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Reader writer Barbarella goes to Hollywood

We looked ridiculously fabulous

Looking down the row of colorful fan-filled T-shirts, holding my sign high for all to see, I experience a moment of concern at being among so many cultural castaways. And when I stand to take my turn to scream and profess my love for someone I've never met in front of hundreds of people I'll never see again, I begin to question my sanity. Just what led me here, to the Temple of Bob? I drift back to the first time I thought it might be fun to get on a game show -- exactly one week before this day.

THE SHOW

What does it take to get on a game show? I've had my speculations in the past, but until last week, I never sought an answer. Completely ignorant of the process, I did the prudent thing by Googling "game show contestant." The immensity of "how to" sites made it clear to me that I was not the first person to wonder what it takes to get on TV and win free shit. I watch a maximum of 30 minutes of television every fortnight and have no clue what shows are airing anymore. Just because I don't watch TV doesn't make me culturally retarded, so I dug deep in my memory banks for names of game shows I'd seen in the past, and the following sprang to mind: Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, The Price Is Right, and something with the word "millionaire" in it. I immediately ruled out the millionaire one. Too stupid, too "banterific." (Barbarism) The few minutes of this show I happened to catch in the past year or so convinced me that Regis is annoying, and people are dumb as shit. Jeopardy!, though my favorite to watch, is a show I have neither the patience nor the trivia acumen to attempt. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses. The periodic table and potpourri facts seem to escape me on a regular basis. On to the next!

Wheel of Fortune, now THERE'S a game show. Words, a wheel, and a man named Pat. My sources told me Vanna recently took pole-dancing classes. That vixen. Wheel of Fortune was my number-one choice, so I got on the show's website to see what I had to do. Adult application, okay, seemed simple enough. What? Two to three weeks before they let you know if you've been considered? And most people NEVER hear back at ALL? Risky. I sent an e-mail after I filled out my application (note: the "application" is merely an information-gathering form for name, address, etc.) in hopes that this would help me get noticed. As if every fanatic out there simply fills out an information form and leaves it at that. Right. So Wheel of Fortune was a shot in the dark, depending on the volume of applicants. This left one.

TWO BUCKS

According to my how-to sites, The Price Is Right was the only game show someone with my microscopic level of patience was likely to get on. It also seemed to be the easiest; as I would come to learn, the prerequisites were simple and few: one must have the patience of a rock, the enthusiasm of a hyperactive seven-year-old on Christmas morning, and a stupid T-shirt (the astute reader will deduce that "intelligence" isn't necessary, but I'm getting ahead of myself). I figured Monday was a perfect day to be on TV, so I booked a room at the Wyndham Bel Age off Sunset Boulevard for Sunday night. On Thursday afternoon, as I was getting a fabulous new "do," I recruited my good friend and stylist, Ronaldo, to be my game-show companion. Things were falling into place, and everything was set. Surely I was guaranteed a wonderful experience, an extended spotlight, and tons of big showcase booty. Saturday, I began to have doubts.

My routine shopping list consists of Lean Cuisines, diet Coke, hair clips, cat food, and kitty litter. On those occasions that I stock up on toiletries and perishables, I have a formula for figuring out the prices -- assume that everything in the cart is two bucks. This has never failed me, from San Diego to Los Angeles, and back again. I just don't pay attention to individual prices. THE WORD IS IN THE TITLE OF THE SHOW, and I didn't have clue one about the price of anything! Now don't get me wrong, I'm not Miss Moneybags. I don't wave the prices away because they don't matter. It's just that, for my needs, my pricing scheme has proven sufficient. This was going to be tougher than I thought.

Saturday afternoon I went on a training mission to Vons with my sister. Operation Get-Food-for-Birthday-Barbecue underway, I walked through the automatic sliding doors with high hopes that were immediately dashed by the vision of a warehouse filled wall-to-wall with brightly colored products I never buy. We went up and down every aisle. After the second aisle, I was dizzy and overwhelmed. What, was I supposed to memorize these prices? Don't prices change from store to store? Everything seemed to be under $5, but then detergents were under $10...air fresheners were $2.69, or was that $1.49? You had to pay attention to the brand too? Shit. There was no way in hell I was going to remember all of this. I kept my chin up and tried hard to look at the prices -- you never know when latent powers of the brain will waken. People have spontaneous memories all the time, right? Shit.

WE DON'T NEED NO STINKING TICKETS

Ronaldo picked me up right on time, just as my boyfriend, David, was finishing my grand, attention-getting sign. We loaded the truck with our bags and hit the road! Halfway up Interstate 5, I discovered something very important. Reading over the printout of my TPiR (that's how The Price Is Right is referred to by those in the know, by the way) information sheet, I noticed for the first time the words, "You just get a free ticket, show up at the studio, and take your chances!" Wha'? Get a free ticket? Get TICKETS?!? I was hesitant to say anything to Ron, for the obvious reason -- I felt like a fucking idiot. Here we were, an hour into our drive, hotel reserved, big plans for the day ahead, and yours truly never thought to investigate getting a ticket. Clearly, my master plan was not as thorough as I had led Ron to believe.

I placed an emergency call to David, who I knew had at least three computers with Internet access on standby. Before dialing, I quickly explained our predicament to Ron and kept right on talking until David's voice saved me from answering questions Ron might have that would force me to explain my lack of forethought. "David! Quick, get on the CBS website and see if you can get tickets online that you can fax to me at the hotel...hmm, no tickets available, huh?...Yeah, that's what it says here...no, I read it, I just...I know, I know, but I think we can still just walk up and get in...no worries, babe...standby? Explain that to me...uh-huh...yeah...great! See, I KNEW we had nothing to worry about!" This last comment was for Ron's benefit.

Traffic to Los Angeles always sucks. Traffic in Los Angeles sucks even more. Everyone is in a hurry, and upon entering the city limits, it's as if each driver is given carte blanche to be as MUCH of an asshole as he or she can possibly be. Sunday afternoon was no exception. We fought our way through the gauntlet to the hotel, and after figuring out how to work the elevators with our room keys, we finally made it into our room. Unfortunately, we wouldn't see much of our swanky digs. We were in and out again in under 15 minutes. I had to maximize my time in LA, and I had friends to see, dinner reservations to make, and all of this had to be completed at a decent hour, as the gates to the studio opened at 6:00 a.m. If I was to be considered as a contestant, I better be conscious and coherent.

LIFE ON THE STREET

Sleep did not come easily for either of us; the noise of cars and randoms partying it up on Sunset Boulevard can be distracting to your zzz's. I am spoiled with high thread-counts, so the itch of the sheets disturbed me, and all I could think about were invisible parasites and dirt as I sporadically broke into scratching spasms. All in my head, of course, where most of my obsessive-compulsive ideas hang out and rally each other into action. I was half awake when the call came, as requested, at 4:30 a.m. Time to hop into the shower and get prettied up for the big show! Ron did my hair, I did my makeup, we had matching red shirts, and we looked ridiculously fabulous. We checked out of the hotel and stepped outside to greet the valet as light crept into the sky.

Ron did not seem very excited about the day ahead, and I must say, I wasn't much more enthused. I was tired and nervous and concerned that I did not have a ticket. We drove up to the kiosk at the Beverly Boulevard entrance to the studio, where a little Filipino woman in a uniform stood waiting. Before we could ask where to go, she said, "You here for The Price Is Right?" We nodded. "You have someone in line already?" No, no, we don't. "Ah, very full already, studio only fit 300 people, line already very long. Entrance on Fairfax, you go over there, gate opens at 6:00." Thank you, we'll do that. We turned around in the lot and headed back to Beverly so we could make the left onto Fairfax. At first we didn't see anything; I noticed some homeless people on the sidewalk, and then WAIT! Is that a LINE behind those homeless people? Are those homeless people IN the line? No, it can't be. Ron! Is that what I think it is? Did those people SLEEP there on the SIDEWALK in SLEEPING BAGS?

Ron looked as apprehensive as I felt.

I cried out, "ABORT THE MISSION! ABORT! ABORT!" Ron was unable to conceal his relief, and I was mortified by the situation. The line was around the block, and it was only 5:40 a.m. I was not confident that I could get at the end of that line and wait who-knew-how-many hours just to find out that I didn't have a chance of getting on the show without a ticket. Plus, I must admit, I was afraid of those people. I was afraid to get too close -- they seemed crazy to me. Why were they out there? How long had they been there? Is it like this every day? Who ARE these people? We drove by them twice, slowly, and I took pictures. Some had matching shirts. They all looked tired and haggard. They all seemed desperate and sad. Was this accurate, or was I projecting because I was unable to understand the "reasoning" behind this madness? I had yet to find out. At this point, though, we were ready to leave LA.

Ron drove me up and down Hollywood Boulevard, and we appreciated the view sans vehicles and crazies. While we drove, I broke the silence. "I don't get it. Wasn't that weird? Who would do that, who would SLEEP on a SIDEWALK just to get on a game show?" Ron replied, "See, Barb, we don't think like that, because we don't think about free money." I understood what he meant. I mean, I don't even play the lottery. I always figured people who play the lottery are pissing their money away for that one-in-a-million to randomly win it all. It never seemed practical to me. I've been to Vegas twice as an adult and never bothered to gamble more than $5 at a slot machine. These people were sold on the concept of winning. Getting something for nothing. The real American Dream.

