the line was moving. Then as soon as we had our four tickets in hand, he scooted off toward the Great Lawn and his awaiting friends with the salutation, “Never again.”
That’s what we all say, until next year.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl’s debut novel, Fat Chick, will be published in September by The Vineyard Press.
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