Monday, May 28, 2007

Running to Stay Above the Water, How I Spent My Memorial Day Wknd

There’s a bustling calmness to the blacktops of Charlotte where commerce and commotion are abound yet leveled, giving breathe to the city. As the sky grows closer in reach and cluttered in sight, the Queen welcomes the burgeoning of a new era, but forgets not her roots. The waters of a past steeped in southern heritage and simpler times slowly recede giving way to the wave of tomorrow. Where these waters meet floats an uncertain present. The sport of stockcar racing is, in many regards, like the crowning city of the Carolina’s. Both yearn to break a mold and overcome a stigma no longer wanted or even representative. NASCAR and Charlotte find solace in one another. Both see and know a need for change. Both appear to have a map to where the waters flow outward and onward, reaching all corners of the land of opportunity and freedom.

Once a year these waters flow over across the blacktops of Charlotte, soaking us to the bone while wetting our appetite for more. The ship that braves these waters is the mighty F.L. Speedster, or as you landlubbers may have it, Food Lion’s Speed Street. Nothing could be more indicative of the dynamic of a sport and a city on the rise. Where the towers of productivity bend and the wheel’s of change burn there abides a population like none other. For three days I dove headfirst into the changing tide, drinking up the culture and the spectacle. At first quenching a thirst I knew not how to seize. Soon, dire for air, I emerged taking in a deep breathe of the leveling. For three days I beat the blacktops and parted the waters. For three days I feared not where I was headed, but knew the waters that were get me there are uncertain and troubled. For three days I saw why, despite the better efforts of the few, the South ain’t never gonna change.

ThursdayThe wetting of the feet

If nothing else, Speed Street serves as a perfect reminder of why birth control is given out in public schools. Astounded by the mere state many live within and display whilst in public, I found a certain comfort in my own skin and used this comfort, as well as a high school education, to serve as a balance for the weekend, keeping the level from tilting in their favor. They, of course being the masses that descend upon the streets in hope not of better themselves with broadening experiences or exposure to a more enlightened life. No my friend, these groundlings seek nothing more than to have their tote bags stuffed beyond the brim, bulging to the point of exhaustion, only to remain in tact by the wavering support of yet another tote bag to keep seams from exploding onto the muddled blacktop that now runs a mess with tank top wearing, Jr. loving, air off the spoiler knowing, Blue Collar Comedy Tour DVD owning, bona fide Necks of the Red Genus. From Tostino’s Pizza Rolls and Mighty Meat Dog Treats to Coca-Cola MBNA credit cards for a FREE! Elliot Saddler tee, these folks did not just want the freebies, they needed them. I dare to say for many, their sole existence in life is dependent upon the receiving of a DeWalt Tools bumper sticker and a Miller Lite foam koozie. Thinking to myself, what hath Charlotte wroth? I checked my schedule to see what lay ahead for the day, and in so doing found no console.

I chugged down my 6th bottle of Dasani, the official water of NASCAR and proud sponsor of the Coca-Cola family of racing, as I stood between loading vans on the backside of the Coca-Cola stage. Its important to stay hydrated when the heat begins to rise and the mind begins to numb. For these three days I was what they call in the business a ‘runner.’ I ran to the airport to pick up the entertainers. I ran to the Marriott on WT Harris Blvd to drop off and pick up the bus drivers and ‘rock stars.’ I ran to the ABC store on Morehead to buy large amounts of Grey Goose. I ran all over the blacktops from Trade and Tryon to Martin Luther King Jr. and back over to Pine and Church. In description the job sounds mundane and borderline subservient, but in practice it’s a lot like being a pledge again. Only this time instead of worrying about the brothers getting drunk and hazing me, I was worrying if I had purchased the correct brand of incense for Tony! Toni! Tone!

As the sun slowly hid itself behind the Bank of America towers from what it had been forced to watch all day, I jerked my 15 passenger van into a terribly executed parallel park, grabbed the two bottles of $65 Goose and made my way over to where one of the Toni(e,i)’s awaited my return. Pleased to have me back, he offered me a drink for my efforts. I honestly could not have imagined anything more refreshing at the time, but sadly, I settled for another of Ward Burton’s favorite filtered with minerals added bottled waters. Being the apt to converse and verbose fellow I am, I took advantage of my chance to be with a true R&B star of the ’90 to early ‘91 era and as we struck up a conversation, I pocketed the change from the liquor run and readied myself for the ensuing conversation. For the next hour or so little to nothing I spoke had ever even heard of something the Boy Scouts refer to as Truth and Honesty. But what I did manage to spout out not only entertained this Ton(X), it also warranted the ‘oh shit yeah’s’ of the infamous T!T!T! beat maker, DJ FUBU ain’t out of style, its just taking a break.