I slept most of the ride home, trying to overcome a deflating feeling of defeat. David called around 9:00 a.m., and I had to tell him what happened. I didn't want him to know that I didn't even try, that I didn't even talk to the people in line to gather information that would be helpful for my second attempt. He hopped online to try to find tickets and selflessly volunteered to copilot my next mission. I was sure Ron was not interested in a second adventure. David excitedly told me that two tickets had become available for Wednesday, two days away! I didn't want to commit. I told him we'd look for other days, maybe later, but he said these were the ONLY tickets available for the entire year. He got them, and a good thing he did, because after that, no more were available. Ron dropped me off an hour later, and I crawled into bed to sleep comfortably, under my beloved high thread-count sheets. As I drifted into unconsciousness, I silently thanked the pillow for not being a sidewalk.

PREPARATION IS KEY

David held on to the enthusiasm I had lost. This was a learning experience. We were going to get up there and get on the show, and I was going to be a contestant! YAY! Right, yay. Prior to my second trip to LA, I figured I should at least watch the show. Remember, I don't watch television much, and when I do, the LAST thing I turn on is daytime programming geared for geezers, housewives, and the perpetually unemployed. I would be lying, though, if I said I'd never seen The Price Is Right. In the past 30 years, TPiR has been as ubiquitous as bologna. I would be telling the truth, however, if I told you I hadn't seen the show in many years. And years ago, when I did see the show, it was only in snippets. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. More research was required, and I refused to drive back up to LA unprepared a second time.

David helped me with online research. We watched clips of the classics and read interesting facts about the show in its tri-decade run. Unfortunately, due to an online TV guide error, we missed the last chance to watch the show before my second trip. Blasted! It looked as if I was going to go in half-blind again. At least this time we had a better plan.

We would be in line at 4:00 a.m. Getting another hotel room at this point seemed superfluous, so we decided to leave San Diego at 2:00 a.m. and drive straight to the studio. I borrowed chairs from my best friend (there was no way in hell I would consider a sleeping bag -- I don't even OWN a sleeping bag) and stocked up on PowerBars and Rockstar beverages. The plan -- don't get tired. Our best strategy, even better than the caffeine pills I grabbed at the store (couldn't tell you how much they cost, probably around two bucks), was to get some sleep before we left. So there we were, 8:00 p.m., trying to fall asleep at an odd hour to better prepare for the long day ahead. I was snoring before 9:00.

JOINING THE CREW

I was surprisingly chipper for waking up at 1:00 in the morning. Showered and ready, we were on the road by 2:15. The drive was easy (the middle of the night on a weeknight is the way to go if you want to avoid the shitty traffic), and we made great time. At 4:00 a.m., we parked across the street from the studio, grabbed our borrowed chairs, and walked over to the forming line. I approached the first two men at the front, sitting on lawn chairs, covered with blankets, faces half-hidden under the hoods of their jackets. They were wide-awake. Frederick was animated and friendly, and he was first in line. I bid them good morning and asked them how long they had been there in those chairs. "We're too embarrassed to tell you," they said. "Come on," I pleaded, "it doesn't matter to me. I'm here, aren't I? At this ungodly hour in the morning? I have no right to talk, so go on, spill. What time?"

Seven o'clock, the night before. They had parked their asses on those chairs on the sidewalk outside of the studio at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday night to be in line for Wednesday's taping. "We haven't slept. We're retired, have lots of time, drove here from Washington state. Our wives have been sleeping in the cars across the way." A look across the street revealed a few sedans, windows covered with indiscernible, makeshift privacy screens. While their wives slept, these men were content to sit awake and watch the cars go by. I can think of nothing more exciting than sitting on the sidewalk of Fairfax for 12 hours in the middle of the night watching the cars go by. Without the aid of mind-altering substances, sounds like a blast. I thought of the last time I stayed awake through an evening in Hollywood and the many times my parties began on a Friday evening and ended on a Sunday afternoon. These flashbacks would plague me until midmorning. We took our place in line, the 36th and 37th people to arrive.

In front of us were Scott and Greg, who had graduated from college in Chicago on Saturday and drove across the country, through Vegas, to make it to Los Angeles for the taping of TPiR on Wednesday. Scott's fanaticism is not limited to TPiR. He informed us that he once spent the night outside a stadium waiting for an autograph from one of his favorite baseball players. Scott is an avid White Sox fan and seemed offended when I said I didn't care for sports, of any kind.

I began to take stock of the crowd in an attempt to figure out whom I was dealing with, especially considering that I was now going to be one of them. A group of kids with matching trucker hats sat in a circle in front of the recent grads. I honestly can't remember how many snide (yet extremely funny) comments I made about this group. I couldn't help myself. They were BEGGING to be made fun of. Scott and Greg were amused, but I was doing it for my own amusement, not theirs. We stood outside, in the dark, in line, for two hours. We never even opened our chairs. I had some fun commenting to our new friends about the clan of idiots that showed up an hour after us at the end of the line, each carrying a plastic lawn chair. The kind that does NOT fold. Did we miss a night of Practicality 101, folks? How the hell did they fit those in the car? There was plenty to keep me occupied, and the first wait went by fast enough.

FRIGHTENING FLASHBACKS

The gates were supposed to open at 6:00 a.m. As the darkness dissipated, I was unable to keep myself from flashing back to Insomnia, a club in LA that I used to frequent on Saturday nights. Sunday morning was always the same; after dancing for hours, sucking on lollipops, and kissing everyone in sight (think ecstasy, think raves), just around 6:00 a.m., hard-core partygoers, including me, gathered in front of the club to select the next location for our continuing party. Even thinking about it now gives me a dirty, scuzzy feeling. The transition from the black, smoky box filled with music and vibrating glow sticks to the first light of day, and the harsh reality of seeing my party pals in natural daylight with chemically enlarged pupils, was always freaky. Zits appeared, things looked magnified, and people lost the magical appeal they had when we were back in the club.

I tried to conceal my horror as I looked at our new friends, their features changing in the emerging light. Not because of how they looked -- they were attractive kids -- it was just that sensation, that visceral memory of dawn in Hollywood. Ick. I might have said aloud, "This feels like coming down," a sure way to elicit confusion from the straights. These are good boys. Marching-band boys. I'm sure they wouldn't know a drug if it crawled up a straw into their nostrils.

The crowd in front of us stood and started packing things away. Already standing, we simply stared ahead, ready for the next step. I sent David to move my car to the vehicle line that was forming outside the gate. As he walked across the street, a car drove by and honked, which sparked the line to cheer loudly. Not two minutes later, another car drove by, honked, and the driver leaned out of his window and screamed, "LOOOOSSSSEEEERRRRRS!" followed by staccato shouts, surely just unintelligible insults. I experienced mixed emotions. I felt protective of my line, embarrassed, and then suddenly indignant. The funny thing is, the first time I drove by that line and wasn't a part of it, I thought the same thing -- losers. But now, I was one of them. No room to talk. I didn't even want to make fun of them (and I make fun of everyone, including myself). These seemed like nice people so far, no crazies just yet, and everyone who showed up appeared with a smile of camaraderie and understanding. Another one of the crew. Part of the same team. We're all here for the same purpose, and that's to see Bob. This left little room for individual superiority, as we'd each arrived before dawn, and if you thought it was stupid, you had no business being there.

But I did think it was stupid. And I was there. Still, the excitement was contagious. A small gate opened, and the line of people began to move. I was nervous leaving David sitting in the car, but I moved along with the rest of them. We were each given a little slip of yellow paper with a number on it -- our number of arrival. I took two. With my tickets in hand, I slid into the passenger side of my car. We sat there for another ten minutes before the big gate opened and we could drive onto the lot and park.

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

By the time we pulled into the parking lot and found a sweet space a few steps from the side of the building, the sun was shining brightly. As David was taking pictures of me with my sign (a large picture of my face, mouth open wide in excitement, next to the boldly printed words, "I LOVE BOB!"), a security guard shuffled quickly over to us. "I'm sorry, there are no pictures allowed on the premises. I'm going to have to confiscate your camera." While I was marveling at the audacity it takes to snatch someone's expensive camera, David was more concerned about what was ON the camera. See, we'd had quite a "photo sesh" with this digital camera a few days before. And when I say "photo sesh," I mean I played photographer while documenting some of my finest, mistress-quality work. Nothing fit for the children, or any God-fearing person. Shit, nothing fit for most people. Hee-hee. But I digress.

As if in answer to our baffled expressions, the guard said, "Just kidding. Ha! Gotcha!" Uh, yeah, very funny, man. He wasn't going to take the camera, but he was adamant that we were not to take any more pictures on the premises. Even in the parking lot. I don't understand how taking pictures of yourself in the parking lot threatens the studio in any way, but when David reminded me of those pics, I chose to comply with the local rules.

