Early in our relationship, while we were dating, a journalist approached and asked if he could write an article about us in the Washington Post.  So we were featured 20 years ago on April 30, 1998  And the article goes…

They swear they can spot each other anywhere.

Even from inside a subway car at Metro Center, Kia can look out over the teeming crowd and spot Preston. She spots him not because he stands about 6 feet 4 but because of his hair – thick, dark brown and puffing out over his shoulders tonight, not the cornrows he sometimes wears.

Preston is running late. He spots Kia from the platform. He sees she’s wearing the brown-and-white striped dress he bought her. It fits kind of tight. He likes that. He presses with the crowd onto the same car, makes his way over and hugs her.

Pre-concert electricity is in the air. It travels through this trainload of urban and suburban blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos – through an instant universe of like-minded music fans acting on their pop-cult devotions. Everyone has spent at least $43 for a ticket to see the Puff Daddy and the World Tour concert with not only Puff Daddy, Mase, Lil’ Kim and other members of his act but also Dru Hill and Busta Rhymes at MCI Center, one stop away at Gallery Place.

Preston and Kia are used to meeting on the Metro. Tonight, she took the Red Line from Shady Grove, where she lives. He took the Orange Line from New Carrollton. This Sunday night is a rare and extra-special night. He’s finished working a nine-hour day. She’s done studying for her college courses.

They are going to the show.

Preston has been riding the Metro by himself and with friends since he was about 12 or 13. His dad, Walter, works as a mechanic for Metro, so he felt comfortable on the trains, grew comfortable with the New Carrollton station as his regular point of embarkation for adventure. He felt they were his trains. He would ride with buddies around town, go to the zoo, later take dates downtown to clubs.

“I stay on the Metro,” says James matter-of-fact. “And if you can’t get there on the train, that just creates a problem, now, doesn’t it?”

The Show

Preston James can spot the Baltimore women in the crowd for the Puff Daddy show. They have what he calls “high hair,” upswept elaborately atop their heads. In general, he notices “a lot of little freaky outfits.” Like one girl has on a black blouse so sheer, it looks like she’s just wearing a bra. Kia notices too and notices Preston James noticing. In a whirl of mini-mini skirts, brazen stares, artful poses and a blend of soaps and perfumes, concert mating rituals have begun. The hunt for phone numbers is on. All of which means very little to Preston and Kia because they are an actual hand-holding couple.

They met last year at marching band practice at Bowie State University and that’s where she first noticed his hair. People tell Preston he looks like a member of the rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Out of the Metro, a line has formed around the block because security officers are scanning everyone with hand-held metal detectors, searching women’s purses and asking baseball-cap-wearing men to remove them until they pass security check.

This doesn’t bother Preston and Kia. They’re used to it. Every weekend at go-go clubs in Northeast Washington – Taj Maehall, Ice Box, Deno’s Club – they submit to the search, including removing their shoes and standing in their stocking feet on a dirty floor.

“It doesn’t annoy me,” Preston says. “I know how young people are. They act wild.”

When they walk into the arena, it is only slowly filling up. James sees a warm-up act onstage, two rappers in bathrobes.

“Who are these fools?” he says out loud.

Then comes the real show: Preston doesn’t care much for the love men, Dru Hill, but he gets to his feet for Busta Rhymes, who bursts out of smoke onto a stage decorated with a huge skull face.

Hit you with no delayin’, so what you sayin’, yo?

Silly with your ice grilly, what the dealio?

When I be up on the mike I do my duty-yo

Wildin’ in the club or up in the studio . . .

Or something like that.

“That boy is crazy,” Preston says. He and Kia stay on their feet, half dancing.

After nearly four hours, the last pyrotechnics are offered. There is no roar for more, for an encore. If Preston were alone, he would sprint to the exit by jumping over rows of seats, passing the throng clogged on the stairs. But he says he has to be a gentleman and waits patiently with his date.

The crowd is an energetic mix of after-show high, agitation and instant judgment about whether it was worth $45.

The Ride Home

In minutes, MCI Center is emptied and the subway cars are filling with the same people who filled them hours before.

The crowd rushes the rear cars of a Red Line train. But Preston, Mr. Metro, whisks himself and Kia up the platform to a nearly empty car. They both plop down in their seats for the ride back to Shady Grove.

She enjoyed the night a little more than he did. She says, “I think it was a good show.”

“It was decent,” he says of the concert. “That Busta is crazy.”

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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