By the time the steam had risen away from the asphalt at the intersection of Trade and Tryon and I had swallowed the final drop of my 11th bottle of Atlanta tap water, I found myself on stage with T!T!T!, HD camcorder in hand. As the day had grown darker, so too had the crowd and they loved every second of these “Sounds of the old time, when music was real.” I’ve always wanted to be that white dude up on stage under the colored lights in the middle of a R&B concert, and now with a few thousand fans waving their arms side to side like they just didn’t care, another one of my dreams had come true. As the sounds of their hit song faded away, I took my exit and set beneath a tree and listened to an up tempo rendition of ‘Wade in the Water,’ breathed in deep, chugged my Dasani and felt at ease with the world.

FridayIf you swim out too far, that current’ll take you away

It feels good to stick it to the man. Rarely do I get a chance to do so, but with a bottle of FIJI water in hand, I redefined what risk taking is, stage right under the Coca-Cola banner that Friday morn. Critics may claim this daring feat is far overrated, but to them I say, “It’s not my fault that no one saw me staring fate in the eye at 7am before an empty street.”

The sun has barely pulled it together long enough to call it day and I am already bored. This was to be a long day. That is of course before Mega Star Joe Nichols and his assortment of star studded country rockers rolled up for load in. That’s roadie lingo for park truck, take shit out, put on stage. The next 20hours of my life were about to consist of runs to and from the Marriott by UNCC. This is all part of my Rock ‘N Roll Fantasy!!!

Conversations with Rock Stars can be categorized in two ways. One way is to engage in dialogue so bold and true that one feels empowered and free upon completion, rendering you forever a fan and advocate of both musician and band. The other is to be so let down that you have to restrain yourself from punching the jerk in the face, repeatedly. Lucky for me the later proved to be the case, thankfully I was almost two weeks sober at this point.

After my 3rd run to the hotel in which I had to drive for 20+ minutes until we found the right Burger King, I decided I would enjoy some ‘me’ time, get the ‘ol blood flowing and brave the waters of Tryon over to the Miller and Budweiser stages. No sooner had I a chance to breathe in the fresh air and lap up some of what the other end of Downtown had to offer when a distress signal came over the bat phone. I was needed back at the Coke stage and I was needed ASAP. Had I missed Moses parting the sea and freeing the Israelites just over at Trade St.? What could be so urgent? I spared no time making hast in the hot sun and overwhelming sea of people from Kannapolis and other such cities from the 49 other sates of the Union. Churning up the blacktop as I steered my ship full sail I made record time. Flashing my Shuttle Driver All Access badge I leapt over a restraining wall and found my contact behind the Coke stage, who directed me to the man in need. I was all but prepared to drive this man to his hometown of Nashville so that he could be by his mother’s side in her final hours.

At first I misunderstood what he said to me and asked him to repeat it. To my dismay the same words came out the second time around. “You like the runner, cause I am gonna need a ride for me and my girl in like, I don’t know 30min or so. That cool man?” No, it was most certainly not ‘cool.’ Who the F does the bass player for Joe Nichols think he is having me sprint from 4th ward to 2nd in a 1:13? “Yep, I can do that and thanks for checking.” “No sweat man, I just didn’t want to catch you off guard when we were ready to leave.”

Later that evening I did have the honor of taking another one of the bus drivers out to the hotel. It just so happened this was no ordinary bus driver however. This fella had been a roadie for Hank Jr., Willie and Waylon. Dumbfounded, I nearly drove the van into oncoming traffic. Finally, a real bit of true Americana rock legend, right here riding shotgun with me barreling up 85N. Like a school boy at juice time, I began to squirm around, sputtering out sentence fragments and drooling. The wealth of stories this man must have! My excitement did not match reality however. But it was not lack of this man trying, its just that he truly had been a roadie for these acts as well as groups like the Eagles, ZZ Topp etc. and in his defense he’d partied so hard he just couldn’t remember a damn thing worth sharing. After his fourth story about ‘this one gig’ trailed off into the ether I tuned him out and focused on the road, deeply disappointed.

Upon return to the stage I got a call to deliver pizza to the Sammies and Better Than Ezra. Again, full sprint I streaked through the night air and burst through the door of Picasso’s, told them I need some damn pizzas for the bands while flashing my Shuttle Driver All Access credentials and slammed an ice water at the bar. A mere 27minutes later pizza was in hand and I was backstage with the Sammies.