We were instructed to gather by the side of the building at 7:40 a.m. Now that we weren't in single file, I got the opportunity to size up my competition. All around were big groups of people with matching T-shirts proclaiming varying levels of love for Bob. There was a little slut with a punky torn shirt that appealed to "Uncle Bob" to make her 18th birthday special by choosing her. Cute. Accompanying the girl was her mother, also wearing a shirt with words of devotion to Bob in support of her daughter. You'd have thought she was there to offer her daughter as some sort of sacrifice to CBS. They just had that look about them. There seemed to be a lot of birthdays, a lot of big groups, and a lot of college students. The only Marine I was aware of was out of uniform, which probably cost her in the end; I read they love to pick Marines in uniform.

ORDER AND CHAOS

At 7:40, a short man in a red jacket began to speak into a mike, his voice clearly blasting through a few well-placed speakers around the building. He repeated his instructions several times, yet when I looked around, I found blank stares on the faces that topped all those colorful, wordy T-shirts. Just how difficult is it to comprehend where the line begins and where it ends? Huh? Just HOW DIFFICULT IS IT?? One through 150, on the benches against the red rail; 150 and up on the benches against the black wall. You should have seen the mass confusion, the desperation and need apparent on some of those faces. What did he say? Which way? What number are you? Where am I supposed to be? Someone take my hand and guide me, I'm an imbecile!

Whew! Eventually, we were seated, and we had to make room for the ultraconfused and astonishingly stupid stragglers, whom, despite the efforts to help by those gifted with common sense, couldn't get their shit together. There were Scott and Greg, right where they should be, right next to us. Seated, controlled, numbered, the children became restless. One young gal (a member of the trucker-hat gang) jumped up, screaming and yelling. Her actions prompted others about her to scream and yell, cheer and whoop. It was like watching howler monkeys communicate with one another, each mouth joining in the yelps and squeals. As if unable to contain herself, she ran down the center between the two benches, right between hundreds of seated people facing each other, with her arms outstretched, screaming all the way down. People put out their hands to slap hers as she ran by. I looked on in awe.

What was happening? Eight-something in the morning, half of these people had hardly slept in the last day, and yet the level of energy was off the charts! Random cheering continued to erupt around us. I was awake and full of energy, but I could not generate the interest to scream and yell in the waiting area. Pages in red coats came down between the benches and handed each person another slip of yellow paper with a number on it. We were told to disperse and return at 10:00 a.m. David and I retired to my car to watch a DVD on a wide-screen laptop (episodes of Ab Fab, if you must know). The rest of the would-be contestants either tailgated in the parking lot or wandered up and down the attraction-free streets surrounding the studio. It was suggested many times throughout the day that we "visit the gift store and snack bar."

When we returned to the benches, the numbering system had changed. Before we dispersed, the red coats had informed us of the change. To ensure cooperation, the benches were actually numbered with the new system. This time, 1 to 44 was against the black wall, 44 to 150 was against the red rail, and the numbers continued on benches located on the other side of the building. There was a woman sitting with her mother in the area where David and I should have been sitting. I explained to her the new system. She stayed there. Didn't seem to get it. I explained again, said, "See, that's why the ONE is on that side, and the FORTY-FOUR is on the other." She and her mother were numbers 43 and 44. They should have been at the END of the bench. My patience was wearing thin. She asked me again, "Now what...where?" I repeated, "The ONE is over THERE by the DOOR to the STUDIO, and the FORTY-FOUR is right THERE. THAT'S where YOU should be." I pointed to the physical labels with these numbers that were affixed to the benches as proof. She couldn't see them from where she sat and seemed intent on not moving her ass to witness the exhibits.

Finally, as I stood over her in exasperation, someone walked by and the bench idiot asked that person where the numbers were and where she was supposed to be. When it was explained to her by this new person (in a much less coherent way than I had explained it, I might add), she said with a bewildered look on her face, "Really? So I should be down there?" I looked at her incredulously and said, in a slightly hysterical and very raised voice, "If I have to repeat myself ONE MORE TIME, I SWEAR TO GOD...!" At this, a young guy walked by and said, "Hey, no anger, we're all friends here," and continued on his merry little way.

I sat down in a frustrated huff. David seemed torn between his own frustration and his amusement at seeing me so flustered. Scott and Greg appeared again at our sides on this new bench, our backs against the black wall. This time, the red coats came down the aisle and gave us our name tags. Restless cheering began to erupt for "Number One!" Frederick, our old friend and first in line for the day (and night before), had gathered a fan-base in the last several hours, and support was growing. Loudly.

RED COATS

After receiving our name tags and obediently slapping them on our left shoulders, we were told that we were not to leave the lot. We were to be back on those benches by noon. Trapped. Now our only choice for entertainment, shopping, and food was the gift shop and snack bar. For some reason, nachos with chili sounded great to me, and we headed for the long line. Eager for the full experience, I also hit up the gift shop and purchased a TPiR shirt for my two-year-old nephew. Like Jane Goodall studying wild apes, the red coats circulated through the crowd, observing us. They were already scouting for the afternoon's contestants -- looking for signs of enthusiasm and animated behavior. Every time I passed a red coat, I put a little skip in my step and widened my smile. I held my sign high and engaged in energetic conversation with everyone around me, which wasn't a stretch for this loquacious freak. I can't help it, I'm a talker.

But regardless of my propensity for discourse, I also needed an escape from the energy. It was just so...fervid. David and I retreated to the side of the building where the benches were empty and devoured our chili nachos. At a quarter to noon, wannabe contestants came flooding back to the benches. This would be our longest wait of the day. Sitting across from us was a group of black women in matching shirts, members of MASK (Mothers Against Senseless Killing). I assumed the organization was gang-related, as I had heard that term, "senseless killing," used in that context. These women were lively. Earlier, they had practiced their "Come on down!" runs with the trucker-hat gang by announcing each other's names excitedly as the named woman jumped up screaming in mock surprise and jubilation and then ran down between the benches, accepting the encouraging hand slaps of those she ran past. I was content to improvise if called as a contestant. I do my best work on the fly.

I sat, holding my sign on my lap. Red coats came down the line, asking each of us where we were from. We answered right on cue. I thought my sign would give me some kind of advantage. The red coat glanced at me. "San Diego!" came flying out of my mouth. He inquired about my sign, "Is that you on there?" I said, "Did you really have to ask?" and he continued down the line.

David went to the restroom. When he came back, he told me that while he was standing at the urinal, an old man sparked up a conversation with him. I am aware of the faux pas of speaking to someone who is "taking care of business" in a public restroom. Rules like this do not apply when you are confronted with an elderly man from Florida who came to California for the sole purpose of helping his wife realize her "life's dream" of the "last 30 years." Ever the gentleman, David tossed traditional etiquette out the bathroom window and conversed briefly with the fired-up old fellow.

Speaking of pee, I had serious issues with the keep-your-ass-on-the-bench-for-certain-periods-of-time thing. Every time they told us we couldn't leave those benches, I immediately had to pee. I know, I have issues, but the deal is, if I'm in a situation in which I know I CAN'T use the restroom, I freak out about how long it will be until I CAN use the restroom, and I most always have to go until I find out WHEN I can go. Don't ask. Poor Scott and Greg. They heard me bitch about having to pee, wonder aloud just when we could pee next, and so on. So there we all sat, me obsessing about when I'd next see the toilet, MASK members singing what lyrics they could remember from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," a group of teens cheering for Number One (Frederick), noise and chaos everywhere. What time is it?

THE PRODUCERS

It was about 12:30 p.m. when the people on my bench were told to move down. Groups of ten were being called off to the side to be "interviewed" by two producers. We stood up, moved down ten spaces, and sat again. This time, I was across from the loud group of teens. One of the boys, commenting on my sign, said, "What would you say if I told you I loved Bob too, but I mean, like, REALLY loved him?" My "gaydar" had been bleeping in this kid's direction before he had opened his mouth; his spoken words confirmed my accuracy. "I'd say 'great,' " I answered. Fresh out of the closet, this kid was so intent on FORCING everyone around him to accept his homosexuality, he failed to consider that many of us already did. He turned his attention to David. "Actually, I don't like Bob, the name's just silly. David, on the other hand, is a great name." Noting his tactic, I said, "Hon, if you're hot for my man, it doesn't bother us. As a matter of fact, David would be flattered."

Poor kid. He probably gets a lot of shit from the kids at school. The guy to his left was shifting in his seat throughout the conversation -- uncomfortable with his friend's brazenly queer display. Now, I understood the gay kid's attitude a bit more. He was probably on the defensive before they arrived. We continued to deflect more in-your-face comments about his orientation, until I grew weary of it and rested my head on David's shoulder, shutting out the rest of the crowd by closing my eyes for a minute or two.

Suddenly we were up again, moving down ten more spaces. I could see the group ahead of us, just to the left, standing in front of the two producers. There was a LOT of cheering, and the louder it got, the more nervous I became. I couldn't cheer like that, I didn't think I had it in me, it would seem so contrived, so transparent! I looked at my group, as energetic as koalas munching eucalyptus. Spontaneous cheering was not my group's forte. After the group in front of us made one last attempt to impress the men who would determine their TPiR fate, they were led out of sight -- our time had come. Feeling enthusiastically inadequate, I hustled to the spot in front of the producers with my crew.

