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To Zealots, Being First Does Matter.

Times Staff Writer

They pride themselves on being first.

For some, it is the thrill of being at opening night. For others, it’s the lead position in the ticket line to get there. Whatever the motivation, there is a certain number among us who would go to many lengths to say they were first to screen a movie premiere, or were there at a one-time-only concert, sold-out play or world championship game.

Understand that these “firsts” don’t take their business lightly. And being first to just any event generally won’t do. The thrill lies in “being first to an event in history"--as “firsts” like to say--those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can be treasured for years to come: “The Who” concert, the “Batman” premiere, “Phantom of the Opera,” Lakers or Dodgers Championship finals.

“It is the concept of being a part of something very large and very special,” explains Cory Haibloom, 31, who was eighth in line at the “Batman” premiere in Westwood.

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“You feel like a part of the celebration,” says Tyrone Williams, 29, who went to the first two Lakers championship games this year and all of last year’s championship series.

But why?

“Part of the excitement comes from when you stand in the lines,” says Williams, who adds that if he doesn’t get to the line in time to be one of the first 10 or 20, he passes. The excitement “builds from there until you see the game. Standing in line is like a kind of karma,” he adds. “Everyone is in the same mood. It makes you feel like a part of the team. You just don’t get that from TV.”

Richard Baltin, 32, has the same feeling about movie premieres. “Opening-day crowds are usually more excited, more fun. The people are true fans, just like you are. The audience is oftentimes as animated as the screen itself,” says Baltin, who was another first-in-line at the “Batman” premiere.

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University of Southern California psychologist Chaytor Mason has a slightly more complex explanation for what motivates people to stand days in line for an event.

He contends that “people are likely to wait in lines to be first because (there) they find others with similar interests ready to go the extra mile as well. Or there may be resentment for having to be lined up for things. Consequently,” he explains, “they will stand up eight hours to be first in line so they won’t have to stand in the line.

“Even deeper . . . is the emotional aspect,” Mason says. Sometimes, he notes, “people who feel in some way left out in life . . . have the need to experience something first to remedy” that.

A Free Movie

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But, then again, there are more practical reasons. “Seeing the movie for free,” says Baltin, is one of them.

“You simply have to keep in touch with what’s going on, when, where and what studios are previewing the upcoming movies,” says Baltin, a seasoned professional who’s already screened this summer’s top 10 movies, free of charge. To do that, “It’s very important to network with people,” he explains. “It takes a little effort, but compared to the money I would pay to get into these movies with a date, it’s worth it.” He agrees it might be apt to compare “firsts” to coupon clippers--people who are willing to spend considerable time keeping up with the coupon paper-chase to save a comparative few pennies.

Indeed, it seems that time--and not money--is what “firsts” are willing to sacrifice. They are willing to spend countless hours, sometimes days, to achieve their goals.

Baltin admits, “It takes a certain type of person to stand in a line for eight days,” referring to his friend Jeff’s weeklong camp-out at the Egyptian Theatre in May, 1983, for the opening of the movie “Return of the Jedi.”

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A Kindred Spirit

It was at “Jedi” that Richard’s roommate, Cory Haibloom, met Jeff Krispow, 25, then a Cal State Northridge student. They have been lining up together ever since, often, they admit, placing first-string status ahead of jobs and education.

“I took school off” the week “Jedi” came out, says Krispow, who only had a few weeks then before finals began. “It was worth the risk,” he adds.

Baltin and others kid that Krispow is to blame for the eight-day line at the “Jedi” box office, complaining that he let his paranoia get the best of him.

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He started eight days ahead of show time, Krispow says, because “I wanted to be ahead of the woman who was first in line for ‘Empire.’ She stood out five days, and I was sure she would show,” Krispow said.

“Concerts are a little different” than movie premieres, acknowledges John Ryan, 22, who was first in line at Ticketron in the Fallbrook Mall for the fall 1987 Pink Floyd concert.

“I waited in line for a day and a half. But I got the most incredible seats . . . the 14th row back. I mean if I sneezed I probably would have gotten David Gilmour right in the face.

“You could look at it as time served versus the extra 40 or 100 dollars that I would have spent to get those kind of seats from a scalper,” he adds.

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Laker fan Williams agrees, saying, “they expect you to pay $400 more than the tickets are worth.” To save money, he says, “I’ll . . . do anything to make sure I’m one of the first in line.”

There are other reasons for being first.

Like the “critic-factor,” explains Baltin. “Critics like Rex Reed, who I personally like very much, give three-fourths of the story plot away in their reviews. It takes the suspense out of the picture. It’s better to beat them to the picture just to ensure the surprise.”

Theater “firsts” are even more meticulous.

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“Style is very important to the theatergoer,” says Noah Alexander, who was one of the first in line March 20 at the Ahmanson box office for tickets to “Phantom of the Opera.”

Celebrity Types

“The type of people that you are likely to see when you get tickets to a Saturday night performance are celebrities,” the fashion designer explains. “You get to see what they are wearing . . . and hear what they talk about.”

Is there a limit to the steps these fans are willing to take to be first?

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Alexander says “yes,” but “I’m willing to defend my first place in line.”

He did that during his wait for “Phantom” tickets when, he says, a large group of people, sidestepping security guards and Ahmanson Theatre representatives, shoved their way to the front of the line through those who had been waiting patiently for hours. Alexander, who said he and others suspected the interlopers had been sent by ticket brokers and scalpers, found it necessary “to raise my voice and threaten management to let them know that it is their responsibility to keep things orderly.” It was something, says the New York City native, that would never have happened on Broadway.

“I’m a believer in lines,” he continues, “because I feel genuinely when the box office opens, it’s first-come first-served. I am making an investment in my time.”

It paid off two years ago when he lined up for tickets to “Les Miserables” at the Shubert Theatre. He was first in line at the box office, which got him four second-row orchestra tickets.

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About being first “you’re talking about behavior patterns and styles,” says Irene Goldenberg, a research psychiatrist at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. “I think that in some ways people focus around certain activities. It gives them . . . an organization for life.”

It also seems to be a sense of being in control that fuels the compulsion to be first. Some pride themselves on beating the odds, and in most cases that means beating the scalpers. And, they say, agencies like Ticket Masters often distribute tickets randomly, giving those first in line little, if any, priority.

Can the desire to be first become a full-blown obsession?

Says Mason: “Maybe, but on the other hand, it can be very rewarding. It goes back to the conviviality of meeting the same people at a similar activity . . . making it a social gathering. Then the people who like to be first look forward to meeting one another again.”

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Ryan remembers his first “first” in 1977 when he was 10 years old and walked into the first showing of “Star Wars.” “I wondered to myself, ‘Why on earth are all of these people out here?’ I guess that’s where my compulsion started.”


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