At 7 a.m., my biologist boyfriend looks around the biggest area of green that can be found in the urban metropolis he has now called home for three weeks.
“I like this. It’s quiet here.”
Central Park has been open for barely an hour. There are already some joggers and cyclists beginning to weave their way through the grass and boulders. They are the smart ones who chose to venture into Eden in the cool of the day. However, the majority of the park occupants—at least near the 81st street entrance on the west side—are sitting in the grass along a winding gravel pathway in a line that will easily reach half a mile in length by 11 a.m. Arriving at seven puts us a good three to four minute walk from the theater, and we don nervous expressions while passing couples on fully inflated air mattresses who have clearly been here since before park opened.
“I hope we make it.”
“I read online that as long as you are in front of that boulder, you are okay.” We are in front of the bolder, but barely.
We unfold our blankets and unpack decks of cards, books, and the McDonald’s breakfast we picked up on the drive from Brooklyn. My roommates used this as an effective bribe to get me out of bed at 5:45 a.m. when one of my most important summer goals is making up a school-year’s-worth of sleep.
We set up camp next to a friendly thirty-something named Sean. He is originally from San Francisco, loosely knows Swiss-German, works for the circus, and has completed this ritual several times.
“I think you will be fine,” he says, in reply to Ashley’s boulder comment. (I’ve secretly always respected people who just chime into conversations on which they were clearly eavesdropping.) “I’m usually here at five but I was pretty hungover this morning. The good news is if you call Andy’s deli they will deliver coffee or food to you in the line. They just bike up and down the path calling your name.” I glance at the McDonald’s. Rookie mistake.
The line builds behind us steadily as the surrounding swing sets and meadows fill with children and sunbathers. We doze, people watch, play cards, and seize the opportunity to reopen the ancient debate about whether you are “in line” or “on line,” bringing our new west coast friend into the mix. (Basically, you are always in line unless you are in New York, where locals say on line.)
Around 10 a.m., a man with an official looking T-shirt that shouts “FREE Shakespeare in the Park” in neon pink comes by with his thumb on the button of one of those clicker counter things. “You guys are fine,” he says in an emotionless voice.
We whoop at the confirmation that the next two hours will not be in vain because this means there are fewer than 500 people in front of us and we will be receiving free tickets to see The Tempest at 8:00 tonight.
You have to respect a theater company that uses various lotteries and ticket lines to daily distribute 1,800 tickets to a Shakespeare performance featuring well-known actors such as Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Sam Waterston.
Of course, the performance is fabulous. The twilight dims as the spotlights brighten, and fireflies hover over our heads. I’m drinking Budweiser out of one of those American flag cans in an attempt to keep me grounded, but I can’t help but be swept away by the lighting, laughter, and language. By the time Prospero proclaims, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” in Act IV, I’m somewhere among the treetops.