We faced two men -- one with a clipboard, the other with a broad grin. The man with the clipboard never stopped writing. The other man went down the line quickly, asking where we were from and what we did for a living. His enthusiasm was cartoonish, and his repartee was surgical in its extraction of whatever bits of information he was looking for. Scott was desperate. He managed to spit out more information than the rest of us, and as his swan song before the animated producer killed him with inattention, he offered to play the theme song of TPiR for Bob on his saxophone. The producer responded with a smile that was difficult to interpret and then looked at me. "I'm a paralegal from San Diego!" I tried to sound effervescent. He noted my sign, said dryly, "I think you're the only person here who loves Bob." I went along, "That's right! I'm the ONLY one, I don't think anyone else here loves him as much as I do!" (I wouldn't recognize Bob if he bumped up against me in the supermarket.) Then he looked at David. David perfunctorily offered, "I'm a photographic artist from San Diego."

The producer spent the most time speaking with Giovanni, the friendly Italian pizza-parlor owner from Chicago. Come to think of it, the pages had given Giovanni some extra attention as well. Now is the time for me to explain the process. During the long day of waiting, the pages surreptitiously select those they think will make good contestants. The pages slip their selections to the producers, and in the brief "interview" with the producers, final contestants are chosen. All this before any of us walks into the studio. I would have placed a bet at this point that Giovanni would be called as a contestant. I'll save you the suspense -- he wasn't.

WHO BRINGS A SIGN?

After our two-minute interview, we cheered pathetically and took our turn in the metal detector. Here we had a near miss -- my boyfriend wears a little metal chain collar, with an inscribed lock that reads "Property of Barbarella." If hundreds of people were made to wait while I searched for the key to de-collar David, I would surely be exposed as the only person on the lot (red coats excluded) who did not lust after the grandfather clock and the cotton-candy maker, was not prone to daytime reveries featuring complete wicker basket sets, and did not lie awake at night counting pieces of matching his-and-her lawn furniture. As if the fact that I was the only person with a sign wasn't already a dead giveaway. Anyone who has ever watched the show knows that the appropriate way to profess one's love for Bob is to emblazon an ill-fitting T-shirt and parade around with the message on one's chest. Luckily, the detector was set to jewelry mode, and we were spared the spectacle. Secret identities safely stashed beneath our clothing, we continued with the group to another side of the building to wait yet again.

It seemed as if my ass had been on one bench or another for an eternity. However, my several hours of sitting was minuscule compared to one man who had attended 140 tapings and who was finally called as a contestant for the FIRST time on his 140th appearance. That's 140 days of a person's life, given to a game show. I can't imagine that he had a job, a life, anything to do at all. But that's how these people are. Several people in the crowd around me had been there at least once before.

SHOW TIME

FINALLY! The doors opened, and we were herded into the studio. I was shocked at how small it was. I mean, like, itty-bitty, teensy-weensy, not at all like it looks on TV. The seats were low, and the stage was above the lower half of the audience. Where were all the showrooms? This was just a tiny stage with three signs, and the curtains, and the lights, and the paint...is that GLITTER GLUE? The studio looked as if it were slapped together by a first-grade class in the '70s or something. We took our seats in the third row of the center section near the right aisle. We had no idea who was going to be called as a contestant.

Scott was sitting to my left. I was concerned that he might piss himself, he seemed so shifty with excitement. The new announcer came onto the stage (I was saddened to find out earlier in the day, via a couple's matching green T-shirts, that the old announcer, Rod Roddy, had recently passed). This new guy (Rich?) explained the process. He made us repeat after him, "Women kiss Bob. Men hug Bob. Men do not kiss Bob. DO NOT HURT BOB!" Apparently, Samoan contestants have a tendency to bear-hug Bob, lifting him off the stage, which no doubt scares the living shit out of him. I wondered if the producers derived some secret sadistic satisfaction from selecting Samoans as contestants. He told us how he wanted us to "Come on down" if our names were called. "Jump up, and run as FAST as you can without hurting yourself!" Enthusiasm is key, yes, yes, we get it. By now, I was exhausted. Two hours of driving. TEN hours of waiting, getting in and out of lines, listening to stupid people ask stupid questions, all the interaction, waiting, waiting, waiting. I no longer cared about the show itself. Come to think of it, I never did care. I was curious, this was something to do, something to experience.

But these people...this was their dream. I tried to gain perspective. I thought of how I would feel if Madonna and George Michael conference-called me to come over for an intimate dinner with friends. Holy SHIT, this was a BIG DEAL to these people. This guy, this Bob Barker, he is like their Madonna. Like their...their Oprah. Wow. By replacing their idol with one of mine, I could understand the endless enthusiasm. I was just trying to get on a game show. But they were getting to be in the same room as their idol, on the same set of the show they've watched all their lives. This was big. And there he was!

Rather than coming through the doors, his traditional entrance, Bob came walking down one of the aisles, between two sections of standing and cheering fans, and for an 80-year-old, quite sprightly made his way up those stairs and onto the stage. Before we knew what was happening, the show began! Mass confusion abounded, and we could not hear the names over the cheering -- which was why, as was explained earlier, they had people on each side of the stage holding giant cue cards with the names that were being called. I couldn't see the cards. Every word, every sound effect, was drowned out by the screaming and clapping, and I was only vaguely aware of people hopping up and running down the aisles. While the noise was still deafening, the first product was already being announced! I didn't even know what it was! What? Aren't we supposed to hear the specs of the product to be bid upon? What's going on?

The cheering stopped abruptly (I was sitting so far up I couldn't see the "Applause" sign very well, so I just followed the crowd), and Bob blitzed the four ecstatic people standing beneath him. "What's your bid?" They threw out numbers, fast and quick, and I wondered if they had even heard what the product was.

COME ON DOWN!

So who did they call? The slut with the Uncle Bob shirt got up there pretty quickly. A young, sacrificial lamb on the Altar of Bob. Her mother must have been so proud. Frederick! Number One! I guess it does help to sleep outside the studio all night. First in line shows a LOT of dedication, man. Shirley! My favorite of the MASK ladies. A black woman with long braids who liked to jump up and down A LOT. I wondered if she was wearing a bra, because those tits were everywhere -- might want to wear some kind of protection on your face if you're going to continue to jump around like that. She was SO excited. Bob backed away, afraid for his own safety, as she chased him around the set for a hug.

It was all happening so fast, I couldn't keep track. The cheering was constant. They continued to torture us with that "Applause" sign, and people onstage ran behind the cameras, pushing their arms up in the air, pleading for us to be louder, more energetic. I'm sorry, I thought, but I must not have been at the same snack bar, because these people have obviously been fed CRACK, and I just don't have it in me. Yet I somehow managed the strength to hold up my sign and smile every time the camera panned over me (I can't wait to watch the show and see how stupid I look trying to catch the camera's attention with the only sign in the audience).

One woman made it up to the stage to play a little game. She had to choose between two prices in order to win the prize, which was a wide-screen TV! She chose the wrong one and was devastated. Bob was called to the side of the stage. The audience was still. Bob came back to the center and explained to us that her loss needed to be retaped. The price was supposed to have been revealed when he pushed a button, rather than when he ripped off the concealing cover. The chintzy old set had failed, and this poor contestant was now being asked to lose all over again. The crowd begged Bob to let her have the TV, but citing the rules against game-rigging, he pleaded with us to sound just as disappointed as we had the first time she lost the TV. Surprisingly, everyone complied. She chose the wrong number for the cameras a second time, and the crowd said, "AWWWW," rather than "AAAHHH!" What a champ.

Between games, Bob took time to speak with the crowd. He fielded questions and bantered with the audience. I must say Bob is one charismatic fellow. He was more than generous with some of his answers, and he seemed to genuinely care for his fans. It was a treat to watch him work. The rest of the show was as fast and confusing as the beginning. I couldn't see much, couldn't hear much, and I stopped bothering to stand for every freaking standing ovation (cold cream and pain patches do not a celebration make). Who can get THAT excited over a bicycle? I love shoes, but I don't walk through the mall stopping and clapping for every hot new pair that catches my eye. It seemed so surreal, all of it.

The show was coming to an end. I was only slightly disappointed not to be called as a contestant. Shirley won a trailer in the showcase. For this I cheered loudly, because I was happy she won. She was happy too, and her violently bouncing melons proclaimed her glee.

It was over. Bob was gone. The crowd slowly filed out of the studio. They didn't want it to be over. That's probably why so many of them keep coming back. Everyone seemed so energized by the show, whereas I was simply exhausted. I heard comments like "next time" and "wasn't that amazing?" Uh, no. It wasn't. And next time? Are you insane? My TPiR adventure was over; there was no way I'd go through a day competing with fanatics like that again. But that's enough of that, WoF is about to start, and this sign I'm working on has to be perfect. That's right, Pat, I love you even MORE than I love Bob, and I'm going to prove it to you with every vowel I buy!

