I can't recall the last time I saw an evening with such potential go straight to hell, so fast.
What a baseball game.
There were 6-8 of us at any given moment on the En Vogue crew coach, watching what seemed to be a certain disappointment unfold. Through the middle innings of the 7th game of the National League Championship Series, the Braves left enough men on base for me to recall how the wheels fell off during last year's World Series. I thought, "Here we go..." Yet, I watched Doug Drabek closely, and I took heart. Some of his curve balls weren't working as hard as they usually do...he looked like he was just beginning to tire. I thought that, just maybe, there was a slim chance that somebody in the Braves line-up might be able to catch an edge and pry the lid off this thing.
When Chico Lind booted a routine double play ball to load the bases in the ninth, I thought of Bill Buckner. The poor bastard. Lind's error was just as serious as Buckner's goof in the Mets' 1986 World Series win over the Red Sox...the barn door was open, and the horses were in line for an emergency exit. There was an infield meeting at the mound immediately afterward. Lind wasn't invited, of course, and I thought Drabek might throw up in his glove. He'd pitched the sort of nine innings that deserved a win. However, I didn't feel too sorry for him: I was keenly interested in seeing the Braves capitalize on this new lease on life.
Two outs later, the Braves had the bases loaded for the second time in the inning, and there was no tommorow. They were at the bottom of the order, and that's how Francisco Cabrerra came to the plate. It was remarkable how this guy (Duck and I looked at each other, "Who?!?"), who had spent all but twelve regular season games in the minor leagues, suddenly had more than 50,000 rabid Braves fans solidly behind him. That crowd never cheered more loudly for Deion Sanders or Terry Pendleton. I watched the count go to 2 and 2.
The toughest moment in sports approached again, as it does untold numbers of times per season in ball parks all over the country: the wind-up for the pitch. At the crack of the bat, I wanted to believe that the ball would punch through the infield...it was that well hit. However, until the gimp in the CBS Sports video truck took the wide shot, there was no way to know. I had been disappointed in an earlier inning when a line shot down to third base had resulted in a double play. The Braves had hit many balls which hugged the foul lines and wouldn't relenquish that particular dynamic embrace to fall in fair territory...like, in the corner of the outfield for a triple.
Cabrerra's ball was a clean "Hit 'em where they ain't" single... on the ground, in the gap between short and third, all the way out to Barry Bonds in left field. It took its time getting there, which was more than enough for Dave Justice to score the tieing run from third. The CBS truck was up to the task of the moment, which is something they are not known for in my experience (does anybody remember the 1984 Daytona 500?): the program shot switched to the third base camera to show us...Huh? "Is that really Sid?!?"
I could barely believe my eyes. Sid Bream, his knees a mass of scars from five major operations, was pumping all of that surgery around third for all it was worth. It turned out that it was worth a shot at the World Championship.
The play at the plate was as close as you could ask for, and there is no greater drama in all of sports than a two out, bottom of the ninth throw to nail the winning run at home plate. Bonds' throw was ever so slightly off line as it came home. It was one of those moments when decorum flies out the window. I don't care who you are: if you are more than casually interested in the game, the arrangement of your hair or the grace of your necktie is perfectly insignificant. Drinks and cigarettes land where they drop, and grown men and women jump up and down in their evening dress, along with Justice just behind home plate, waving at Sid to, for God's sake, SLIDE!!
He did. He was safe, and everybody knew it. Levallier, the Pirates' catcher, didn't dispute the call. A shot of Van Slyke found him sitting in center field, looking like he'd just seen his home and family blown away by a hurricane; "It was right here, just ten seconds ago..." The hurricane was the noise of Fulton County Stadium. The old barn was rocking, while the best team in the National League rolled in the dirt around home plate like a bunch of kids in a sandbox at the top of a 2nd grade recess period.
I don't recall a more exciting baseball game in all of my life.
