If you are like me, you like a story with a happy ending. This isn’t one of those.
It was the summer of 1989 (August 26 to be exact) and Elton John was touring the country. He made a stop in Hoffman Estates, Illinois at the Popular Creek venue which was a grand outdoor theater with a sloping lawn facing off the main stage. When fully packed, it could house 25,202 attendees, 7202 reserved seats and 18,000 lawn seats. Elton always packed them in, and this bright sunny summer day was no different. My wife and I arrived early with our good friend Dave, and a couple friends from high school, Jeff & Andy. The concert energy was palpable even from the parking lot. This would be my first time seeing Elton and I was bubbling over with excitement. We had purchased lawn seats because they were much more affordable than the upfront reserved seating which provided lush chairs and drink holders. Navigating the immense crowd was difficult, starting the moment we left our car. We had to have concert t-shirts and the queue for that was long and slow. We had to have beverages and the line for that was also quite long and slow. I put my new Elton John t-shirt on while my wife held my 32 ounce ice cold beer. Then we started to make our way up the lawn. Navigating this human maze was similar to making your way through a crowded beach. With a few wrong turns and stepped on fingers, we finally arrived more or less center of the hill, but pretty far up to the top. The stage looked like it was a football field away. But the warm up band was playing loud and strong. Carrie laid out a blanket for our group and we all settled down with our beers. I had managed to finish half of it on the long trek up the hill, but it was still cold and refreshing. I kicked off my shoes and leaned back onto the blanket. I let the whole scene wash over me. There is something quite exciting about being in and a part of a huge amphitheater. I’m sorry that I don’t remember the name of the opening act that played that day though my research on the internet gave me the exact date of the concert, there was no mention of who opened for Elton.
Before I knew it my beer was gone and the warm up band was still playing. I turned to the group, “I need another beer, anybody else?” Dave said he was ready. So I slid my shoes on and stood up. I excused myself and made my way to my right. Fortunately, there were vendors up the hill serving food and drink. I once again found myself serpentining through the masses. And as I suspected there was a long line. I slowly made my way to the front counter and put my beer order in. Navigating back to my blanket with both hands full with extra large cups of foamy beer proved more difficult than I had figured. Small spills were depleting my drink source and dripping on people below me. Finally, I made it back to blanket, handed off one beer to Dave and then placed mine on the edge of the blanket. I stepped out of my shoes and sat down on our summer picnic blanket again. The band on stage was finally finished, and excitement all around the arena began to build.
Here was a earthy stadium full of Elton John fans staring at an empty stage. And then, all of a sudden I could hear mass hysteria breaking free near the stage and like wild fire it grew louder and wider as it rolled up the hill. Suddenly the band emerged on stage and then bigger than life, and then Elton himself walked out dressed in an outrageous red & white outfit complete with a bright blue hat and the kookiest glasses I’ve ever seen. He approached the piano amidst deafening cries from the audience. Then the all too familiar opening to “Benny and the Jets” poured out of his hands and into a very long grand piano. We were on our feet and hollering madness into the sky. “B-B-B-B-Benny, Benny and the Jets!”
I think we were into the third or fourth song when all at once my brain fired off a neurotransmissional message from the corner of my subconscious suggesting that I might want to consider urinating. After all, I had 64 ounces of beer in my belly. Once I fully realized this, I knew it was true. I had to go to the restroom and and I had to go now. I turned to my wife and asked her if she needed a bio-break but she was still nursing the first drink and was just fine enjoying the act on the stage. So I made yet another lonely walk, this time, in search of a urinal. My first thought was to stay up the hill so I wandered back to the beer vendor with the hopes of finding a porcelain container to hold my waste. And sure enough, there was a men’s room there, but wait, what the heck? It was closed. “Out Of Order” Those three words posted on a yellow door sign stung my bladder a bit. I had to head down the hill through massive crowds of screaming fans afterall.
“I Guess that’s why They Call it the Blues” was serenading sweetly throughout the amphitheater as I made my last step off the lawn and onto a semi-circular walkway that allowed for heavy foot traffic and fed the fancy reserved seats stage side. I paused only for a moment because I wanted to get a better look at Elton. He was quite the performer. Right then, he broke into “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and the stadium exploded as fans rose to their feet. When I turned to leave, I seen Elton jump on top of the piano dancing in wild gyrations.
Moving through this crowded walkway was not much easier. I made it around the south side of the stage and to my great delight, I could see the restrooms, but oh no! It was the ladies restrooms. The men’s are on the other side. I’m and idiot I thought, I knew better. My bladder was really hurting now. I decided to go around the back side of the stage where it was much quieter and a lot less human traffic. I began to run, trot actually, but it felt good. It seemed to ease the pain I was experiencing. As I pulled up in front of the men’s room, I found my place at the end of a long line. If you have ever been to an arena men’s room then you can guess what I was in for and I feared it as well. I was making light conversation with two guys in line behind me when we finally made our way to the opening door of the restroom. O!M!G!!!!
The restroom had been suffering for several hours now with a huge excess of human visitors leaving behind traces of their sojourn. There must had been a half inch of human urine covering the entire floor of the facility. A half Inch! And that’s when I completely lost my mind. I looked away from the stinky wet floor to myself. Below my jeans my feet stared back at me! My shoes! My shoes are still up the hill resting on our blanket. I AM BAREFOOT!!!
At this exact moment the two guys behind me noticed my shoes missing too. “Dude, are you going in there like that?” they asked. Well am I? I mean, I will never make it back up the lawn, get my shoes and return. I won’t make it. “Uh, I guess I have no choice.” I managed to utter. Then I was in the doorway. Like a conveyer belt, the guys behind me started moving in too. In an absolutely ridiculous attempt to improve my situation, I raised all ten of my toes into the air and stepped in. Gross, Gross, Gross! This is horrible. I found an empty urinal and finally released myself. For a full thirty seconds I was lost in glorious body exultation as I emptied into the urinal and my bladder settled down with a little “thank you” in return. But that passed and I knew I had to face the predicament I was in again. I zipped up with toes still reaching for the sky and made my way around the wall to the sinks. I passed a full size metal barrel that was brimming full with men’s urine and running down its sides. Hell, I WAS the Mad Man Across the Water! Sweet Jesus this cannot end fast enough.
I put my feet in the sink, one at a time, and gave them a good drenching. I turned towards the exit door and found a dry stretch of floor and owned it. I wasn’t moving for anyone. It was an utterly quiet and slightly disturbing walk up the hill back to my group. I sat down on the blanket and put my DAMN SHOES ON! Dave turned to me and asked, “Want another beer, bro?” “No, no I do not want another beer. Thank you.”, I replied.
To this day, I never forget my shoes. Anywhere… Ever.
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