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Looking down the row of colorful fan-filled T-shirts, holding my sign high for all to see, I experience a moment of concern at being among so many cultural castaways. And when I stand to take my turn to scream and profess my love for someone I've never met in front of hundreds of people I'll never see again, I begin to question my sanity. Just what led me here, to the Temple of Bob? I drift back to the first time I thought it might be fun to get on a game show -- exactly one week before this day.

THE SHOW

What does it take to get on a game show? I've had my speculations in the past, but until last week, I never sought an answer. Completely ignorant of the process, I did the prudent thing by Googling "game show contestant." The immensity of "how to" sites made it clear to me that I was not the first person to wonder what it takes to get on TV and win free shit. I watch a maximum of 30 minutes of television every fortnight and have no clue what shows are airing anymore. Just because I don't watch TV doesn't make me culturally retarded, so I dug deep in my memory banks for names of game shows I'd seen in the past, and the following sprang to mind: Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, The Price Is Right, and something with the word "millionaire" in it. I immediately ruled out the millionaire one. Too stupid, too "banterific." (Barbarism) The few minutes of this show I happened to catch in the past year or so convinced me that Regis is annoying, and people are dumb as shit. Jeopardy!, though my favorite to watch, is a show I have neither the patience nor the trivia acumen to attempt. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses. The periodic table and potpourri facts seem to escape me on a regular basis. On to the next!

Wheel of Fortune, now THERE'S a game show. Words, a wheel, and a man named Pat. My sources told me Vanna recently took pole-dancing classes. That vixen. Wheel of Fortune was my number-one choice, so I got on the show's website to see what I had to do. Adult application, okay, seemed simple enough. What? Two to three weeks before they let you know if you've been considered? And most people NEVER hear back at ALL? Risky. I sent an e-mail after I filled out my application (note: the "application" is merely an information-gathering form for name, address, etc.) in hopes that this would help me get noticed. As if every fanatic out there simply fills out an information form and leaves it at that. Right. So Wheel of Fortune was a shot in the dark, depending on the volume of applicants. This left one.

TWO BUCKS

According to my how-to sites, The Price Is Right was the only game show someone with my microscopic level of patience was likely to get on. It also seemed to be the easiest; as I would come to learn, the prerequisites were simple and few: one must have the patience of a rock, the enthusiasm of a hyperactive seven-year-old on Christmas morning, and a stupid T-shirt (the astute reader will deduce that "intelligence" isn't necessary, but I'm getting ahead of myself). I figured Monday was a perfect day to be on TV, so I booked a room at the Wyndham Bel Age off Sunset Boulevard for Sunday night. On Thursday afternoon, as I was getting a fabulous new "do," I recruited my good friend and stylist, Ronaldo, to be my game-show companion. Things were falling into place, and everything was set. Surely I was guaranteed a wonderful experience, an extended spotlight, and tons of big showcase booty. Saturday, I began to have doubts.

My routine shopping list consists of Lean Cuisines, diet Coke, hair clips, cat food, and kitty litter. On those occasions that I stock up on toiletries and perishables, I have a formula for figuring out the prices -- assume that everything in the cart is two bucks. This has never failed me, from San Diego to Los Angeles, and back again. I just don't pay attention to individual prices. THE WORD IS IN THE TITLE OF THE SHOW, and I didn't have clue one about the price of anything! Now don't get me wrong, I'm not Miss Moneybags. I don't wave the prices away because they don't matter. It's just that, for my needs, my pricing scheme has proven sufficient. This was going to be tougher than I thought.

Saturday afternoon I went on a training mission to Vons with my sister. Operation Get-Food-for-Birthday-Barbecue underway, I walked through the automatic sliding doors with high hopes that were immediately dashed by the vision of a warehouse filled wall-to-wall with brightly colored products I never buy. We went up and down every aisle. After the second aisle, I was dizzy and overwhelmed. What, was I supposed to memorize these prices? Don't prices change from store to store? Everything seemed to be under $5, but then detergents were under $10...air fresheners were $2.69, or was that $1.49? You had to pay attention to the brand too? Shit. There was no way in hell I was going to remember all of this. I kept my chin up and tried hard to look at the prices -- you never know when latent powers of the brain will waken. People have spontaneous memories all the time, right? Shit.

WE DON'T NEED NO STINKING TICKETS

Ronaldo picked me up right on time, just as my boyfriend, David, was finishing my grand, attention-getting sign. We loaded the truck with our bags and hit the road! Halfway up Interstate 5, I discovered something very important. Reading over the printout of my TPiR (that's how The Price Is Right is referred to by those in the know, by the way) information sheet, I noticed for the first time the words, "You just get a free ticket, show up at the studio, and take your chances!" Wha'? Get a free ticket? Get TICKETS?!? I was hesitant to say anything to Ron, for the obvious reason -- I felt like a fucking idiot. Here we were, an hour into our drive, hotel reserved, big plans for the day ahead, and yours truly never thought to investigate getting a ticket. Clearly, my master plan was not as thorough as I had led Ron to believe.

I placed an emergency call to David, who I knew had at least three computers with Internet access on standby. Before dialing, I quickly explained our predicament to Ron and kept right on talking until David's voice saved me from answering questions Ron might have that would force me to explain my lack of forethought. "David! Quick, get on the CBS website and see if you can get tickets online that you can fax to me at the hotel...hmm, no tickets available, huh?...Yeah, that's what it says here...no, I read it, I just...I know, I know, but I think we can still just walk up and get in...no worries, babe...standby? Explain that to me...uh-huh...yeah...great! See, I KNEW we had nothing to worry about!" This last comment was for Ron's benefit.

Traffic to Los Angeles always sucks. Traffic in Los Angeles sucks even more. Everyone is in a hurry, and upon entering the city limits, it's as if each driver is given carte blanche to be as MUCH of an asshole as he or she can possibly be. Sunday afternoon was no exception. We fought our way through the gauntlet to the hotel, and after figuring out how to work the elevators with our room keys, we finally made it into our room. Unfortunately, we wouldn't see much of our swanky digs. We were in and out again in under 15 minutes. I had to maximize my time in LA, and I had friends to see, dinner reservations to make, and all of this had to be completed at a decent hour, as the gates to the studio opened at 6:00 a.m. If I was to be considered as a contestant, I better be conscious and coherent.

LIFE ON THE STREET

Sleep did not come easily for either of us; the noise of cars and randoms partying it up on Sunset Boulevard can be distracting to your zzz's. I am spoiled with high thread-counts, so the itch of the sheets disturbed me, and all I could think about were invisible parasites and dirt as I sporadically broke into scratching spasms. All in my head, of course, where most of my obsessive-compulsive ideas hang out and rally each other into action. I was half awake when the call came, as requested, at 4:30 a.m. Time to hop into the shower and get prettied up for the big show! Ron did my hair, I did my makeup, we had matching red shirts, and we looked ridiculously fabulous. We checked out of the hotel and stepped outside to greet the valet as light crept into the sky.

Ron did not seem very excited about the day ahead, and I must say, I wasn't much more enthused. I was tired and nervous and concerned that I did not have a ticket. We drove up to the kiosk at the Beverly Boulevard entrance to the studio, where a little Filipino woman in a uniform stood waiting. Before we could ask where to go, she said, "You here for The Price Is Right?" We nodded. "You have someone in line already?" No, no, we don't. "Ah, very full already, studio only fit 300 people, line already very long. Entrance on Fairfax, you go over there, gate opens at 6:00." Thank you, we'll do that. We turned around in the lot and headed back to Beverly so we could make the left onto Fairfax. At first we didn't see anything; I noticed some homeless people on the sidewalk, and then WAIT! Is that a LINE behind those homeless people? Are those homeless people IN the line? No, it can't be. Ron! Is that what I think it is? Did those people SLEEP there on the SIDEWALK in SLEEPING BAGS?

Ron looked as apprehensive as I felt.

I cried out, "ABORT THE MISSION! ABORT! ABORT!" Ron was unable to conceal his relief, and I was mortified by the situation. The line was around the block, and it was only 5:40 a.m. I was not confident that I could get at the end of that line and wait who-knew-how-many hours just to find out that I didn't have a chance of getting on the show without a ticket. Plus, I must admit, I was afraid of those people. I was afraid to get too close -- they seemed crazy to me. Why were they out there? How long had they been there? Is it like this every day? Who ARE these people? We drove by them twice, slowly, and I took pictures. Some had matching shirts. They all looked tired and haggard. They all seemed desperate and sad. Was this accurate, or was I projecting because I was unable to understand the "reasoning" behind this madness? I had yet to find out. At this point, though, we were ready to leave LA.

Ron drove me up and down Hollywood Boulevard, and we appreciated the view sans vehicles and crazies. While we drove, I broke the silence. "I don't get it. Wasn't that weird? Who would do that, who would SLEEP on a SIDEWALK just to get on a game show?" Ron replied, "See, Barb, we don't think like that, because we don't think about free money." I understood what he meant. I mean, I don't even play the lottery. I always figured people who play the lottery are pissing their money away for that one-in-a-million to randomly win it all. It never seemed practical to me. I've been to Vegas twice as an adult and never bothered to gamble more than $5 at a slot machine. These people were sold on the concept of winning. Getting something for nothing. The real American Dream.

