There was some controversy over where President Joe Biden and the First Lady were seated at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. I believe they were 14 rows from the front. And many politicians, pundits, court watchers and regular folks took this as some type of slight to a sitting American president.
At least, they were in the building.
And please understand I don’t know the first thing about international protocol in such matters. Seeing how long Queen Elizabeth reigned, you’d figure there was not a lot of up-to-date material on exactly who ought to sit where. And isn’t there some kind of saying, “When in England...”
I do know something about pertinent and relative seating arrangements.
I was seven years old in 1954. Queen Elizabeth had been on the throne for one scant year. And unbeknownst to her I was on my way to St. Louis to a baseball game.
I was too young to be an official Little League player. The fathers would usually end the season by taking most all the kids to a Cardinals’ games. Dad drove our car with Leon and a bunch of his teammates inside. I tagged along...almost like I belonged.
The seats were down the left field line in old Sportsman Park. In row 63...in the upper deck! It is to this day the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. The Cardinals were bigger than life! I remember watching Stan Musial, Wally Moon, Peanuts Lowery, Ray Jablonski...heroes all.
Listen, I would have killed somebody to get downstairs in the 14th row!
It was the same my senior year in high school when Skip Trevathan and I drove to Nashville to see Peter, Paul and Mary. I don’t remember how we got tickets to one of the hottest folk groups of the day. And it was a semi-miracle that we found the huge downtown auditorium.
The sound system was great. We could hear every word plain as day. And they sang hit after hit. It was an exceptionable couple of hours. But I’m telling you with my hand up, we were so far up in the nose bleed section I couldn’t tell Peter from Mary.
I’ve talked for years about going to see in person the famous folk group. But the truth is, I kinda almost nearly saw them...
The 14th row may not be as bad as some folks make it out to be.
And there is another side of this coin. In 1964 I took my favorite girl to a concert at Murray State University up in Kentucky. We saw the New Christy Minstrels. They had songs like “Green, Green”, “Walk Right In” and “Tell It on the Mountain” and the members of the group included Randy Sparks, Barry McGuire and Kenny Rogers.
We were about 50 rows back. Holding hands! I didn’t care where the seats were, just as long as they were together. I couldn’t tell you one song they sang that night. I’m not sure if Randy and Kenny were there at all. And I thought the seating arrangements were absolutely perfect!
Sometimes it’s not the occasion or the venue...
And there is still another side to this thing. I was sitting in the bleachers at the old basketball gym at Bethel College watching a Bo Diddley concert when the fight broke out. I could see it all from “up high.” When the pushing and shoving got serious, I realized fairly quickly there could be some disadvantages to being too close to the front!
I actually had a front row seat one summer at the world-famous Grand Ole Opry. It looked good and you might think I was living large. But you couldn’t really see all the entertainers on either side of the center mike. And when Loretta Lynn came out to sing 49 people rushed down to stand right in front of me and take her picture.
I’d a’been much better off back in row 14!
I was assigned a front row seat in Professor Abbo Martin’s English literature class. When he got tired of reading John Milton poems, he just handed me the book and motioned for me to “continue.” When he wanted to know the name of some inconsequential bard in the third act of Shakespeare’s “Winter Tale” he called on me first. Every time!
It got to be excruciating. And when he realized I was a bit uncomfortable being the guinea pig every day, he quoted some more Shakespeare, “Mr. Colbert that front row seat can be ‘much ado about nothing!’”
And maybe we’ve overblown the slight, or unintended slight, or the imaginary slight, to our president. I know he would have been a heap safer at the Bo Diddley concert at Bethel if he had been a little further back than 14 rows...