Vanessa Rodriguez didn't expect to spend her day off mourning the King of Pop.

Hesperia resident Rodriguez, 21, full-time student at Victor Valley College -- she's hoping to get into the school's nursing program -- and bank teller was going to spend Tuesday at Raging Waters in San Dimas.

Then her friend called to tell her that they were two in 18,000: They had won a pair of the 9,000 pairs of tickets to the Michael Jackson memorial and concert at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on July 7.

"It was actually her mom that got tickets. She did it by chance, to see if she could do it," Rodriguez said Friday. "She just handed them to us."

Rodriguez has been a fan since at least 1991.

"As long as I can remember, actually," she said. "The first one I remember really big was 'Black or White,'" the first single off of Jackson's Dangerous album. "I just like that everybody can listen to him and not complain about who has control of the radio."

The trip from Hesperia to the memorial was an epic undertaking.

"I got up around 4:45. We left around 6:30," Rodriguez said. "I was expecting it to be really crazy, but it was actually really organized. It was a really nice memorial. ... The only thing that was disorganized was the parking."

They ended up three blocks from the Staples Center -- a long enough distance to let the girls browse at the various vendors selling unlicensed Michael Jackson t-shirts. Rodridguez ended up buying two.

But it was the main event that occupied most of the day, as they had a front row seat -- their entire section had their assigned seating moved closer to the stage than where they had started -- to a parade of celebrities honoring the late entertainer.

"The part that got me the most was when his daughter [Paris] spoke," Rodriguez said. "But just being there, and knowing all of the people who were speaking ... you got to see Michael Jackson as a person and not as a celebrity."

The audience was a mix of hardcore fans and simple spectators.

"My friend I went with, she wasn't a big fan ... but then there were a group of ladies sitting next to her, crying," Rodriguez said, "As if it was there father that passed away."

The pair got back to the High Desert after 4, 12 hours after Rodriguez had gotten up to prepare for the memorial.

"I don't think you'll be able to experience something like that passing" again, she said. "I don't think there will be anybody who affects people as much as he did."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.