Meeting Oprah – Chicago, Illinois USA

Meeting Oprah
Chicago, USA

Obtaining tickets to the Oprah show is notoriously difficult. For years though, Mom has pleaded for these elusive items for her birthday. I decided this year to attempt this mission impossible. After several futile calls to the constantly busy reservations line, I did what any web head would do � I logged onto Oprah.com. On the last minute email reservations page I discovered there were three days of taping available for the following week. All I had to do was convince the Oprah show they should award two tickets to me (This is a show that receives over 800,000 emails a year). I’m still not sure how I managed it, but when my phone rang a few days later on Saturday, I learned I had two tickets for the following Thursday’s taping!

Giddy with the thought of giving Mom this “present”, I held a furtive phone conversation with my dad (co-conspirator and bankroller in this plot), made arrangements with Mom’s best friend at work to cover for her, and consulted with my husband about the prospect of me driving in Chicago (he was less than confident).

That night, I gave Mom the news. I don’t have children but seeing her face light up with exhilaration must feel as rewarding as watching your children discover that pile of presents under the tree Christmas morning. Once some of our excitement subsided, we got down to the details; we’d leave early Wednesday morning and stay until Saturday. After all, when in Chicago, shop the Magnificent Mile, right? We booked a room on Hotwire.com at The Raphael, a block off the Mile, plotted our route on mapquest.com, selected our Oprah outfits, and waited eagerly for Wednesday.

By 8 am Wednesday morning we were on the road for the 450 mile trip. Eight hours later, valet parked and checked in, it was time to hit Bloomingdales and Filene’s Basement. We should have been tired enough to sleep that night, after driving all day, and an evening of shopping, but anticipation of the next day kept us awake far too late, and woke us too early. Resigned to our sleepless condition, we decided we to go ahead to the studio early (first stop � Starbucks!). Seating is first come first serve on the show, and although the official opening time is 11 am, we didn’t know how early the others might arrive.

Mom and I outside the studio
The staff at our hotel had assured us it was definitely within walking distance, so fortified with caffeine and high spirits, we walked for an hour before realizing we had been seriously misinformed. Regretting my inauspicious wardrobe choice of short skirt and heeled sandals on this cold and windy Chicago morning, I flagged a Yellow cab, we hopped in, and watched the cityscape roll swiftly by. We soon arrived at 1058 West Washington, a large, low building in a nondescript west Chicago neighborhood, across from a parking lot and auto repair garage. When we took our place in line at 9am we were pleased to see only 10 people in front of us. We passed the time chatting with the others, taking pictures, and sharing our ticket stories. People were surprised to hear how easily I acquired tickets; another group had spent two consecutive days calling all day before reaching the reservation agent.

The line grew and snaked down the sidewalk, and at 10:30 the Harpo staff began to let us in to go through security. Much like at an airport, we passed through metal detectors, and allowed our belongings to be x-rayed, inspected and in most cases here, confiscated.

Staff members then herded us all upstairs into a waiting room which was soon a cacophony of over 300 wildly excited women talking, giggling and shrieking with laughter. It was an all female audience today, there for a show about girlfriends’ night out. Many of the women languished in line for the three stall women’s room. (Really, Oprah, three stalls?) We outnumbered the seats as well, so most women stood. Oversized photos of Oprah with her various star guests covered the walls. We had plenty of time to marvel at the photos while we waited. Our only other distractions were two vending machines, and an out of order change machine.

Hours later they began to page groups and allowed the Kotex Mafia, Cultured Pearls, Sole Sisters and others into the studio. We were dismayed to see how many were going in ahead of us. All the groups (one comprised of 40 women) were part of the episode and were consequently seated first.

At last ticket holders 1-50 were admitted. With great foresight, Mom had inquired earlier where Oprah would make her entrance. Although the only seats on that aisle were on the back row, we snagged them; we wanted unfettered access to Oprah.

Sitting in the studio I’d seen so many times from my living room seemed illusory, as if I’d somehow stepped inside my television. An array of colors glimmered from the 600 plus lights hanging overhead. Cameras eyed us from every direction: there were behemoth sized versions were steered about by cameramen, suspended mounts glided along overhead (seeming certain to thwack someone at any minute) and handheld mobile devices pointed at us from up close, all serving to remind us that we were being filmed for the viewing pleasure of 20 million people. Dozens of harried producers and workers rushed about, wielding microphones and clipboards. The atmosphere was electric.

Some of the producers finally greeted us and gave us a few guidelines for the show. No reading along from the teleprompter (‘Oprah-aoke’), stand up if you talk, and two minutes for bathroom breaks during commercial.

The energy in the studio grew as everyone anxiously awaited Oprah’s entrance. Giggling nervously, Mom and I arranged ourselves in a way most conducive to shaking Oprah’s hand. We perched precariously, ready to lean over the rail. Then suddenly Mom grabbed my arm, “There she is!” she exclaimed. My grin split my face as I spied Oprah stride through the door. She looked up at Mom, took her hand, then mine. I looked down at her and beamed. It was Oprah, and she was so beautiful! I couldn’t believe how blessed I was to see her in person. She moved quickly down the aisle, and we joined in the nearly hysterical applause and cheering. Delirious with excitement, I began to stomp my feet and in a moment the studio thundered with the stamping feet of over 300 women. I now understood why fans act so ridiculous when they see their favorite rock star.

