"Call me ASAP. Something major just happened and I don't know how I'll survive the next few minutes without telling you."
I got the text from my boyfriend as I was sitting at my desk at the production assistant job I'd been working, pretending to do real work while actually doing a Google image search for "Jennifer Aniston on a camel" (no results, by the way).
I called him and he told me to sit down. A few weeks back, he reminded me, he had written an e-mail to The Oprah Winfrey Show in regard to its call for "enthusiastic fans." Before we started dating, the two of us lived our independent lives around what Oprah episode was currently nestled in our respective DVRs, and ever since we became a couple, the Oprah fascination has only expanded. In fact, what I consider to be our second date was spent watching the very highly anticipated Whoopi Goldberg interview for the first time. We both sobbed, gasped, laughed, and beamed with indescribable joy through the entire hour-long episode.
Somewhere between segment 1 and segment 2 (roughly around the time that Whoopi said, "I thought you were mad at me"), I looked over at Patrick and realized that all my initial suspicions were in fact correct. I was falling in love with this boy. So when the "major" phone call happened and he told me that he'd just received an e-mail from The Oprah Winfrey Show inviting us to Chicago for the taping of two parts of the 25th-season grand finale in which the producers would be surprising Oprah with an ultimate surprise episode at the United Center, I literally almost peed my pants.
Days later, flights had been booked, every possible guest had been imagined, and outfit color schemes had been liberally discussed. On Sunday night we took the red-eye from LAX to Chicago and landed at 5 a.m. We brought along a flip cam and documented every step of the way, from buying the tickets to the conversation we had with our seatmate, Steve. He'd just gone to a book signing of Betty White's and talked about the time he got to be in the same room with Lucille Ball. We bonded over what that feels like to be face-to-face with your icon. and I thought about how funny the universe is -- to put two generations of icon-loving queens next to each other way up in the sky to remind us, yet again, that we're all one and the same. Oprah would've been pleased.
We landed in Chicago and spent a few hours at our hotel showering and drinking coffee before heading over to the United Center to pick up our tickets. A line of middle-aged women stood waiting for cancellation tickets, and we walked right up to the box office and picked up our envelope. Not only did we get a coveted hot pink wristband (indicating that your seats are on the floor instead of in the bleachers), but we also had tickets for section 1, row A. We quickly realized this was a very, very good thing. Picking up the tickets had officially made it real -- up until then I still had a "this can't be happening" voice somewhere in the back of my head. I half expected to show up to the box office and realize it had all been a mistake, and I was fully prepared to be OK with this -- resigned to just knowing that I was breathing the same Chicago air that Oprah was breathing. That, I told myself, could possibly be enough.
But now that we had our wristbands and tickets, there was no denying it -- this was happening.
We woke up bright and early on Tuesday and shopped for outfits. We wanted Oprah colors, both of us with very clear visions in our heads. Patrick bought an orange shirt and blue sweater -- he looked like a male imitation of Oprah on the OWN Billboards that decorated most major cities during the months of January through March. I bought a light gray blazer and wore Patrick's hot pink shirt with a green tie I'd worn on The Joy Behar Show a few months back. I felt slightly guilty for recycling a tie worn to another talk show on such an important day, but I bought a cute new pair of jeans to balance it out.
It really felt like a holiday all day. The atmosphere in Chicago was palpable. So many people from so many parts of the world all coming to the same city to celebrate the same thing.
We arrived at the United Center and quickly got inside. It was madness -- the line for the women's room wrapped around the building, and midway into using the men's room I was shocked when a band of unruly moms and grandmothers barged in and shouted, "The women are taking over!" Good for them, I thought, as I zipped up my fly and scurried out past a lady who looked like Dianne Wiest.
When we walked into the venue it was even more overwhelming. Literally 20,000 people in an arena filled with photos of Oprah. The music was blaring, "Tonight's gonna be a good night." And I believed it. We took our seats and could not believe how close to the stage we were. Section 1 was really section 1 ... like, the first section. We were a few rows in front of Lisa Ling and on the same aisle as Steadman and Gayle. This was no joke.
After a while the show started, and so began what can only be described as one of the most exciting nights of my life. The walls parted and she appeared on the stage ... Oprah. She was dressed in a beautiful floor-length purple gown and had a perfect ponytail. She walked downstage, taking it all in. The entire audience went nuts and I don't think I've ever screamed so much in my life. What followed was celebrity after celebrity. Starting with Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Josh Groban, Patti LaBelle, Beyonce, Diane Sawyer ... the list went on and on and on.
In the weeks leading up to the show Patrick and I were both struck by the response we got anytime we told someone about going which is the inevitable "Maybe you'll get a car! You'll definitely get something!" And I get it ... I get that the thing Oprah might be most famous for is her incredible generosity over the years, but it slowly started to wear on both of us. What Oprah gave us that night was one of the greatest live events of all time, and beyond that, she gave us 25 years of enlightening, positive, amazing, loving, educational, groovy television, and I felt so honored to receive two hours more -- in person. I hope what we remember from The Oprah Winfrey Show is not the cars she gave away, and the trips and the iPads and whatever else. I hope we remember that for 25 years she's taken an hour out of days to encourage the world to live a better life than we may have imagined was possible ... to read books, to be present, to love life, to look within, to love others, and to be yourself.
Tuesday night at the United Center was all about honoring that and giving her love and taking her love and celebrating her love. Oprah once said on Piers Morgan that she was "the love brand," and that was as apparent as ever as we sat in the audience last week cheering along with thousands and thousands of others who had been as moved and affected as I was.
I feel so grateful to have been a part of it, and so grateful I got to share it with someone I love as much as Patrick, and most important, how cool is it that we all got to be around for some of the past 25 years for one of the most unusual, inspirational, loving people to be given such an international platform to help us be our best selves.
Outside the Oprah Store (which Patrick and I visited Wednesday and discovered that they don't really have much men's clothing -- not complaining here, just suggesting to the Oprah family, how about a nice blue men's pullover?) there's a giant sign that says "Feel the love." That's exactly what we did Tuesday, and I think that's exactly what Oprah's audience has been doing for the past 25 years. So thanks, Oprah. From all of us.