Monday, December 15, 2014



Before Rob and I left the elevator, I knew we were in trouble.  (And never mind that Rob had bought our concert tickets as a “bargain.” ) 

Our stubs said, “Promenade Circle,” which had such a nice, friendly ring to it, I assumed our seats in Segerstrom Hall would be up a little from the stage, but in some kind of relaxed, roomy area. Which is why Rob and I kept jumping off the elevator at successive floors, only to have a fellow rider assure us this was not yet the promenade level. Finally the lady said with a smile, “Promenade is in the nosebleed section.” 

I looked at her and blinked. “Oh,” I said.  But I was thinking, At least we’re in Row A, which is always a good thing. 

As it turned out, not always.   

When we finally landed at Promenade, an usher pointed us to a door . . . and there we saw Row A—about ninety tiers up from Orchestra, and suspended out in space. Literally. And our front row jammed right up against the world’s tiniest little rail.       

Between us and our seats were several dozen patrons, all hunkered down, and between each of them and the knee-high rail was maybe six inches.  I took one look and said, “Let’s just stay here.  Somewhere on the edge.”  I tried to back away.

Then somebody whispered, “There’s someone coming in right behind you,” and to my horror, I was forced to squeeze my way past knees and shoes, past people who wouldn’t budge an inch . . . every second hideously aware that if I stumbled or faltered I’d go right over that tiny little rail to my death. 

The farther I went, the more it appeared we’d be parked in the two most precarious spots in the house. Thanks to the curve of the tier, we’d be hanging out more than anyone else, with only inches between us and a thousand-foot drop.  With pounding heart, I sat down fast, and so did Rob.  But getting seated provided no comfort. 

I looked around and could hardly breathe. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but suddenly I was. There was nothing in front of us but endless space, and that damned, useless little rail. Down below, miles away, Beethoven began, but who could listen? 

What if there’s an earthquake? I wondered. Why won’t my heart stop pounding?  What if I have a heart attack, how will they get me out?  I’ve got to think about something else, or I’ll definitely have a heart attack.  Why can’t I look down?  Well, I can’t . . .  I can’t look down, I can’t.  And so it went.  Right through the first two movements, until Rob gave me a little poke and whispered, “Watch the percussionist.”       

So I watched the percussionist beating his drums. Keep beating, I thought. Get it over with.  But then my thoughts strayed. How will we get out at intermission--past all those stubborn people? What if we topple over the edge?  Okay . . . so stop thinking . . .         

Finally Beethoven blasted into silence.  Rob rose, and moving like a turtle he edged past those still seated . . . and I followed. Oh God, I thought as we left the ledge. We’re out of there!  We made it!

Rob said, “We’re going down to a lower floor,” and I said, “The bottom floor,” and he said, “Fine. The bottom floor.”  So we went. Still shaken, we stood in the lobby and shared our stories. 

“As we headed to our seats,” Rob said, “I thought I was going to pass out. I’m dizzy enough already. I nearly told you, Grab me, Babe,  if I start to wobble.”  I nodded. He said, “I was also thinking, If I’m unconscious, how will they get me out?” I nodded again. “After we sat, I was thinking, What if there’s an earthquake? I decided we’d better distract ourselves and watch the percussionist . . . Then I thought, In an earthquake we’d fall farther than anyone.” He added, “Right on the people down in orchestra.”

I told him my version. “It’s a wonder anyone sits there," I said. "I wouldn’t go back for a thousand dollars.”     

He smiled. “Nor I. We each figured we were going to die—the deadly faint plus a heart attack.”

I looked around. “We have to go somewhere, Rob--for the second half. Let’s see if our regular seats are open.”  And Praise Heaven, they were. First level, two best seats in the house. 

Next to us was a couple who couldn't wait to make a comment. The man pointed skyward. “We just escaped from up there.”

“So did we,” I said, and we both rolled our eyes.   

So there in our good seats we watched a virtuoso pound the piano through Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto, so close I could see the pianist’s expressive, music-loving face, and I thought, I adore that man . . . Then I thought as I squeezed Rob’s knee, We listened to this together at Stanford, and isn’t this the greatest music in the world? And wow!  We’re both here . . . it’s heaven . . . and we’re alive!   

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