Even after Oprah motioned for us to sit, and began addressing the camera, it took all of us a while to settle down. I could barely contain my excitement. Neither Mom nor I took our eyes off Oprah. During the first commercial break, which seemed to arrive in no time, Oprah took a seat and laughed about her “ten minute” shoes. She joked that the tall black strappy sandals were too uncomfortable to stand in for more than 10 minutes. Just sitting there chatting with the audience like old friends, she seemed so normal � more like a girlfriend than a world famous millionaire.

The hour blazed by much too quickly. With our best posture and biggest smiles, we craned our necks to study Oprah � her stylish hair, her brilliant diamond earrings, her chic black sheer-sleeved blouse and long black skirt, her very presence. The show marched on with successive highlights about the various girlfriend groups. I found it difficult to pay attention to the video clips, so enthralled I was watching Oprah. It was like my Stonehenge phenomenon. After seeing it so often in pictures and films, it is hard to comprehend when you are finally there in real life. I wanted to fix everything about this experience in my memory like jewels in a safe, to be taken out and examined thoroughly later.

As we watched the show, surprise after surprise awaited us. Following a segment about a cooking club, Oprah announced we would all take home “The Cooking Club Cookbook”. To further our delight, she summoned the tuxedo clad servers, who appeared bearing silver trays of “All-About-The-Chocolate Cake”. I noticed Oprah did not touch hers, perhaps from concern for her svelte new figure, or possibly deterred by visions of chocolate coated teeth. After the next commercial break she presented us with fun slumber party kits courtesy of RedEnvelope.com. Oprah showed us some of the objects in the tin, such as nail polish, massage lotion, and foot soak, then spent the next several minutes unobtrusively attempting to replace the things in their original arrangement.

All too soon the show came to an end and we went directly into “Oprah After the Show,” a program that airs on the Oxygen network. The lighting shifted to a subtly dimmer, more intimate setting and Oprah made herself comfortable. A couple of audience members stood to speak or ask questions, and I settled in, a little more relaxed. This was not to last though. Oprah surprised a lady speaking by asking her to bring her girlfriends down to the stage and have their picture made with her.

What took place next sent the entire studio � crew and audience � into pandemonium. Oprah made the unprecedented decision to allow every group in the audience have a photo made with her. The crowd erupted into cheers. Mom and I looked at each other, dumbfounded. Did that mean us? Were we really going to have our picture made with Oprah? Sure enough, groups began to wending their way down to the stage, while producers struggled to retain control of the rapidly more chaotic situation.

What an incredible opportunity! We were going to meet Oprah Winfrey in person. What should I say to express my profound admiration for her? Disjointed thoughts whirled through my mind. What could I say that was genuine and not simpering, intelligent not pretentious, friendly not gushing? Our turn came, and moving as if in a slow motion dream, I sat next to Oprah on her buttery yellow leather upholstered bench. Mom sat on her left as Oprah was laughing with a producer about what a great idea this was. “It’s a wonderful idea,” I babbled.

“This is my birthday present, coming to see you!” Mom gushed to Oprah. Oprah reached for Mom’s hand and presented her famous smile as she leaned into the camera. I turned my own shining, oversized smile to the camera, unable to believe I was truly sitting right next to Oprah. After the picture was snapped I thanked her effusively. She graciously wished Mom a happy birthday. “Thank you,” I said again, and as we stumbled off the stage I threw yet another thank you over my shoulder.

Mom and I pushed our way through the crowd, feeling intoxicated with delight. “She smells so good! I wonder what kind of perfume she wears?” was all I could utter, as I mentally kicked myself for failing to even do so much as introduce myself.

We left the studio, swept up in a tide of jubilant women. After Mom provided our names, address and descriptions to a producer so we could receive our photos, we collected our bags, coats and gifts, and spilled out onto the sidewalk, spent, overheated, and utterly happy.

From that moment on, no one was spared our Oprah story. No one was safe. Not the cab driver, waitress at Weber’s, or man in the elevator; nor the clerk at Neiman Marcus, lady in our hotel lobby, or fellow shoppers. And when we returned home after one more day packed with shopping (I learned Mom actually can shop till she drops!) no one here was exempt either.

The show was scheduled to air the Monday after we came home, so we had to move quickly. We each called or emailed everyone we knew. I sent a mass email to all friends, family and acquaintances. From the Brown professor my husband and I met in a snowstorm on a closed Wyoming highway last winter to the flight attendant from our flight from Rome last summer, no one escaped the Oprah story. Upon running into an ex-boyfriend I hadn’t seen in six years, my first response was to blurt out, “I went to the Oprah show!” Evidently Oprah’s ability to transform me into a blithering fool is long term.

The fun was not all over though. Watching the show for the first time with my family allowed us to relive our excitement, shrieking with delight each time we spied our faces on the screen. Though we’ve descended from cloud nine back to earth now, the enchantment of our day at Oprah will forever light our eyes and ignite our smiles.

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