Daydream believers

The two preteens woke just after dawn to head to the Mall of America to see their heartthrob of the moment, Zak Efron, who was in town Monday to hype his new film “Charlie St. Cloud.” The girls were armed with signed photos of themselves claiming status as “your biggest fans,” their e-mail addresses and a rules sheet from the Mall which included information about obtaining wristbands, how to behave when standing in line, and:

— “You will be provided a ‘Charlie St. Cloud’ movie poster for the autograph signing. No other items will be signed. One autograph per person.”

— “Each person in your party must be present to receive a wristband. Wristbands are non-transferable. People wearing wristbands that have been tampered (sic) or altered will not be allowed through the autograph line.
No exceptions.”

— “No personalization.”

— “No photos will be taken on stage. All cameras and cell phones are to be put away once you reach the stage stairs.”

— “If you choose to leave for an extended period of time, you must go to the end of the line when you return.”

The girls did their time at the Mall, standing for eight hours with 7,000 other screaming girls. They were not among the chosen few (a few hundred, actually) who got autographs and hugs from the “High School Musical” star, and came away “hot, tired and disappointed.” Which didn’t prevent them from watching cell phone videos of the event into the wee hours Monday night.

Me, I was the cabbie. As the drama unfolded in the back seat to and from the megamall, I couldn’t help but be taken back to the preteens’ age, when I met my songwriting hero of the moment, John Denver, at the downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s eighth floor auditorium with a couple hundred other fans in 1972. I went with my older sister and our neighbor, Anne Lynch, who memorably told Denver she didn’t want an autograph, but instead wanted him to spend their time together resting his signing hand.

Which he did, flexing it under the table as they chatted. I was up next. He said to me, one of the few boys in the room, “Howdy pardner.” We made small talk, I told him I loved his record “Poems, Prayers, and Promises,” which he met with a “far out” and a handshake, and an autograph I lost track of years ago.

As fate would have it, Efron’s Mall of America appearance coincides with the Minnesota History Center’s new exhibit, “The Beatles: One Night In The Heartland,” which commemorates the Fab Four’s only appearance in Minnesota, at Met Stadium in 1965. The core of the exhibit is the work of then 17-year-old photographer Bill Carlson, who shot more than 40 images of the band and its fans at a “concert that didn’t sell out because promoters chose not to advertise fearing unruly crowds.”

The Beatles concert took place 45 years ago on the very same spot where Zak Efron stood briefly Monday afternoon, and as I drove the preteens home, I couldn’t help but think that something crucial has been lost along the way.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.