"So, what're you trying to tell me? Do you need some lamps?"
I couldn't believe it. It was 2:30 pm.
"Joel...I need some lamps! I'm down one for the show, I burned my last spare two days ago in Columbus, and we've been playing fax tag with High End ever since. They can't seem to get their heads out of their asses and get in the game..."
"And now, you're gonna tell me that you have four of them sitting in your office?"
I was screaming into the phone, holding it at arm's length. Of course, it didn't matter except to (sort of) alleviate the frustration. The target of opportunity was Joel Lesser, the purchasing agent at R. A. Roth. He turned away a delivery of Phillips MSR 700 enclosed arc bulbs yesterday. The MSR 700 is the light source for the Intellabeam. It costs $265 per unit, if you know somebody with a hook up. Well, High End Systems is our hook up. However, they don't do us any good if they can't tell the difference between Oklahoma City (which is where we are) and Atlanta (which is where they shipped the bulbs).
We called R. A. at KISS rehearsals in Allentown, Pa. in order to keep him apprised of our situation. That's when he casually let it drop that Joel had a stash of 700's at the office in Atlanta.
"What?!" I couldn't believe it. I couldn't understand how Joel could have turned away a shipment of these things without wondering who needed them...who ordered them, or where they were supposed to go. En Vogue is the only tour out of our shop with I-Beams. Joel knows that.
He was our last shot at recovering from the goof at High End, and he didn't come through for us.
Today could have been our first really smooth arena show. We got a good jump on the rig this morning at The Myriad in Oklahoma City. There is plenty of room in this place. Forklift maneuvering runs at a steady, arena sort of pace. The rigging is a bit weird, but nothing which can't be managed. The local crew is quite good. All in all, it was going pretty well: I had the mid truss off the deck by 11:15 am.
The game of phone tag started at about noon.
The main thrust of the story is that the delivery we needed from High End/Lightwave Research did not make it today. I didn't have another lamp to replace the one we had burned in Columbus. Duck held a fist full of fax transmission reports to them over two days time, which was good: God sides with the paper trail. Bill Reeves examined the documentation, listened to us hacking at it on the telephone, and figured we were doing our best for him.
For some inexplicable reason, High End sent the two bulbs we ordered to Atlanta. We found out about it yesterday while en route here. Duck spoke to the president of the company, who assured him of delivery today...
The scene ended today with me talking to an operations-level guy at High End, several times. I called to find out where our shipment was. The president, Robert Mokrey, was nowhere to be found.
"Listen," said Shawn, "Give me a half-hour to try to track this shipment down. I'm also going to try to shake something out of the trees in your neighborhood."
"A half-hour..." It was 2:30. "Shawn," I said, "We open doors on this show at 7 o'clock. This is my focus time going down the drain. Have you ever been on the road?"
"Yes," he answered. I could tell by the clipped tone of his voice that he had.
"Good." I thought the point could stand the emphasis, "Then you know what I'm up against."
Our series of calls ended for good more than an hour later, when he told me that he couldn't find a flight out of Dallas to ship bulbs on, and he couldn't find anything in Oklahoma City.
I was fucked.
I told him that I appreciated his kind assistance, and that he could pass a message on to his boss. I liked his product, but I had been hearing for several months that tour support out of his office was awful. This was my first experience with the company and, if asked, I would have to confirm the rumors. I would have him advise the office staff to put their crack pipes down: we have a game, if they have a mitt.
Shawn understood. I could respect the fact that he was clearly embarrassed by the performance of the top level people in his company. I thought, "Here is a guy who will break his neck for me the next time I need something from him."
I started looking around. I recalled that Duck had pronounced one of our bulbs dead on the basis of a visual inspection. "What the hell?", I thought.
I dug it out of our work cabinet and looked at it. I figured that it couldn't hurt to try it. I took a slightly different approach to this swap...it was lamp No. 8 again, at the stage left end of the downstage pipe on the mid truss.
I dug out my personal rigging gear. My plan was to hang myself off the left end of the truss in such a way that I could work on the lamp with both hands at a comfortable level. I would have my volt meter tied to a line, which I would drop to the deck. The line would serve as an elevator: parts & bits would go up it, and I would go down it when I was finished, rather than creeping back along the length of the truss. I didn't feel like walking it today. When one doesn't feel like it, the pro move is not to try it.
I love to sling up my Troll Mk. VII harness. I know that when I do, there is a climbing adventure just ahead. These days, most of my climbs are not in the same class as they used to be, but the initial feeling of excitement and security is still there everytime I put my harness on. This thing has been with me since 1985. I bought it at Black's of Canada, on Yonge St. in Toronto, for the remarkably low price of $90.00 American. I had no idea what I was buying thay day.
