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L.A. Braces for Michael Jackson Mania as Fans Arrive for Memorial

July 7, 2009 8:00 AM ET

Downtown Los Angeles is bracing for a massive onslaught of mourners hoping to get anywhere near the Michael Jackson all-star memorial later today. The 8,000 or so lucky recipients of a much-coveted e-mail confirmation had until 7:30 p.m. PT on Monday to pick up their tickets at L.A.'s Dodger Stadium (pushed back an hour and a half to accommodate late arrivals from other states and countries), which, like the Staples Center, was completely closed off to gawkers and those praying for a miracle. But that didn't stop a couple hundred diehard fans from trying to score, some who had traveled halfway across the world for a mere chance to say goodbye to the King of Pop.

(The Michael Jackson memorial: photos from the scene.)

"I registered three times and didn't get a ticket, so I'm really sad," said 30-year-old Cecile, one of the unlucky hopefuls who hopped on a plane from Paris as soon as she heard the first rumblings of funeral plans — she was holding down a corner outside the stadium gates. "I wanted to be here to be part of it, because Michael has been a part of my life for such a long time." The Jackson superfan and collector was clever enough to book a hotel blocks from the Staples Center, but joining the throngs outside wasn't what she had in mind. "I'm sure so many people aren't real fans — they get the tickets and try to sell them," she lamented (sure enough, an extra was sold for $5,000 that afternoon, while tickets on eBay were listed for tens of thousands). "It's a pity."

That sentiment was echoed by a foursome of Brits who had front-row seats to Jackson's first London show, but were shut out when it came to his memorial. "We don't agree with the way this is done," said ringleader Robert Gowen, 22. "[Or] the celebration idea either, but if it's the only thing we have to say goodbye to our idol, then we're gonna do it. Still, it's not fair that the world gets to go and the real fans get shut out again." Each had borrowed money to make the trans-Atlantic trip, but if they didn't have guaranteed entry to Staples, they had a backup plan. "We'll go to the mortuary to show our respects to the family. After that, we'd head over to the family home. We want to say goodbye to Michael. We want closure."

Grief hopping seems to be on many fans' agendas, and the Los Angeles Police Department is factoring multiple locations into their Tuesday security plans. "We understand that people want to celebrate together as a group, and talk and remember Michael," said LAPD Sergeant Sandy Cline. "There's gonna be a lot of traffic issues, but our departments are prepared for it." Some 3,000 police officers are on Michael Jackson duty today, most dispatched to the four-block area surrounding Staples. But despite the incredible demand for memorial tickets — estimated at 1.5 million registrants — the scene at the top of the Dodger Stadium hill was surprisingly calm and quiet, even after long lines and repeat voucher checks. "There were a couple issues with coupons that were somewhat questionable," said Sgt. Cline, "but other than that, there's been no problems at all. It's been very peaceful."

Barring your occasional break-into-song-and-dance moment, of course, as 23-year-old golden ticket holder Crystal put on display. "I'd moonwalk across the parking lot right now," yelped the Compton resident who recently had her Michael Jackson tattoo updated with the year of his death. "If I knew how to back flip, I would!" An aunt and niece team from Houston had this to offer: "We paid a thousand dollars to fly here. Of course, we're saddened, but we're extremely excited that we were chosen. We're honored to be here."

And at the end of the day, all hope was not lost for the ticketless masses. Any leftover seats were to be handed out from six to eight in the morning at L.A.'s El Rey theatre. Naturally, by the time the stadium gates closed, there were already fans lined up on Wilshire Boulevard ready to make a night of it. "Apparently, there are about 1,000 people who haven't shown up to pick up their tickets, so we're all gonna sleep here and tomorrow we'll be able to give Michael a proper send-off," said Nevylle Flag, a screenwriter who was fourth in line and first to pull out his "Thriller" moves. His neighbors for the night were a mother-daughter duo who drove from nearby Alhambra for a chance to be "a part of history." Mom Tanya Lasebre, 33, insisted she wouldn't camp out on the street for anyone other than Michael Jackson, but she came prepared, armed with a blanket, sweaters, an iPod, and most importantly, "ourselves and our hope to get in."

Rolling Stone will be on the ground at Michael Jackson's memorial today, so stay tuned for updates and reports from the scene.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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