THE SCENE: Friday night high school football game, somewhere in the Maryland suburbs. It's a perfect late summer evening - clear, warm. The atmosphere is electric: It's a big rivalry game, so the stands are packed. We arrived just as the first quarter began, so we watched the first half from field level.
At halftime, I decided I wanted to see the marching band from up in the stands. My friend and I thought we'd wait till people left the stands at halftime, then sneak up and grab a quick seat. Kind of like in the parking lot at work, when people leave for lunch and you can get a closer spot once they go. It's open seating, so we figured empty seats were fair game.
We attempted to sneak onto the end of the second row bleacher. Woman next to us says, "These seats are reserved," and pushes her string bag towards us.
"Oh, we just want to watch the band," we said.
"My husband will be back in a moment, this is HIS seat."
"I just really wanted to see the band," I repeated. "Someone should have told me how we could have purchased reserved seats," I muttered.
"Go over there," she says, with exasperation, pointing down the bleacher to... someone else's seat, presumably. So we squeeze by her to the next opening.
"These seats are reserved," says the lady. "My kids went down for refreshments."
"Oh, that's OK," we repeated, "We just wanted to see the halftime show, then we'll leave, we promise."
She was a bit more forgiving. "It's like church on Christmas Eve," we said - "Scoot on down, make room for another butt. Right?"
"Right, she said, with half a smile. We watched the halftime show. It was nice. The nicer woman's boys returned. I had a chat with one of them about how cool marching band is.
Then we got up to go. "Thanks for letting us watch the band from your seats," we said to the lady on our right.
"You're welcome," she said.
"Thanks," we said to the exasperated mom and her husband, who had returned to "his" seat, and threw them extra smiles. (I like being super nice to people who'd rather be hostile. It disarms them, makes them uncomfortable.)
As I passed Husband, he looked up at me and said, "Are you going to go find your OWN seats now, instead of taking some kids' seat?"
"Uh, we were just here to watch the band, and we're leaving now. But these really aren't 'reserved' seats..."
"Sure they are," He said. "But you're an adult, you should know that, right?"
I couldn't believe it. He was sitting, so I leaned down and a little closer to his face, and smiled. "Are you giving me a hard time?"
"Yeah, I am," he replied.
"DUDE... Relax," I said. "Chill out. Jeez."
It's an understatement to say this exchange was disheartening. It's like, hey, sorry you got here late, but screw you, these are MY SEATS now and I'm going to stick my elbows out and save them and tough luck to the rest of you.
Obviously, these folks have never been to a game at Beaver Stadium, where you get your butt's width of bleacher and THAT. IS. ALL. There is zero elbow room. People come, you scoot over. Of course, those bleacher seats actually are reserved. They are numbered. Not so in our high school's stands. I get that they were saving seats for family members at halftime, but we were clear about wanting to be there only to see the band and we made good on our promise.
Who does this guy think he is, anyway? Is he the one who cuts into traffic at the last possible minute before the turn-only lane ends? Or road-rages when he perceives a vehicular slight? Or uses the express lane even though he has more than 10 items? Or waits until he gets to the drive-thru teller to endorse his checks? Or won't give up his seat on Metro for a pregnant passenger?
Next time, maybe I'll get there early and try "saving" my own bleacher seats. Perhaps my bleachermates will be able to teach me the unwritten etiquette concerning these so-called reserved seats. And maybe one of them will be able to help me understand why a fan of our high school football team, someone with whom I probably have a lot in common (he lives in the same zip code, shops where I do, drives on the same roads, has kids in the same schools) would have felt it necessary to pick a fight with a fellow middle-aged football fan during what should have been a fun Friday night.
After all, we were all there to root for the football team. Remember that? This happened at a football game. Which our team won, by the way. But the joy of the victory was certainly tempered by my experience in the stands.
So: What would you have done?