The dark side of fandom

My wife and I have been celebrating our anniversary with a rare overseas trip, to the UK. While we're on a fairly tight budget here, we did manage to snag tickets our first night to see Coriolanus, a live Shakespeare production starring Tom Hiddleston.

We'd heard that Tom sometimes came out to sign autographs after the show, (and my wife was interested in this possibility) so we joined the "queue" outside the theater afterward. Somebody came out after a few minutes and said "sorry, no Tom tonight," so we all shrugged and left. Too bad.

Fast forward to a week-and-a-half later, after a trip out to Lyme Regis for ammonite fossil hunting (which, just like our last ammonite fossil hunting expedition in Montana, my wife was far better at it than I was. She found all the best ammonites.) . . . uh, lost my place . . . we're back from Lyme Regis, and we had another couple nights around London. And my wife said "couldn't we go back to the theater around the time the show gets out, and try again for an autograph?"

Sure, why not? I mean yeah it was pouring rain, but it would be pretty cool to get an autograph, so yeah, let's go stand in line in the rain.

Well we were the first ones outside the theater, but we weren't the only ones with the idea, and after a few minutes a pretty good queue had formed. We were all orderly and having pleasant conversations with each other for a few minutes. The girl in line behind us was from Singapore, studying in Australia and vacationing in the UK for Aussie-summer break.

And then "they" started arriving.

New people started showing up and bypassing our (quite clear) queue. First two, then four, then several dozen, all sidestepping the lines and moving in on the doors to the theater, pressing closer and closer, jockeying for the closest position. Some of them had these weird wide-eyed smiles on their faces, like all the time, smiles so wide you could see nearly every one of their teeth at once. Closer, closer, closer, pressing in on all sides, dozens of them, all smiling, all cameras ready.

Then the play actually got out, and people (hundreds?) needed to get out of these doors. And the smilers weren't moving. A few elderly playgoers who needed access to the (fully obstructed) ramp actually started hitting the fans with their canes, just to be able to physically pass by. And as soon as they passed, the fans swarmed back right into the gap behind them, pressed even closer than before.

And the crowd kept growing. And pressing. And my wife whispered to me (the "orderly" queue was now completely pinned against the building by the growing mob of smilers) that she was kind of nervous. My wife is never nervous, or at least not nervous before I get there first. She finds the fossils, I get worried, that's how our marriage works. But the crowd was thick, and the smiles unblinking, and it really did feel like we were one Hiddleston-nipple away from somebody getting trampled to death.

A representative from the theater forced his way out the front door. He seemed genuinely afraid, I exaggerate not. And as he addressed the crowd, my wife and I realized he must have addressed this exact same crowd many times before. While all we got two weeks ago was a "sorry, no Tom tonight," this plea was earnest. "PLEASE go home! Please don't try to find the other exits to the building! Tom will not come out until you've all dispersed! Please don't go around back! Please don't try to find his car! Please don't harass the other actors trying to get to their cars, I've told you this night after night, please, please, this is the end of the evening, please leave!"

(He was slightly nicer than that. A little more beating-around-the-bush. But he really did sound scared, or at least nervous, as he said it.)

It was creepy. The whole episode was downright scary. The smilers actually never stopped smiling, even as they dispersed (presumably to surround the other exits to the building, as they apparently did every night before.) A few of them moved in around the theater rep as my wife and I slipped through the dispersing crowd, I think to give him personal messages for Tom. Or gifts.

I think that if Tom Hiddleston had actually come outside, somebody might have died. I might have died.

Fandom, man.