I slept most of the ride home, trying to overcome a deflating feeling of defeat. David called around 9:00 a.m., and I had to tell him what happened. I didn't want him to know that I didn't even try, that I didn't even talk to the people in line to gather information that would be helpful for my second attempt. He hopped online to try to find tickets and selflessly volunteered to copilot my next mission. I was sure Ron was not interested in a second adventure. David excitedly told me that two tickets had become available for Wednesday, two days away! I didn't want to commit. I told him we'd look for other days, maybe later, but he said these were the ONLY tickets available for the entire year. He got them, and a good thing he did, because after that, no more were available. Ron dropped me off an hour later, and I crawled into bed to sleep comfortably, under my beloved high thread-count sheets. As I drifted into unconsciousness, I silently thanked the pillow for not being a sidewalk.

PREPARATION IS KEY

David held on to the enthusiasm I had lost. This was a learning experience. We were going to get up there and get on the show, and I was going to be a contestant! YAY! Right, yay. Prior to my second trip to LA, I figured I should at least watch the show. Remember, I don't watch television much, and when I do, the LAST thing I turn on is daytime programming geared for geezers, housewives, and the perpetually unemployed. I would be lying, though, if I said I'd never seen The Price Is Right. In the past 30 years, TPiR has been as ubiquitous as bologna. I would be telling the truth, however, if I told you I hadn't seen the show in many years. And years ago, when I did see the show, it was only in snippets. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. More research was required, and I refused to drive back up to LA unprepared a second time.

David helped me with online research. We watched clips of the classics and read interesting facts about the show in its tri-decade run. Unfortunately, due to an online TV guide error, we missed the last chance to watch the show before my second trip. Blasted! It looked as if I was going to go in half-blind again. At least this time we had a better plan.

We would be in line at 4:00 a.m. Getting another hotel room at this point seemed superfluous, so we decided to leave San Diego at 2:00 a.m. and drive straight to the studio. I borrowed chairs from my best friend (there was no way in hell I would consider a sleeping bag -- I don't even OWN a sleeping bag) and stocked up on PowerBars and Rockstar beverages. The plan -- don't get tired. Our best strategy, even better than the caffeine pills I grabbed at the store (couldn't tell you how much they cost, probably around two bucks), was to get some sleep before we left. So there we were, 8:00 p.m., trying to fall asleep at an odd hour to better prepare for the long day ahead. I was snoring before 9:00.

JOINING THE CREW

I was surprisingly chipper for waking up at 1:00 in the morning. Showered and ready, we were on the road by 2:15. The drive was easy (the middle of the night on a weeknight is the way to go if you want to avoid the shitty traffic), and we made great time. At 4:00 a.m., we parked across the street from the studio, grabbed our borrowed chairs, and walked over to the forming line. I approached the first two men at the front, sitting on lawn chairs, covered with blankets, faces half-hidden under the hoods of their jackets. They were wide-awake. Frederick was animated and friendly, and he was first in line. I bid them good morning and asked them how long they had been there in those chairs. "We're too embarrassed to tell you," they said. "Come on," I pleaded, "it doesn't matter to me. I'm here, aren't I? At this ungodly hour in the morning? I have no right to talk, so go on, spill. What time?"

Seven o'clock, the night before. They had parked their asses on those chairs on the sidewalk outside of the studio at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday night to be in line for Wednesday's taping. "We haven't slept. We're retired, have lots of time, drove here from Washington state. Our wives have been sleeping in the cars across the way." A look across the street revealed a few sedans, windows covered with indiscernible, makeshift privacy screens. While their wives slept, these men were content to sit awake and watch the cars go by. I can think of nothing more exciting than sitting on the sidewalk of Fairfax for 12 hours in the middle of the night watching the cars go by. Without the aid of mind-altering substances, sounds like a blast. I thought of the last time I stayed awake through an evening in Hollywood and the many times my parties began on a Friday evening and ended on a Sunday afternoon. These flashbacks would plague me until midmorning. We took our place in line, the 36th and 37th people to arrive.

In front of us were Scott and Greg, who had graduated from college in Chicago on Saturday and drove across the country, through Vegas, to make it to Los Angeles for the taping of TPiR on Wednesday. Scott's fanaticism is not limited to TPiR. He informed us that he once spent the night outside a stadium waiting for an autograph from one of his favorite baseball players. Scott is an avid White Sox fan and seemed offended when I said I didn't care for sports, of any kind.

I began to take stock of the crowd in an attempt to figure out whom I was dealing with, especially considering that I was now going to be one of them. A group of kids with matching trucker hats sat in a circle in front of the recent grads. I honestly can't remember how many snide (yet extremely funny) comments I made about this group. I couldn't help myself. They were BEGGING to be made fun of. Scott and Greg were amused, but I was doing it for my own amusement, not theirs. We stood outside, in the dark, in line, for two hours. We never even opened our chairs. I had some fun commenting to our new friends about the clan of idiots that showed up an hour after us at the end of the line, each carrying a plastic lawn chair. The kind that does NOT fold. Did we miss a night of Practicality 101, folks? How the hell did they fit those in the car? There was plenty to keep me occupied, and the first wait went by fast enough.

FRIGHTENING FLASHBACKS

The gates were supposed to open at 6:00 a.m. As the darkness dissipated, I was unable to keep myself from flashing back to Insomnia, a club in LA that I used to frequent on Saturday nights. Sunday morning was always the same; after dancing for hours, sucking on lollipops, and kissing everyone in sight (think ecstasy, think raves), just around 6:00 a.m., hard-core partygoers, including me, gathered in front of the club to select the next location for our continuing party. Even thinking about it now gives me a dirty, scuzzy feeling. The transition from the black, smoky box filled with music and vibrating glow sticks to the first light of day, and the harsh reality of seeing my party pals in natural daylight with chemically enlarged pupils, was always freaky. Zits appeared, things looked magnified, and people lost the magical appeal they had when we were back in the club.

I tried to conceal my horror as I looked at our new friends, their features changing in the emerging light. Not because of how they looked -- they were attractive kids -- it was just that sensation, that visceral memory of dawn in Hollywood. Ick. I might have said aloud, "This feels like coming down," a sure way to elicit confusion from the straights. These are good boys. Marching-band boys. I'm sure they wouldn't know a drug if it crawled up a straw into their nostrils.

The crowd in front of us stood and started packing things away. Already standing, we simply stared ahead, ready for the next step. I sent David to move my car to the vehicle line that was forming outside the gate. As he walked across the street, a car drove by and honked, which sparked the line to cheer loudly. Not two minutes later, another car drove by, honked, and the driver leaned out of his window and screamed, "LOOOOSSSSEEEERRRRRS!" followed by staccato shouts, surely just unintelligible insults. I experienced mixed emotions. I felt protective of my line, embarrassed, and then suddenly indignant. The funny thing is, the first time I drove by that line and wasn't a part of it, I thought the same thing -- losers. But now, I was one of them. No room to talk. I didn't even want to make fun of them (and I make fun of everyone, including myself). These seemed like nice people so far, no crazies just yet, and everyone who showed up appeared with a smile of camaraderie and understanding. Another one of the crew. Part of the same team. We're all here for the same purpose, and that's to see Bob. This left little room for individual superiority, as we'd each arrived before dawn, and if you thought it was stupid, you had no business being there.

But I did think it was stupid. And I was there. Still, the excitement was contagious. A small gate opened, and the line of people began to move. I was nervous leaving David sitting in the car, but I moved along with the rest of them. We were each given a little slip of yellow paper with a number on it -- our number of arrival. I took two. With my tickets in hand, I slid into the passenger side of my car. We sat there for another ten minutes before the big gate opened and we could drive onto the lot and park.

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

By the time we pulled into the parking lot and found a sweet space a few steps from the side of the building, the sun was shining brightly. As David was taking pictures of me with my sign (a large picture of my face, mouth open wide in excitement, next to the boldly printed words, "I LOVE BOB!"), a security guard shuffled quickly over to us. "I'm sorry, there are no pictures allowed on the premises. I'm going to have to confiscate your camera." While I was marveling at the audacity it takes to snatch someone's expensive camera, David was more concerned about what was ON the camera. See, we'd had quite a "photo sesh" with this digital camera a few days before. And when I say "photo sesh," I mean I played photographer while documenting some of my finest, mistress-quality work. Nothing fit for the children, or any God-fearing person. Shit, nothing fit for most people. Hee-hee. But I digress.

As if in answer to our baffled expressions, the guard said, "Just kidding. Ha! Gotcha!" Uh, yeah, very funny, man. He wasn't going to take the camera, but he was adamant that we were not to take any more pictures on the premises. Even in the parking lot. I don't understand how taking pictures of yourself in the parking lot threatens the studio in any way, but when David reminded me of those pics, I chose to comply with the local rules.

