While the majority of America was watching the Best President ever deliver the most eloquent State of the Union address ever, I decided to go to New York and see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway instead. Bruce could absolutely say it was the best two hours of Broadway ever. But, it’s really not his way as he tends be humble as to his success and impact on the world.
While Bruce was the best, a startling (and annoying) situation took place at the show that I had to share since I believe it is a commentary on where we are in America. I ended up sitting some ten yards away from Bruce and the stage, which for me is the equivalent of sitting that close to the Pope. And as a bonus, I was there with a friend who I was with me for my first Springsteen show and my son. As Bruce would say, it was magic. Just like everyone else in the theater, I turned off my phone and unplugged into a rare opportunity to forget about it all and fall back into a world of nostalgia.
Until, that is, the fellow next to me dressed in a suit decided that he needed to read emails on his Apple Watch. My initial reaction was, Really? Here? Now? I let the first time pass because, I thought, maybe there was a problem at home. The second time, I start thinking about how to handle the situation if it occurred again. In the equivalent of a holy place for me and others there, the watch gave off a glow in the dark that was distracting. But more importantly, Bruce could see the violation of trust by this rude act. I was embarrassed for Bruce!
As a diehard Bruce fan, I could not understand why this man would think looking at emails on a watch were more important than the legend who was telling his story within spitting distance of our seats. And that legend was so close!
And then this man in a suit took a look for the third time.
Without hesitation, I said to him, “ Do you really need to be doing that?” He was stunned, turned it off, and did not try again for the remainder of the performance. Obviously, whatever he was following on his wrist was not that important. With that criteria, I know he was not getting updates on the epic that was the State of the Union.
I realize I might seem petty. But the ordeal really made me think about what’s going on in public life: What makes a person have such disregard for the people next to him who want to enjoy a show? Why would someone disrespect an artist whose accomplishments are legendary? Does he believe the fact he paid good money to be there give him the right? Or do we just live in a world where narcissism is celebrated and we have to stay glued to communication devices?
A part of me believes this is the environment Donald Trump has created. Or maybe it’s the environment that created Trump. Regardless, something has given Americans the green light to be selfish and arrogant. It was unfathomable to me that anyone in that theater would be thinking about anything but the joy they were experiencing seeing Springsteen in this setting. The buzz before he walked on stage was so palpable with anticipation that I could not believe anyone would violate the sacredness of the moment….but this guy did.
When the show was over and the lights came on, I apologized to the man but with the proviso that his reading was distracting and that is why I said what I did. I expected him to at least acknowledge that he may have been wrong or was dealing with a crisis situation. But no, he just stared at me and led his wife out of the theater as quickly as possible. I was startled by the lack of civility during such a shared experience of looking for the best in our fellow man.
To be clear, I have no way of knowing where this man was a Trump voter or even a supporter. But he proved to me that this president, with his boorishness and disrespectful behavior, still influences how everyone acts in this country, and I am concerned we are not coming back. Me, I like to think Bruce Springsteen has influenced more Americans and if more people take his lesson, then we do have a chance to come back.
Larry Ceisler is a Pennsylvania-based public affairs executive. If you’d like to reach him, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.