Bill Reeves had checked in on the bus just before Cabrerra came to the plate. Arrested Developement was in the last song of their set, which meant that we would have to go to work soon. Duck let him know what time it was: "Bill, it's the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded with two outs. This is baseball, man!! Hold the show!" Bill grinned a little bit, figured that he couldn't pry us out of the bus with a six man IATSE call on a four hour minimum, and collected Popcorn and Spyder, who weren't quite so interested in the game as we were. Of course, there was no question that he would hold the show which, truly, must go on. However, we knew that the struggle would end, for better or worse, soon enough for us to get to our battle stations in time.
As soon as CBS went to commercial after the victory, we charged out of the bus, and into the theater. The backstage lobby at the Paramount Theater in Oakland was full of nicely dressed poseurs hanging out before the show. Several of them were aware of the drama occuring almost 3000 miles east at the moment, and the excitement was contagious...even if the A's had been vanquished in Toronto. Complete strangers slapped high-fives and exclaimed on the game.
I didn't hang out. I went straight out to the front of house, and plugged in.
The Paramount is a comfy little 2000 seat house which was built in 1931. The house is still framed in scaffolding, and draped in safety netting all the way up the walls to the ceiling: repairs to damage suffered in the 1989 earthquake are still under way. The gilded plaster is being painstakingly restored by hand, and the work is taking its time. It is worth the effort. The Paramount is a wonderful example of Art Deco styling of the sort which was in full effect during the late 20's and early 30's. It is not overdone, but it is definitely fully done. Every detail of decor is perfectly scaled to and consistant with the, sort of, modern theme of Deco.
Oakland is the hometown of the Funky Divas of En Vogue. During the sound check this afternoon, I heard Terry Ellis say, "I have been here so often to see so many people play here..." Now, she is headlining the place with her own show, and quite proud of it. A hometown girl makes good.
The crowd knew what was going on, and the place had a distinctive family atmosphere. Everybody was dressed in their best, and up for a special night.
As soon as Travis Payne finished his modern dance opening, the Divas entered to a standing ovation at the top of "This Is Your Life." The crowd went wild to see the girls strutting their stuff across that narrow little stage.
The stage is small here. The technical problems involved in putting this show in here were not quite as challenging as those presented by Constitution Hall in D.C. However, the comparison occured to several of us today. There were several moments when we had show threatening problems. It is a very, interesting ("yeah...that's it...") thing to watch the production manager, stage manager, audio guys, lights guys, and the set carpenter, huddled in commitee at 2:30 in the afternoon...4 1/2 hours before doors, trying to figure out the solution to a complex chain of problems which appear when somebody discovers that the couch can't move onto the stage because there isn't enough room between the set and the stage left P.A. stack...the monitors aren't in yet...the floor I-Beams aren't in yet... Suddenly, the whole effort screeches to a halt, at a moment when we really need to be going at top speed.
"Okay, Scott: can we put your side fill stack here?"
"Well...not really..." (I'm very relieved, because I covet that very space for my No. 10 I-Beam...it's really the only place where I can get the shot I need on the percussion riser...)
"Alright... Dave? How about if we strike these inside P.A. cabinets and stack them three high? That'll open this space up so Popcorn can get the couch on and off."
"I can't really do that because, then, I don't have any coverage at the center of the house..."
Silence. Wheels turning.
"Okay... What if we..."
Within an hour, everybody was back in high gear. But it was as close, today, as I've yet seen it on this tour.
Within seconds of the opening of the show, I had an ominous indication of how things were going to go for me. The Littlelite on my controller was dimming in time to the dimming of the conventional lights of the stage rig.
A Littlelite is a small goosenecked work light which illuminates the face of my controller, and allows me to see what I'm doing in the darkness of the theater. It is a small quartz lamp fed by a DC power supply, dimmed with a rheostat. It burns very brightly for the area it has to cover, so I usually keep it dimmed to about 50%. At that level, its output is very susceptible to fluctuations in voltage to it's power supply.
When it began to dim in time to the tempo of the stage rig, I was worried. My controller is tapped to the the same AC line as the Littlelite. If the the Littlelite was seeing line voltage fluctuations, it meant that my controller was, too. This is not good: computers don't like power fluctuations.
