There were at least 20 black folks camped outside of the HMV on Walnut Street on that cool September night in 1998. Behind them in line were a motley crew of pretty much all other races and ethnicities, but it was clear that they had been there an awfully long time, and they were ready to go the distance. As the clock crept onward towards midnight the chill in the air grew more distinct and the shifting of the people more pronounced. You see, they were waiting for the dawning of a new day at midnight, when the store would open for business and they could get their mitts on the new Jay-Z record.
The $20 dollar bill burned a hole in my pocket as I stood there three people from the end of the line, content in my position, knowing that a few extra minutes weren’t going to kill me. After all, the last subway train of the night didn’t come through center city until 1:28, so I had more than enough time to purchase my CD and get back to Market Street. I drew my coat tighter around my thin frame, collar flipped up to deflect the breeze, and listened to others around me who had come with friends.
And I didn’t even care about Jay-Z back then. At the time I was still all about West Coast gangsta rap, even though by all accounts it was old and stale by then. Oh, and Oasis. In fact, those boys from the UK were even playing in my headphones, in the background, as the clock finally hit 12 and the line began to move forward. The black folks disappeared into the store in a cacophony of sound, the mad dash of feet and riotous sounds of shouting as each one found the display (which was conveniently located at the front of the HMV) and grabbed their own copy of Hard Knock Life.
When it was my turn I slid inside and to the right, past the swath of bodies, past the larger than life display, and even past the small group of people just milling about near the new release wall. Because I wasn’t there for Jigga, even though I, too, am of dark skin color. And I didn’t care about the new Soul Coughing record, or A Tribe Called Quest, or even the dynamic PJ Harvey. They were all spread out across that new release wall, but down near the bottom was what I coveted, and I reached eagerly for it, the only one in the store who seemed to even know it was there.
All summer I had been waiting for Sheryl Crow, needing new music from her like a drug. Just a month before that midnight rendezvous I heard My Favorite Mistake and fell in love. I promised myself I would camp out for the first time ever to get the entire album before anyone else. HMV didn’t do those midnight events that often either, so I had Jay-Z to thank for it, even though I wasn’t at all interested in that opus at the time (I love it now).
Then I got into another long line, this time with my prize in hand, staring at the song list on the back and sighing to myself. It was almost as good as my birthday, that trip to HMV to wait for Miss Crow. Almost. I paid for it and was out of the store by 12:30 with time to spare before the subway passed me by. I ripped open the packaging and placed the disc gingerly into my discman, turned up the volume, and lost myself in the music as I waited for the train.