Joe Brooks hoped all his life for a chance to meet Bruce Springsteen, and when that moment actually arrived on Thursday, he leaned close and said:

Nothing.

He couldn't get the words out. It was too emotional.

And then it was over, and the next fan was being ushered onto the riser for their chance.

Karen Fox Noonan told Springsteen, "You really do have the diamond hard look of a cobra," referencing a line from "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City."

He laughed.

An emotional Stacie Plank of Honeybrook, PA tries to collect herself after meeting Bruce Springsteen. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Stacie Plank said to him, "Thank you for being my hero," then broke down as she stepped away, overcome by the enormity of the moment.

Such was the series of small, intimate-for-a-second interactions as Springsteen visited the Free Library for a meet-and-greet with 1,200 ticketed fans.

They got an autographed copy of his new autobiography, a chance to have their photo taken with him, and a moment and to shake his hand or say a quick word.

Springsteen, in black leather jacket and black jeans, had words for them too.

"Be strong," he told Pearl Lorenz, 45, who is battling cancer.

"Thank you," she answered.

To one man he said, "Thanks for coming out," as if it was the fan who was doing Bruce a favor.

Pearl and Karl Lorenz after meeting Bruce Springsteen during his "On The Run" book tour at the Free Library.

For most fans, it was over in six seconds. And that was enough. Plenty, in fact.

10 fan moments from Bruce Springsteen's visit to the Free Library

To many of the people who waited in line in the rain, Springsteen and his music are not merely their lives' soundtrack, but its compass.

They know that among the millions who adore him, who buy his records and attend his concerts, and who in many cases have been doing so for decades, only a tiny fraction ever actually get to meet the man in person.

That was the quandary on Thursday: You've been granted a few seconds with Bruce. So what do you say?

Do you say, Thanks for everything? Or I love you? Do you ask him about a particularly obscure lyric? Or do you simply stare, amazed at the moment?

Lynn Thames holds up the photo of herself and Bruce. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

"I forgot to kiss him!" said Lynn Thames, 55, of Wynnewood, as she exited the library.

Others remembered.

"Can I kiss you on the cheek?" Debbie Heilbrunn asked Springsteen.

"Sure," he answered.

And she did.

Sharon Colan, 72, of Southampton, N.J., wanted to tell Springsteen that he's a good parent. That he's raised three lovely children, and he should be proud of that.

"I couldn't get the words out," she said.

Lots of people simply said, Thank you - for all the music and all the shows and all the years. Others brought tokens - photos taken at a concert years or decades ago, or from the time they ran into him on the street.

Dallyn Pavey, left, checks out her photo with Bruce as Leesa Capilli,right, celebrates after getting to meet Bruce Springsteen. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Dallyn Pavey, 58, of Wayne, keeps pictures in her phone from the time in 1988 when Springsteen pulled her on stage as he sang "Dancing in the Dark." She's seen him about a hundred times in concert.

And when she stood face to face with him on Thursday, she simply said, "Hey, Bruce."

Really, she asked afterward, what is there to say? She loves him. His fans love him. He knows that. And they know Bruce cares about them, too.

He didn't have to spend the day meeting people, several fans said. The book, Born to Run, would be a best-seller without any personal promotion. But it was something nice he could do for his fans, something personal and meaningful.

Of course not everyone got inside. Tickets had sold out in minutes.

And so Joe Burns of Fishtown walked the wet sidewalks, asking everybody in line if they had an extra ticket they might spare.

"I'm 'working on a dream,'" he said.

No one was sure how long the event would go on. Or at first, when Springsteen might show up - he had arrived 90 minutes early for a previous event in Freehold.

On Thursday, he stepped into the Free Library just before 11:30 a.m., half an hour before the scheduled start time. The line outside stretched around the block.

Bob Cappella in line before meeting Bruce Springsteen during his 'On The Run' book tour at the Free Library. Jeff Gammage / Staff

Bob Cappella, 54, was first.

He drove in from of Pottsville and stayed overnight in Philadelphia. On Thursday, unable to sleep, he got up, walked the streets at 5 a.m., and finally made his way to wait outside the library.

The chance of a lifetime? No. It was much more rare. It was, as one fan described it, beyond the bucket list.

In many cases, these were fans who for 40 years or more have been having a conversation with Springsteen in their heads. People who had "I Wanna Marry You" played at their weddings, and have "Thunder Road" - the acoustic version, of course - planned for their funerals.

Brooks knows.

The 50-year-old had a 22-second speech planned for the moment he met Springsteen. He timed it in advance, honing the exact words.

He wanted to tell Springsteen that his music got him through a divorce. That it has bound him to his son in ways he could not imagine. That he's grateful.

And then, as he stepped onto the low platform, he froze.

But, he said afterward, that's OK.

"When he means that much to you, to get a chance to be that close . . .," he said. "Today was the period at the end of the sentence."

215-854-4906

@JeffGammage