We were instructed to gather by the side of the building at 7:40 a.m. Now that we weren't in single file, I got the opportunity to size up my competition. All around were big groups of people with matching T-shirts proclaiming varying levels of love for Bob. There was a little slut with a punky torn shirt that appealed to "Uncle Bob" to make her 18th birthday special by choosing her. Cute. Accompanying the girl was her mother, also wearing a shirt with words of devotion to Bob in support of her daughter. You'd have thought she was there to offer her daughter as some sort of sacrifice to CBS. They just had that look about them. There seemed to be a lot of birthdays, a lot of big groups, and a lot of college students. The only Marine I was aware of was out of uniform, which probably cost her in the end; I read they love to pick Marines in uniform.

ORDER AND CHAOS

At 7:40, a short man in a red jacket began to speak into a mike, his voice clearly blasting through a few well-placed speakers around the building. He repeated his instructions several times, yet when I looked around, I found blank stares on the faces that topped all those colorful, wordy T-shirts. Just how difficult is it to comprehend where the line begins and where it ends? Huh? Just HOW DIFFICULT IS IT?? One through 150, on the benches against the red rail; 150 and up on the benches against the black wall. You should have seen the mass confusion, the desperation and need apparent on some of those faces. What did he say? Which way? What number are you? Where am I supposed to be? Someone take my hand and guide me, I'm an imbecile!

Whew! Eventually, we were seated, and we had to make room for the ultraconfused and astonishingly stupid stragglers, whom, despite the efforts to help by those gifted with common sense, couldn't get their shit together. There were Scott and Greg, right where they should be, right next to us. Seated, controlled, numbered, the children became restless. One young gal (a member of the trucker-hat gang) jumped up, screaming and yelling. Her actions prompted others about her to scream and yell, cheer and whoop. It was like watching howler monkeys communicate with one another, each mouth joining in the yelps and squeals. As if unable to contain herself, she ran down the center between the two benches, right between hundreds of seated people facing each other, with her arms outstretched, screaming all the way down. People put out their hands to slap hers as she ran by. I looked on in awe.

What was happening? Eight-something in the morning, half of these people had hardly slept in the last day, and yet the level of energy was off the charts! Random cheering continued to erupt around us. I was awake and full of energy, but I could not generate the interest to scream and yell in the waiting area. Pages in red coats came down between the benches and handed each person another slip of yellow paper with a number on it. We were told to disperse and return at 10:00 a.m. David and I retired to my car to watch a DVD on a wide-screen laptop (episodes of Ab Fab, if you must know). The rest of the would-be contestants either tailgated in the parking lot or wandered up and down the attraction-free streets surrounding the studio. It was suggested many times throughout the day that we "visit the gift store and snack bar."

When we returned to the benches, the numbering system had changed. Before we dispersed, the red coats had informed us of the change. To ensure cooperation, the benches were actually numbered with the new system. This time, 1 to 44 was against the black wall, 44 to 150 was against the red rail, and the numbers continued on benches located on the other side of the building. There was a woman sitting with her mother in the area where David and I should have been sitting. I explained to her the new system. She stayed there. Didn't seem to get it. I explained again, said, "See, that's why the ONE is on that side, and the FORTY-FOUR is on the other." She and her mother were numbers 43 and 44. They should have been at the END of the bench. My patience was wearing thin. She asked me again, "Now what...where?" I repeated, "The ONE is over THERE by the DOOR to the STUDIO, and the FORTY-FOUR is right THERE. THAT'S where YOU should be." I pointed to the physical labels with these numbers that were affixed to the benches as proof. She couldn't see them from where she sat and seemed intent on not moving her ass to witness the exhibits.

Finally, as I stood over her in exasperation, someone walked by and the bench idiot asked that person where the numbers were and where she was supposed to be. When it was explained to her by this new person (in a much less coherent way than I had explained it, I might add), she said with a bewildered look on her face, "Really? So I should be down there?" I looked at her incredulously and said, in a slightly hysterical and very raised voice, "If I have to repeat myself ONE MORE TIME, I SWEAR TO GOD...!" At this, a young guy walked by and said, "Hey, no anger, we're all friends here," and continued on his merry little way.

I sat down in a frustrated huff. David seemed torn between his own frustration and his amusement at seeing me so flustered. Scott and Greg appeared again at our sides on this new bench, our backs against the black wall. This time, the red coats came down the aisle and gave us our name tags. Restless cheering began to erupt for "Number One!" Frederick, our old friend and first in line for the day (and night before), had gathered a fan-base in the last several hours, and support was growing. Loudly.

RED COATS

After receiving our name tags and obediently slapping them on our left shoulders, we were told that we were not to leave the lot. We were to be back on those benches by noon. Trapped. Now our only choice for entertainment, shopping, and food was the gift shop and snack bar. For some reason, nachos with chili sounded great to me, and we headed for the long line. Eager for the full experience, I also hit up the gift shop and purchased a TPiR shirt for my two-year-old nephew. Like Jane Goodall studying wild apes, the red coats circulated through the crowd, observing us. They were already scouting for the afternoon's contestants -- looking for signs of enthusiasm and animated behavior. Every time I passed a red coat, I put a little skip in my step and widened my smile. I held my sign high and engaged in energetic conversation with everyone around me, which wasn't a stretch for this loquacious freak. I can't help it, I'm a talker.

But regardless of my propensity for discourse, I also needed an escape from the energy. It was just so...fervid. David and I retreated to the side of the building where the benches were empty and devoured our chili nachos. At a quarter to noon, wannabe contestants came flooding back to the benches. This would be our longest wait of the day. Sitting across from us was a group of black women in matching shirts, members of MASK (Mothers Against Senseless Killing). I assumed the organization was gang-related, as I had heard that term, "senseless killing," used in that context. These women were lively. Earlier, they had practiced their "Come on down!" runs with the trucker-hat gang by announcing each other's names excitedly as the named woman jumped up screaming in mock surprise and jubilation and then ran down between the benches, accepting the encouraging hand slaps of those she ran past. I was content to improvise if called as a contestant. I do my best work on the fly.

I sat, holding my sign on my lap. Red coats came down the line, asking each of us where we were from. We answered right on cue. I thought my sign would give me some kind of advantage. The red coat glanced at me. "San Diego!" came flying out of my mouth. He inquired about my sign, "Is that you on there?" I said, "Did you really have to ask?" and he continued down the line.

David went to the restroom. When he came back, he told me that while he was standing at the urinal, an old man sparked up a conversation with him. I am aware of the faux pas of speaking to someone who is "taking care of business" in a public restroom. Rules like this do not apply when you are confronted with an elderly man from Florida who came to California for the sole purpose of helping his wife realize her "life's dream" of the "last 30 years." Ever the gentleman, David tossed traditional etiquette out the bathroom window and conversed briefly with the fired-up old fellow.

Speaking of pee, I had serious issues with the keep-your-ass-on-the-bench-for-certain-periods-of-time thing. Every time they told us we couldn't leave those benches, I immediately had to pee. I know, I have issues, but the deal is, if I'm in a situation in which I know I CAN'T use the restroom, I freak out about how long it will be until I CAN use the restroom, and I most always have to go until I find out WHEN I can go. Don't ask. Poor Scott and Greg. They heard me bitch about having to pee, wonder aloud just when we could pee next, and so on. So there we all sat, me obsessing about when I'd next see the toilet, MASK members singing what lyrics they could remember from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," a group of teens cheering for Number One (Frederick), noise and chaos everywhere. What time is it?

THE PRODUCERS

It was about 12:30 p.m. when the people on my bench were told to move down. Groups of ten were being called off to the side to be "interviewed" by two producers. We stood up, moved down ten spaces, and sat again. This time, I was across from the loud group of teens. One of the boys, commenting on my sign, said, "What would you say if I told you I loved Bob too, but I mean, like, REALLY loved him?" My "gaydar" had been bleeping in this kid's direction before he had opened his mouth; his spoken words confirmed my accuracy. "I'd say 'great,' " I answered. Fresh out of the closet, this kid was so intent on FORCING everyone around him to accept his homosexuality, he failed to consider that many of us already did. He turned his attention to David. "Actually, I don't like Bob, the name's just silly. David, on the other hand, is a great name." Noting his tactic, I said, "Hon, if you're hot for my man, it doesn't bother us. As a matter of fact, David would be flattered."

Poor kid. He probably gets a lot of shit from the kids at school. The guy to his left was shifting in his seat throughout the conversation -- uncomfortable with his friend's brazenly queer display. Now, I understood the gay kid's attitude a bit more. He was probably on the defensive before they arrived. We continued to deflect more in-your-face comments about his orientation, until I grew weary of it and rested my head on David's shoulder, shutting out the rest of the crowd by closing my eyes for a minute or two.

Suddenly we were up again, moving down ten more spaces. I could see the group ahead of us, just to the left, standing in front of the two producers. There was a LOT of cheering, and the louder it got, the more nervous I became. I couldn't cheer like that, I didn't think I had it in me, it would seem so contrived, so transparent! I looked at my group, as energetic as koalas munching eucalyptus. Spontaneous cheering was not my group's forte. After the group in front of us made one last attempt to impress the men who would determine their TPiR fate, they were led out of sight -- our time had come. Feeling enthusiastically inadequate, I hustled to the spot in front of the producers with my crew.

