Working at Staples Center as an usher had its perks at times, especially when I found myself at an important event that I wouldn’t have been able to get into otherwise, even if I had the money to pay.

Surprisingly, it was not always fun and games. Michael Jackson’s funeral is a case in point. The enormity of the occasion, the media coverage and the tense moments could not have been measured. The mood of the ushering staff was very somber and withdrawn as we got dressed in the locker room. No one was joking or laughing, as we normally did, and during the lineup all the supervisors were very stoical in their demeanor.

We were told not to take any pictures and definitely not take any of the programs and souvenirs or we would face termination.

I had worked very intense Lakers playoff games as well as Kings hockey games that went into overtime, sold-out concerts, and championship boxing matches, but the Jackson funeral was one of the hardest events I had ever worked.

The mood inside the building was thick with sadness. You could have heard a pin drop in the huge arena that seats about 18,000 usually rabid fans. It had never been that quiet inside the building so full of people. It seemed everyone had tears in their eyes, including me. Most of us were still in shock at the sudden passing of the King of Pop, but to actually be at his funeral was surreal.

Though I was a Michael Jackson fan, I had to put my feelings aside in order to assist the guests who were sitting in my section, and that was very difficult. People would ask me where the restrooms were, and all I could do was whisper and point. I functioned pretty well under the circumstances, but other ushers had requested to work the doors because they could not stand to watch, and preferred not to see the funeral. This was more than just an event. It was a moment in history, and even as an usher I was a part of it.

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Working an L.A. King’s hockey game was an instance of having fun while freezing. Most hockey fans have a high tolerance for cold, and they come to the game wearing shorts and T-shirts. You can tell fans who are at their first hockey game, because they keep repeating the same words, “It’s cold in here!”

It’s imperative that an usher be prepared mentally and has additional layers on for the event. Most ushers wear long-johns, turtlenecks, several long-sleeve shirts–even pajamas–underneath their uniforms to protect against the cold.

The coldest part of the evening, in my opinion is the hour prior to the game, as we would stand at our posts, waiting for warm bodies to enter the arena. You almost wanted to grab them and hug them for their heat. Once the fans arrive and fill up the place, the cold is less of an issue.

The Los Angeles Sparks is one of those events I can take my entire family to. I love to watch basketball, and these games are often very intense and competitive. The Sparks have a rich history and a winning tradition, and they play at a very high level. The good thing is the doors usually open at 6 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. game, and you can use that time to take pictures and watch the shoot-around, eat or simply enjoy the scenery. If you want to experience the atmosphere of a Lakers game without the high cost–and, of course, the thunderous dunks–the L.A. Sparks game is the next best thing.

The best part of working at the Staples Center is the playoffs. There are awesome games played during the regular season, but the playoffs bring out the best in everyone–except the fans. I have seen fans with fake tickets, fans with tickets that had the wrong date, fans with upper-level tickets that they “thought” were on the floor, fans with split tickets who wanted to sit together, fans who offered me things to sit in my section, and fans who got upset and had to be escorted out of the arena by security.

As an usher during the playoffs you have to be mindful that anything can and will happen. You have to realize that fans will do just about anything to sit in a better section, and go to any lengths to see the game. During the playoffs everything is intensified–the price of the tickets, the anxiety of the fans, the amount of liquor consumed, the number of fans getting arrested, the security detail, the risk of a threat, and even how the ushers prepare for the event. The way an usher maintains his/her section can make the difference in a chaotically calm night and a chaotically miserable night. What I learned to do was look at a playoff game as just another basketball game, and that made it easier mentally. I realized the enormity of the moment, but I simplified it by making sure that I kept a level head at all times in order to get through the night.

I remember seeing Halle Berry walking down my aisle, and I got a case of the googly eyes. It’s not every day that you see the woman of your dreams walking down the stairs toward you, so I braced myself for the romantic encounter.

I said “hello.” She smiled and asked me, “Do you know where this section is?” I was in section PR3, and her seat was in section PR5. I began to explain to her how she could get there, but in the name of customer service, I abandoned my aisle and walked her to PR5, risking a write-up or disciplinary action. I didn’t get caught, and I wouldn’t have cared if I had been. That was Halle Berry. She was pleased with my customer service, and I was pleased being able to assist her. As far as great perks go, I can highlight that night as one.

It’s a shame that Lakers games have so many people who couldn’t give a rat’s behind about the game. Many of them strike me as pompous, arrogant jack-o-lanterns who have money but have momentarily run out of things to buy, so they wind up at the Staples Center on a Friday night.
I get some of the most absurd comments from ticket-holders, such as “You must love your job, don’t you?”

Every time a Lakers fan said something like that, my response was: “No, I love my son, not this job.” Don’t get me wrong, I was happy and grateful to be employed, but there was no love lost on the position.

Or some say things like, “Wow, you get to stand here and watch the game for free?”

Of course, that was all I did during games. I guess they didn’t see me checking tickets, ensuring that guests got in their proper seats, cleaning up spilled beer on the stairs, having guests wait for a break in the action before proceeding back to their seats, keeping one side of the aisle clear for food-servers, giving directions, watching for people with illegal recording devices, calming down guests who had too much to drink, all this as I caught a glimpse of the game out of the corner of my eye.

I worked the Premier Level, which is also known as the VIP section, or the purple seats. Things don’t settle down at a Lakers game until the end of the third quarter, and on some levels, like the floor, it’s a madhouse the entire evening.

I’ve even had fans tell me that they wanted to trade places with me, which always struck me as completely idiotic. Why would I have given up my $9-an-hour job with such great perks to do what they do?

Hendrick Johnson is no longer employed at the Staples Center. He has taken his talents to Torrance Unified School District.