The Price You Pay: A Springsteen Fan’s 30-Year Journey

That one time on the floor.
That one time on the floor.

Bruce Springsteen is bringing The River Tour to DC’s Verizon Center this week and it’s bringing me back thirty years.

Many in my Maryland high school crowd loved Bruce and the E Street Band. We danced to “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” knew every word to “Badlands,” mourned lost youth in “The River.”

The summer of 1985 was a big deal for both Springsteen and me. Springsteen and his E Street Band had hit the big time, crossing America for sold-out Born in the U.S.A. stadium shows.

As for me, I’d gotten my first real job that spring. The Jerry’s Subs and Pizza in College Park paid me $3.35 an hour to make subs and work the cash register. There were free fries, new friends and money in the bank. The downsides included bathroom-cleaning duty, working the grill and the co-worker who kept asking for dates, despite our no’s.

The Jerry’s girls got off a shift and waited in line for hours at the Hecht’s department store ticket window for Springsteen at RFK Stadium, the concert of the summer.

It sold out four people in front of us.

The dateless prep guy got tickets and his revenge. Oh, he was willing to sell the $17 tickets to us—for a price. A co-worker, a friend and I each agreed to pay him $50, the equivalent of a couple long shifts of work. Our investment put us squarely in the category of true fans.

The night of the concert we felt like a Bruce song ourselves, working girls who put up with hot grills and hassles and scalpers for this: the sheer bliss that comes with being young and unencumbered and out on the streets. We were spirits in the night, all night.

Jerry’s had lost its magic. Baby, I was born to run, and did so—right over to a hostess job at Chi-Chi’s, with its exotic uniforms and staff of university students. I was sixteen and the possibilities were endless.

Fast forward to 2016. The College Park Jerry’s, the Greenbelt Chi-Chi’s and Hecht’s are all gone. They didn’t pay enough attention.

Bruce did though.

He spoke to our collective heartache after 9/11 in The Rising and to our collective anger about Wall Street’s games in Wrecking Ball. He sings of this “Land of Hope and Dreams” and we believe him. Springsteen watches and listens and taps into what we feel, see, know.

And that’s why we go, at every age and stage, to our hometown shows and those in our adopted towns. We make pilgrimages, like the time my college roommate and I agreed that we were seeing the boss in Giants Stadium before they tore it down, when the logistics of farming out five kids for 48 hours was harder than any scalper negotiations.

Somehow it came together and we found ourselves standing just feet away from Bruce singing the opening lines to “Hungry Heart” with our equally awed husbands. (Springsteen and the band performed the entire Darkness on the Edge of Town album that night. I know.)

Now Bruce is back with The River tour and it feels like a full circle. The sixteen-year-old me who spent a couple paychecks to see him perform “The River” is now mother to a teenage girl bringing home her first paychecks.

My ticket-buying luck didn’t hold out this time; the scalpers quickly claimed the DC show. Still, you’ll see me at the concert in Section 407, thanks to a friend who came through with two extra (list price, $105). And yes, I can get to that stage FAST if Springsteen needs someone for “Dancing in the Dark.”

If my friend hadn’t called I might have paid a scalper again, just as I did in 1985. After all, it’s The River and certain ties just bind, especially the ones that conjure up what sixteen and forty-something feel like. Not to mention a whole host of places, people and life that unfolded in between.

I’m willing to pay for that.

(Just one more thing. The minimum wage I earned in 1985 was $3.35. Thirty years later, it’s $7.25 in many states. Seriously? Maybe some other people need to start paying attention.)

College Roommate Sally and I
College Roommate Sally and I, October 2, 2009.

Author: Kristin O'Keefe

Kristin O’Keefe has bartended in Scotland, written speeches for college presidents, and led communications & marketing for an economic development organization. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney's, Barrelhouse, Your Teen, Grown and Flown, and Scary Mommy. Find her on Twitter @_KristinOKeefe and Facebook at Kristin O'Keefe, writer.

4 thoughts on “The Price You Pay: A Springsteen Fan’s 30-Year Journey

  1. NC Springsteen Fan says:

    KTO, LOVE this post!!! I can’t wait to see him in Greensboro (hopefully with Sally).

  2. Stu says:

    Bravo! Well done! Thanks for taking me back! Can’t wait for MCI tomorrow night!


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