Crowds gather at Staples Center to pay tribute

It takes a village to mourn a superstar.

On Tuesday morning, downtown Los Angeles was transformed into a humming mini-economy dedicated to the memory of Michael Jackson.

While the newfound nation was something of a police state, with helicopters buzzing overhead and packs of officers stationed along Figueroa Ave., the throngs of ticket holders, makeshift T-shirt vendors and wishful thinkers created an atmosphere that was almost friendly.

“We’re a little behind schedule for family considerations, but here we’re locked and loaded,” said an LAPD officer outside L.A. Live’s Club Nokia.

“It was even a dream driving down here. All week we told people to stay away if they didn’t have a ticket and it looks like they paid attention.”

Not everyone did, of course. A pale and heavily mascaraed young woman stood at the corner of Olympic and Figueroa, clutching a hand-lettered sign that read: “Any spare ticket? Passionate fan from Japan.”

Nearby was ticket-holder Paulette Harutnian, who scanned the crowds in hopes of finding another for her sister, Arlette. Sounds like the delusions of a pipe dreamer – except that’s how Paulette got her own access.

“I told this woman that we’d been out here since 4 am and she just handed this to me,” she said. “I wish I had a chance to thank her but she just went right on.”

Another Michael Jackson fan, Lynne Champion, said she’d flown here from Australia without a ticket but now had one in hand, thanks to $700 and a former boyfriend. “I used to date an agent and he knew someone,” she said.

Champion, who had outfitted herself in a Jackson-inspired black-and-white ensemble with a silver-sequin armband, said most of her friends thought she was nuts for making the trip. “I used all my miles,” she said in between poses for media photographers. “I went to Neverland. I did six interviews. I’ve been on Yahoo! Entertainment. I own six fashion boutiques in Australia and I’m going to design a Michael Jackson line of clothing.”

First up, she said, would be a shirt with a sequined armband. She planned to spend Wednesday researching Michael Jackson T-shirts.

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