We faced two men -- one with a clipboard, the other with a broad grin. The man with the clipboard never stopped writing. The other man went down the line quickly, asking where we were from and what we did for a living. His enthusiasm was cartoonish, and his repartee was surgical in its extraction of whatever bits of information he was looking for. Scott was desperate. He managed to spit out more information than the rest of us, and as his swan song before the animated producer killed him with inattention, he offered to play the theme song of TPiR for Bob on his saxophone. The producer responded with a smile that was difficult to interpret and then looked at me. "I'm a paralegal from San Diego!" I tried to sound effervescent. He noted my sign, said dryly, "I think you're the only person here who loves Bob." I went along, "That's right! I'm the ONLY one, I don't think anyone else here loves him as much as I do!" (I wouldn't recognize Bob if he bumped up against me in the supermarket.) Then he looked at David. David perfunctorily offered, "I'm a photographic artist from San Diego."

The producer spent the most time speaking with Giovanni, the friendly Italian pizza-parlor owner from Chicago. Come to think of it, the pages had given Giovanni some extra attention as well. Now is the time for me to explain the process. During the long day of waiting, the pages surreptitiously select those they think will make good contestants. The pages slip their selections to the producers, and in the brief "interview" with the producers, final contestants are chosen. All this before any of us walks into the studio. I would have placed a bet at this point that Giovanni would be called as a contestant. I'll save you the suspense -- he wasn't.

WHO BRINGS A SIGN?

After our two-minute interview, we cheered pathetically and took our turn in the metal detector. Here we had a near miss -- my boyfriend wears a little metal chain collar, with an inscribed lock that reads "Property of Barbarella." If hundreds of people were made to wait while I searched for the key to de-collar David, I would surely be exposed as the only person on the lot (red coats excluded) who did not lust after the grandfather clock and the cotton-candy maker, was not prone to daytime reveries featuring complete wicker basket sets, and did not lie awake at night counting pieces of matching his-and-her lawn furniture. As if the fact that I was the only person with a sign wasn't already a dead giveaway. Anyone who has ever watched the show knows that the appropriate way to profess one's love for Bob is to emblazon an ill-fitting T-shirt and parade around with the message on one's chest. Luckily, the detector was set to jewelry mode, and we were spared the spectacle. Secret identities safely stashed beneath our clothing, we continued with the group to another side of the building to wait yet again.

It seemed as if my ass had been on one bench or another for an eternity. However, my several hours of sitting was minuscule compared to one man who had attended 140 tapings and who was finally called as a contestant for the FIRST time on his 140th appearance. That's 140 days of a person's life, given to a game show. I can't imagine that he had a job, a life, anything to do at all. But that's how these people are. Several people in the crowd around me had been there at least once before.

SHOW TIME

FINALLY! The doors opened, and we were herded into the studio. I was shocked at how small it was. I mean, like, itty-bitty, teensy-weensy, not at all like it looks on TV. The seats were low, and the stage was above the lower half of the audience. Where were all the showrooms? This was just a tiny stage with three signs, and the curtains, and the lights, and the paint...is that GLITTER GLUE? The studio looked as if it were slapped together by a first-grade class in the '70s or something. We took our seats in the third row of the center section near the right aisle. We had no idea who was going to be called as a contestant.

Scott was sitting to my left. I was concerned that he might piss himself, he seemed so shifty with excitement. The new announcer came onto the stage (I was saddened to find out earlier in the day, via a couple's matching green T-shirts, that the old announcer, Rod Roddy, had recently passed). This new guy (Rich?) explained the process. He made us repeat after him, "Women kiss Bob. Men hug Bob. Men do not kiss Bob. DO NOT HURT BOB!" Apparently, Samoan contestants have a tendency to bear-hug Bob, lifting him off the stage, which no doubt scares the living shit out of him. I wondered if the producers derived some secret sadistic satisfaction from selecting Samoans as contestants. He told us how he wanted us to "Come on down" if our names were called. "Jump up, and run as FAST as you can without hurting yourself!" Enthusiasm is key, yes, yes, we get it. By now, I was exhausted. Two hours of driving. TEN hours of waiting, getting in and out of lines, listening to stupid people ask stupid questions, all the interaction, waiting, waiting, waiting. I no longer cared about the show itself. Come to think of it, I never did care. I was curious, this was something to do, something to experience.

But these people...this was their dream. I tried to gain perspective. I thought of how I would feel if Madonna and George Michael conference-called me to come over for an intimate dinner with friends. Holy SHIT, this was a BIG DEAL to these people. This guy, this Bob Barker, he is like their Madonna. Like their...their Oprah. Wow. By replacing their idol with one of mine, I could understand the endless enthusiasm. I was just trying to get on a game show. But they were getting to be in the same room as their idol, on the same set of the show they've watched all their lives. This was big. And there he was!

Rather than coming through the doors, his traditional entrance, Bob came walking down one of the aisles, between two sections of standing and cheering fans, and for an 80-year-old, quite sprightly made his way up those stairs and onto the stage. Before we knew what was happening, the show began! Mass confusion abounded, and we could not hear the names over the cheering -- which was why, as was explained earlier, they had people on each side of the stage holding giant cue cards with the names that were being called. I couldn't see the cards. Every word, every sound effect, was drowned out by the screaming and clapping, and I was only vaguely aware of people hopping up and running down the aisles. While the noise was still deafening, the first product was already being announced! I didn't even know what it was! What? Aren't we supposed to hear the specs of the product to be bid upon? What's going on?

The cheering stopped abruptly (I was sitting so far up I couldn't see the "Applause" sign very well, so I just followed the crowd), and Bob blitzed the four ecstatic people standing beneath him. "What's your bid?" They threw out numbers, fast and quick, and I wondered if they had even heard what the product was.

COME ON DOWN!

So who did they call? The slut with the Uncle Bob shirt got up there pretty quickly. A young, sacrificial lamb on the Altar of Bob. Her mother must have been so proud. Frederick! Number One! I guess it does help to sleep outside the studio all night. First in line shows a LOT of dedication, man. Shirley! My favorite of the MASK ladies. A black woman with long braids who liked to jump up and down A LOT. I wondered if she was wearing a bra, because those tits were everywhere -- might want to wear some kind of protection on your face if you're going to continue to jump around like that. She was SO excited. Bob backed away, afraid for his own safety, as she chased him around the set for a hug.

It was all happening so fast, I couldn't keep track. The cheering was constant. They continued to torture us with that "Applause" sign, and people onstage ran behind the cameras, pushing their arms up in the air, pleading for us to be louder, more energetic. I'm sorry, I thought, but I must not have been at the same snack bar, because these people have obviously been fed CRACK, and I just don't have it in me. Yet I somehow managed the strength to hold up my sign and smile every time the camera panned over me (I can't wait to watch the show and see how stupid I look trying to catch the camera's attention with the only sign in the audience).

One woman made it up to the stage to play a little game. She had to choose between two prices in order to win the prize, which was a wide-screen TV! She chose the wrong one and was devastated. Bob was called to the side of the stage. The audience was still. Bob came back to the center and explained to us that her loss needed to be retaped. The price was supposed to have been revealed when he pushed a button, rather than when he ripped off the concealing cover. The chintzy old set had failed, and this poor contestant was now being asked to lose all over again. The crowd begged Bob to let her have the TV, but citing the rules against game-rigging, he pleaded with us to sound just as disappointed as we had the first time she lost the TV. Surprisingly, everyone complied. She chose the wrong number for the cameras a second time, and the crowd said, "AWWWW," rather than "AAAHHH!" What a champ.

Between games, Bob took time to speak with the crowd. He fielded questions and bantered with the audience. I must say Bob is one charismatic fellow. He was more than generous with some of his answers, and he seemed to genuinely care for his fans. It was a treat to watch him work. The rest of the show was as fast and confusing as the beginning. I couldn't see much, couldn't hear much, and I stopped bothering to stand for every freaking standing ovation (cold cream and pain patches do not a celebration make). Who can get THAT excited over a bicycle? I love shoes, but I don't walk through the mall stopping and clapping for every hot new pair that catches my eye. It seemed so surreal, all of it.

The show was coming to an end. I was only slightly disappointed not to be called as a contestant. Shirley won a trailer in the showcase. For this I cheered loudly, because I was happy she won. She was happy too, and her violently bouncing melons proclaimed her glee.

It was over. Bob was gone. The crowd slowly filed out of the studio. They didn't want it to be over. That's probably why so many of them keep coming back. Everyone seemed so energized by the show, whereas I was simply exhausted. I heard comments like "next time" and "wasn't that amazing?" Uh, no. It wasn't. And next time? Are you insane? My TPiR adventure was over; there was no way I'd go through a day competing with fanatics like that again. But that's enough of that, WoF is about to start, and this sign I'm working on has to be perfect. That's right, Pat, I love you even MORE than I love Bob, and I'm going to prove it to you with every vowel I buy!

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