The line voltage problem is a result of the fact that we had a 600 amp show tapped to a 400 amp service. Now, you can often get away with this, if your load is properly balanced at the dimmers. We power our dimmers with what is known as "3 phase" service. This is comprised of the neutral and ground lines found in normal wall outlets, plus three legs of 110 volt hot lines. These hot lines work together to add up to the 220 volts which the dimming electronics need for proper distribution at minimum amperage. The load down any hot leg can top the rating of the service, momentarily, and still not trip the 400 amp circuit breaker. The dynamic nature of a rock show normally involves loads which peak often, for very short periods of time.
When this happens, the essence of the matter is that all of the little electrons running around all of the various circuits, large and small, crowd each other as they rush to the places they need to go. Like a panicked exodus at the mouth of a tunnel, they back up until there is room in the tunnel (the cabling) for them. A meter placed on the line will indicate a drop in voltage: there are simply less electrons making their way around the circuit. This is normally not a problem to circuits accustomed to 110 volt AC. However, to delicate, low-voltage DC circuits of the sort computers are constituted of, even the smallest voltage drop can result in fatal mal-nutrition.
It was at the top of the Tribute Medley of old R&B hits that the electronics of my computer were starved to death for a blink of an eye. Duck had thrown a sub-group fader which, evidently, loaded the power network past its 400 amp limit. My computer promptly went tits up, and the only indications I had were blanks across all of my displays except for the letters "PF" (rather like a microwave oven might indicate), and no output from my 12 little robots.
I don't know if the bulbs had shut down. The computer had gone into stand-by, which interrupted control data to the I-Beams. When this happens, the shutters snap over the lamps, snuffing their output. The only way to recover is to cycle the power switch at the computer. I did so. This process takes about 15 seconds to complete. The I-Beams came back up, but the problem had not gone away.
Within 15 seconds, power dropped out again. I ran the power cycle again, and this time, the I-Beams did not come back. Now, I started from the beginning, with time zipping past in every clap of the audience in rhythm to a show which they didn't understand was incomplete. I reset my master blocks, an operation requiring 6 different switch moves. Standby out...nothing... ("Goddammit!") I'd been keeping Duck apprised of events over the headset between spotlight calls, and he was watching me fight the battle while he ran his cues. I looked up at the stage while I tried to think my way through it; the stage looked strangely...flat...without the I-Beams complementing the pulse of Duck's rig.
From his viewpoint 10 feet away, Duck misread the indicators on my controller and called, "Check your standby's!" Even as I looked down, I knew that he didn't have the answer: I was abreast of events continuity in a way that he wasn't. I knew where I stood. Nonetheless, I went through the standby routine again, thinking, "Maybe he sees something I missed." I hoped so.
Nothing. I hadn't missed it.
I looked up to my I-Beams. If you know what to look for, you can see whether a lamp is burning behind a closed shutter from quite a distance. However, from more than 100 feet away, amid the action of the conventional rig throwing highlights off of every reflective surface in the room, I couldn't see whether I had good lamp burns or not.
I couldn't simply stand there. I had to know if I was going to have wait for permission from the thermal sensors before restarting my lamps. That would take half the remainder of the show. I had to know.
I ditched my headset and made for the lobby of the theater. I ran out the entrance like Sid going for third base. Taking a left, I ran down the street for half a block, and ducked into the stage door. The security guards didn't stand a chance. I was in their faces, through the door, and gone down the stairs to the stage before they could move.
I made my way upstage to the stage left darkness behind the set. The show was still rocking through the Divas' arrangement of "Heard It Through The Grapevine". I arrived at the up-left corner of the set, and studied the cross-over. I wanted to be sure that I wasn't running into some kind of routine action where I would get in the way back there. Popcorn was right in the middle of a little dance step: they enjoy themselves backstage as much as we do in the house. He stopped in mid-stride. Seeing me backstage during the show was as strange as seeing a wheelchair marathon racing through the outfield during the Worlds Series: I simply didn't belong there.
I crossed stage-right. When I got there, I took a position just off the stage right end of the mid truss, and looked up. I didn't see the slightest indication of a lamp burn in any of the 8 lamps on the truss.
