Not Fun. Not Fun At All.
September 9, 2004
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September 10, 2004
First off, I need to say itís good to hear from some of you. For the past couple of months I havenít heard a peep, or read a peep, and I was wondering if anyone at all was reading this thing. Somehow there was a glitch in the mail trying to make it through the labyrinth, and if youíve written in that time and didnít hear back that was why. Anyway, the lines are open again. Now that weíre speaking directly.
Hard to say when last weekís 4:45 AM State Fair Saturday morning load-in first appeared on the schedule, but it wasnít something I expected to be fun. And I wouldnít admit it now, even if it was fun, because nobody is going to pay you to have fun. It goes against any employerís grain - even public radioís - to think they are paying people to amuse themselves; to pay someone for something they could have had for nothing. And I donít want to get replaced by some warm
fuzzy starry-eyed volunteer here.
So it wasnít fun. Got up before three in the morning, earlier even than duck hunting, and went to the rental yard, got the tractor, sneaked through the dark city to our parking lot next to our little neighborhood office building, and hooked up to our trailer. We had stashed it there because there were some things from the shop that needed throwing on at the last minute.
Hauled it from there up Highway 280 a short ways to Energy Park Drive and from there onto the special bus road that connects the Minneapolis campus of the University to the St Paul version, and at the same time is the direct authorized truck access to the backstage of the State Fair grandstand. Very cool, a trucks-and-buses-only road; how enjoyable to be on the privileged route for a change, without 4-wheelers; every truckerís dream come true. Enjoyable, but not, of course, really fun. Showed my credentials at the gate with my picture ID and had to open the trailer doors for the nice policeman and he liked what he saw in there - mundane gear and no platoon of black-hooded infantry - and they
waved me in as if they were glad to have me there; another rare treat for a truck driver.
They didnít tell me about the critical turn into the backstage road, though. They just said follow this all the way around the parking lots and youíll see the turn at the end. And at the end there was, sure enough, a tight turn onto a single-lane gated entry. But the sign said EXIT ONLY and Iím from North Dakota and assume that means itís an exit only and that soon to follow would be an entrance only. So I crept along, straining to see the next gate - it was still black darkness all around - and there was none. I came next to a lighted intersection and could see that straight ahead lay the way out of the fairgrounds, so I took a right in the general direction of the grandstand and found myself smack in the middle of the well-lit KIDDY MIDWAY. In six hours this place would be crammed full of little kids and their coddling parents and was for sure no place for a big old tractor-trailer rig, under which the little people could walk like ducklings and cause big people to faint. I went to the next intersection and waited for help and it appeared soon enough, two guys in a golf cart thing, and they said weíll take ya there, jist go left around the block and meet us back up there at the same corner ya jist came from.
So I did that and sure enough, they took me right back to the EXIT ONLY, and from there on in it was easy. I asked why the exit sign and they said it was so people wouldnít know the way to the stage. As if nobody should have that information, whether they needed it or not. Maybe they assume that no self-respecting truck driver is going to be told what they canít do and will automatically enter any gate marked EXIT ONLY. And here I come, 25 years in the business and still with the wrong attitude, and I believe the sign. And find myself in Kiddyland. Where I belong, I guess, with the rest of the naives.
The covered stage, when you get to it, is high and wide and black and huge, especially at night with the big forklift sitting there and the construction-style spotlights aimed around. It sits on a wide parking lot, no problem backing in except at the back of the structure one of the spotlights is aimed right into the truck mirror. So itís a challenge, seeing my guide guy back there as the faint silhouette of a hand waving a feeble flashlight, backlit by something like a locomotive; and just beneath our rightside door is a fire hydrant we surely donít want to clip. We back and forth until we get to where we need to be, the trailer square with the yellow line, and they set parallel ramps from our floor up to a higher platform. Another pair of ramps rise from the platform up to stage level. The whole thing is so big and so dark and so harshly lit, and there are so many hands at work, that it has the urgent feel of a monumental round-the-clock
construction project, like the Aswan Dam, or some power plant out in the tundra. We get off-loaded in good order, the cases coming up one ramp while the hands walk back down the other and into the truck. An efficient big-time system and one we hadnít seen before. I dolly down the trailer and leave it where it sits, and Iím gone before the heavy work starts at daybreak. I leave the truck at the lot and drive home and work on artist notes while the boys work up a good sweat putting the show together.
When I get back and hook up again itís 3:30 and the stands are filling up in the sunshine and our prairie house is standing on stage behind the band, all the same guys sitting there as if theyíd come off the trailer with the drum set and the rest of the gear. The understage is all curtained black-painted steel box-beam construction, and a short distance out to stage right is a new catering building, complete with showers, for entertainers and roadies who have been on that road for too long and need to clean up. But the local stage hands, like stage hands everywhere, like it under the beams where itís dark and headroom is low
and they can set folding chairs around and thereís a television and nobodyís going to tell them not to smoke or mess with them in any other fashion. They sit under there through ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers Band and all the others, hearing very little of what goes on directly overhead. Hearing muffled volume but not much definition. They move when they need to and during the show only a few really need to, and the rest sit and wait to break it all down, their faces lit by the flicker of television.
The sun is just setting when our show ends and our lighting man half-seriously insists the stage lights made a big difference there at the finale. The crew swings into action and the house melts and the rugs roll up and the cables and microphones disappear, the all the glowing lights and dials and knobs get hidden inside beat-up black road cases on red-wheeled casters. And the whole works disappears into the trailer, and I, the executive truck driver who hasnít had to lift a finger, close the doors and lock the locks and lumber away, getting out
of there just before the fireworks go off.
And even though it wasnít really fun, it was dramatic. More dramatic, say, than your usual quiet little daytime load-in through a back-alley loading door on a narrow old dock.