I've never seen another quite like it.
In the summer of 1988, my pal Greg Im and I drove through New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont in a single day, shopping for climbing gear. We visited two noted mountaineering shops who dealt in Troll gear...neither had a Mk. VII. Finally, in Burlington, Vermont, I heard the bad news rumor: Troll had redesigned the Mk VII, and the new one didn't didn't have the same buckle system as mine did.
I was disappointed because I really had my heart set on a new harness. But, there was no way that I was going to give up me trusty old Mk. VII rig: I wanted a new one, but I didn't need one.
I explained all of this to the guy in Burlington. He listened while Greg and I told him about what we'd been climbing that summer. We were an anomaly to him. Most of his customers had been out climbing the granite faces of the Northeast. When he asked us what we'd been climbing we looked at each other and laughed...
"Well, we call it the world's largest set of monkey bars."
We told him about how we lived in our harnesses. We put them on first thing in the morning (before a jacket if it was cold). We explained what it was like to hang in one in a steady drizzling rain...a dozen men hanging like bats from steel scaffolding peaks 80 feet tall. We never took them off all day ("you see..."). Sometimes, the days ran together.
"...Absolutely. We put Monsters in the Homerdome in Minneapolis: I did 70 of 72 straight hours in high steel. Greg did all 72 of them."
We regaled him with war stories of Pink Floyd in NFL stadiums... spending 3 days in, a show day, and 2 days out in places like RFK Stadium (D.C.); or Sullivan Stadium (Boston), with 2 show days, and an out in light snow;
...Rich Stadium in Bufallo, where my brother Michael, Miles, Greg, and I led the charge on the stage-right tower...a ridiculously narrow footprint 60 ft. tall in swirling 40 mph winds ("To advance to the very muzzles of guns with perfect nonchalance!");
...downrigging production all night long in a driving rain at Arrowhead in Kansas City, where one of the new kids on the team, late of the U.S. Navy, pronounced scaff rigging more dangerous than flight ops on a carrier deck;
...the sterile air of the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, where we almost lost Steve Rongo right in front of our eyes (90 ft., with no net below), and where nobody wanted to climb out on the stage-left cantilever afterward: out of that whole crowd of (now slightly shaken) veterans, only Greg was panting: "Put me in Coach!"
We laughed, and so did the guy in Burlington. Little by little he came to understand why I cared to to hang on to that Troll. It had kept me safe through a lot of adventure, and I was attached to it.
He looked at it. "Well, what's wrong with it, then?"
I ran down a wish list, and it wasn't very long. I wished the swami (the waist belt) was a bit more comfortable. It fit nicely at the small of my back, under load. However, It got just a bit stiff and harsh after more than 6 hours or so.
"Okay. Well, you could fit it with a new one, if you wanted to..."
This place was a nicely supplied mountain shop, full of experienced people. He started showing us gear and, as he did, I started imagining all the possibilities of a custom harness.
The parts I finally put together with my old Mk. VII made it self-adjusting in the swami, according to how my weight was distributed in it: the more I needed it the tighter it got. I also retained the distinctive leg loops which buckled in one simple move, and could tighten or loosen in one move of the two piece buckle. This was now a hybrid Mk. VII which was extremely functional and comfortable in the rapidly changing conditions of rigging work. A good harness lets me loose and comfortable when possible. This is really desirable in order to avoid fatigue. On the other hand, it cinches up tight and secure when I need it to. It does it very quickly and easily. I was the first one in my harness in the mornings, and the first one out of it in the evenings.
I never go out without it, even though I actually have occasion to use it only a few times a year. When I need to be secure and able to work with both hands free, it earns its keep, and more.
I slung myself to the stage left end of the truss, and went to work on No. 8. It was only a few minutes before I had the bulb swapped out. I switched the instrument into its self-test mode (DIP switch #2), and watched the lamp fire.
"Cool!" I thought, "I've got them all up."
I made my figure 8 descender to my brand new 30 meter line, and jumped into the short rappel to the stage, in the middle of the band's sound check. I'm over the days when I used to go off the truss head-first in a long upside-down abseil down the line. I used to get a real kick out of rappeling. Now, I only do it when I need to. I haven't forgotten how, though.
Well, after all of that effort, the damned thing refused to fire all evening. Apparently, that test mode firing was the last of that lamp.
We'll see if the shipment arrives tommorow in Dallas.
I would bet it will.
In the meantime, one of my little robots can't play.
It's okay: "I'm a professional...I'll rise above it."
October 1, 1992
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