I took the headset from Rob Savage, who was standing right there. He'd heard the movie unfolding on the headset network, but he didn't know that I was headed backstage. I checked in and told Duck that I didn't see anything happening. I put the headset down and crept downstage to No. 9, which sits on a case just offstage of the set. I knelt down and looked at the lamp indicator: it was blinking a yellow LED. This was not good. When the lamp is burning, that LED glows steadily.
I went back to the headset, and reported in. I tried to see that yellow LED on the truss mounted instruments. However, the truss is 22 feet in the air, and the LED is about half the diameter of a cigarette. It is closely flanked by two others, one red, one green, of the same size. From the distance I was trying to see them from, they simply blur together.
"Duck, I don't believe that I have a single lamp burning at the moment."
"Oh, yeah? Then what's that?"
Just at that moment, I'd seen the telltale white flash of control data hitting the chips of each lamp. This meant that Duck had cycled the controller out of it's standby, and a number of the lamps were back in the game.
"What did you just do?"
"I just hit the fucking standby!"
Judging from what I'd seen, I believe that he'd been able to cycle the master standby. This passed a brief control message to the lamps. Upon receiving it, they updated their positions and colors. Then, the shutters snapped in...because the local standby on the controller was still engaged. I told Duck to take it out. When he did, the lamps came up in Cue #1...which was all wrong.
The Divas had finished the Medley, without the benefit of all of the I-Beam effects which help to make that part of the show as dazzling as it normally is. The crowd didn't know what they'd missed, of course, never having seen the show before.
However, at the moment Duck cycled the local standby out, the girls were in their little changing booths at center stage. The written cue for this moment, which reveals from black, is I-Beams 2,3,6,and 7, in frame 2 pink, precisely focused for coy backlight on their full costume change, right in front of everybody. Instead, Cue #1 slammed in: full stage, all over the band, set, and everything in the world.
"Set the fucking standby!!"
The lamps blinked out, and I directed Duck to set the block to #8, preset #2. "Now, fade it up."
The proper cue came up. I stayed on the line while Duck took directions for the blackout transition to Cue #2 of "Giving Him Something He Can Feel", the old Marvin Gaye tune. Cue #2 reveals the Divas in their slinky red evening gowns, a look made famous in the video of that song. It always gets another standing ovation: I've never seen it fail.
As I made my way back across stage, I ran into Popcorn. "A hell of a moment for your lights to fail, huh?"
I couldn't answer him.
The little electrons jammed up once more over the evening. A simple power cycle brought them back up quickly, and there was no further trouble for the rest of the show. But the thrill was gone for me.
After the show, Duck and I had a screaming match on the bus. He was pissed off because I'd left the controller during the show. "Don't you fucking ever leave your desk during a show, man."
I had good reasons for doing what I did. I thought about Duck running this sort of an attitude on me. It occured to me that any asshole can be a team player when things are going right: the test comes in a crunch. That is the precise moment when the mutual support of a team lends its greatest benefit. I didn't need him to second-guess my decision. I was earning my living putting on light shows when he was 12 years old. The number of real-time crises I've dealt with successfully over 15 years makes me confident in my own judgement, my serious respect for Duck notwithstanding. When I added all of this up, in the heat and exhaustion of the moment, the best I could do was, "Go fuck yourself, punk."
Perhaps it wasn't as graceful as it could have been, but it was on target. If he'd had anything constructive to posit, I'd have taken notes. If that was the best he could do, than I didn't feel like doing any better. It'll be okay: he and I have been here before and we got over it. We'll get over this, too. We both burn rather brightly, and we know it.
For my own part, I have only one thing in mind. We have another show at the Paramount tomorrow night. I will arrive there in the afternoon, and begin metering the power net. If I have to take our 800 amp disconnect completely apart in order to find a secure AC line for my controller, I will: I'm not going to go through that again.
Duck and Rob can play if they want to. I would welcome them if they do.
It won't make any difference to me if they don't. I know what needs to be done, just like I did tonight.
October 14, 1992
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