For a moment there was a pleasant reunion as I reintroduced myself to them and mentioned seeing them open for the Walkmen as well as having a few beers with them at a Whigs show. They seemed to recognize me and we chatted for a bit. They were extremely attentive and openly friendly, a refreshing break from my day of Pop Country stars stupidity. It took me some time to realize that despite the level of equality in conversation that was occurring, that perhaps the balance leaned in their favor. This of course was the reality check that hit when one of them politely stated, “so, are those like our pizzas?” Dejected, I confirmed his inquiry, delivered the goods and stood like a chump as they immediately forgot who I was and delved into slices of veggie pizza. I stood around for a minute or so, stared at the lead singer’s girlfriends ass and then made my way onto the back of the stage to catch the tail end of the Better Than Ezra set, vowing to never talk to a band I like while delivering them pizza again.

As the 2am hour passed I dropped off my final load of ‘like super worn out’ Pop Country stars and retired to my bed for a brisk 5hours of sleep.

SaturdayI hear tell that a man can tread water in the open sea for days, even weeks if he can find a source of fresh water, that and them damn sharks don’t get to him first.

They say good things will come to those that wait. Well Saturday I did a lot of waiting and man I’ll tell ya, ain’t a whole heck of a lot came my way. It was 9am and I had just heard the fifth request for help come over my radio down at the Miller and Bud stages. Diamond Rio needs someone to take them to go play golf, Puddle of Mudd needs reflective blankets to keep the sun off their gear, Mandy Moore needs a new boyfriend…I was missing everything.

Completely over Dasani, I began stealing Snapple’s from Cheap Trick’s cooler and tried to find another security guard that I had yet to have the opportunity of sharing my gift of gab with. Aside from a conversation with some guy that managed a spin-off group for Slipknot told me how the shock rock group’s guitar player, secretly plays Buffett covers in bars along the Carolina coast my day was pretty dry and so were the streets. Perhaps the previous two days had taken it out of the crowd or perhaps it was the Navy cover band playing top 40 rock songs while wearing their Navy white’s, but nobody was at my stage. I faked a call to Miller and abandoned my station, certain I would miss nothing of importance. Meandering in the shadows of the towers that hosted countless $100K+ employees and MBA’s checking updates on their Trios and Blackberry’s I walked amongst the folks that really make the world go round. I have no idea how most of these people were ever offered a job, let alone have the ability to keep it, but I do know that they love $6 beer in the hot sun and XXL t-shirts.

I spent my afternoon listening to hard rock bands and even found one chick punk band that kicked ass, Nicki Barr. The enthusiasm and angst of the band was contagious and although I don’t normally rock this style of music something about it just hit me and I had a strong urge to marry this chick and spend the rest of my life as her guitar player. When she ripped into a fantastic cover of GNR’s Paradise City, I nearly met her mid stage on one knee. After her set we spoke briefly and then I watched her load her bands equipment into their trailer by herself, I realized this girl could kick my ass. I decided I’d be better off finding someone not so hard-core, although watching her load speakers onto a trailer did somehow turn me on a bit. I found my perfect match when I met the lead singer for the band that was just on before Niki, The Luchagors, featuring WWE’s Lita on lead screams. Fearing Puddle of Mudd’s arrival and nearing the time to pick Cheap Trick up from the hotel I once again made my way across the streets of Charlotte, this time however the numbers had grown and to avoid spilt beer and nachos from getting on me I did a lap on the outside of the city…where I fast learned the truly drunk fans were.

After 45 minutes of random rock, Cheap Trick played ‘I want you to want me’ and then they played 45 minutes of random rock. Although I didn’t know any of their stuff and the members could easily have gone to high school with Keith Richards, these guys did rock and it was fun to be on stage with real legends. At closure of their set, Puddle of Mudd needed pizza, so I volunteered leaving the Trick behind. Not having to show my badge this time I found my regular waitress at Picasso’s, put in the order and kicked back two waters, really drinking that stuff up this time.

I dumped the pizzas off in the band’s bus and went on stage to witness what looked like 3 thousand teenagers crowd surfing in a haze of smoke. The band was wailing and they did perform an on point rendition of Nirvana’s Breed, but the rest just wasn’t my cup of tea. When the lights went off, my work was done.

I cranked up the 15 passenger for the last time, took off on the barren asphalt of South Tryon and left the towers behind me. Back at the office I turned my keys over and plopped down on the couch. Another worker asked if I wanted a water or something. As I looked over in the break room the fluorescent light of the GE fridge illuminated something that at first couldn’t place. Captivated I studied it more. So familiar, yet so alien. What was it? I took one in hand, popped the cap and drank it down. The sweet sweetness of the Yuengling filled my soul with pride. Breathing the office air in and taking another swig I thought to myself, “I can get used to this.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

sweet blaugh.