On Friday, I learned that a colleague at work, Jackie, might get tickets to the Barbra Streisand Concert at Madison Square Garden for Monday evening! It was 1994. Bucket lists were not yet in vogue, but if they were, this concert would be at the top of mine. I became a devoted fan at 18, when Barbra starred in Funny Girl. I watched every Streisand movie, and her specials on TV. On Saturday, as I took my daughter to get a haircut, my then-husband received Jackie’s call and said I was busy on Monday and could not go to a concert in New York City. You can imagine the discussion that took place when I arrived home.
It was true. I was busy on Monday, but a person can do more than one thing a day. My daughter, Meg, and I planned to walk to Crane Beach on Monday. Crane is a four-mile sandy beach, with acres of hiking dunes and pine forests. She was in middle school, and we had been looking forward to this five-mile trek to the annual Crane Beach picnic for a while. I also had to be at work on Tuesday morning.
I didn’t have Jackie’s phone number and started to panic. I contacted coworkers anxiously until I located it. She wasn’t surprised to hear from me and was holding my ticket. Jackie was driving the concert-goers to New York on Monday, leaving work at noon. They had a reservation at a Times Square hotel. I said I’d meet them there.
My heart began to pound faster when I called the Boston / NYC shuttle to secure a seat on Monday’s 4:30 p.m. flight, plenty of time for the concert.
Sitting on the beach Monday morning overlooking Ipswich Bay, surrounded by children and parents, I could only think of the evening show. How would I get through the next four hours of dinner menu chatter and children screaming with glee. Meg was twelve years old and settled in with her best friend’s mother while I took a school bus ride home. After checking in on my younger daughter at our family daycare, I carefully folded my black, velvet, full-length one shoulder dress into my overnight bag. It was a perfect outfit for the evening. I bought it the previous year for Bill Clinton’s inaugural ball. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I approached the airport. To my delight, an old friend I had connected with during the inauguration was on the plane.
New York City was a flurry of lights and sounds. The evening began when six women from the Massachusetts State Comptroller’s Office arrived at Madison Square Garden. There was no time for a sit-down dinner; we ate burgers in a Roy Rogers across the street. Not your typical clientele in our gowns and bling.
We had relatively good seats for the last minute purchase, but I still rented binoculars. The crowd filled the garden with a loud hum. Barbra stepped on stage in a stunning cream-colored princess gown. In her first set, she sang my favorites “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “People.” During a soulful version of “He Touched Me,” one of the musicians played in the wrong key. Barbra was mortified and stopped singing. She actually told us to “talk among yourselves while I’m attending to this.” The audience laughed and we chatted with the people behind us from Chicago.
Barbra introduced her final song of the evening with: “My idea of a perfect world is where we all appreciate each other’s differences: short/tall, Democrat/Republican, Black/White, gay/straight. A world in which we are all equal, but definitely not the same.” (It was 1994.) Then she sang “Somewhere.”
After the spectacular concert, I bought an 18" x 22" photo of Barbra leaning against a post in a tailored jacket and trousers with that shy smile. Her black sandals reminded me of my grandmother. It’s still hanging in my office. I told my work friends I was going to meet Barbra in her dressing room. They chuckled, “Yeah, sure,” and left. As I made my way backstage, Barbra said, “You must be Polly (my stage name). Would you like something to drink?” And the evening began again.
We talked about how she began to sing publicly, and about her shyness on stage. Her manager poked his head into her dressing room and said, “That last song was broadcast live on the Times Square Big Screen!” We both cheered. I told Barbra that I’d been singing Karaoke and in church choirs for years.
When we arrived at her suite, the party was in full gear. Barbra made her way around the room and introduced me to Celine Dion, Michael Douglas, Hillary Clinton and others. I kept pinching myself. An hour later, she pulled me outside and we went to a Karaoke club. We sang and sang. If you’re Barbra Streisand, you don’t have to wait until your turn. When we sang “Second Hand Rose,” skating across the stage seemed natural. Barbra’s parting song was “Bye Bye Birdie,” and her limo dropped me at the hotel.
When the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m., I wondered if it had happened.