Oddly enough, this all started with my little brother trying to kick me in the nuts.
I was in 7th grade, and we had just watched our first Peter Sellers Pink Panther movie. Peter Sellers plays Inspector Clouseau, a bumbling, eccentric prat who often accidentally avoids death and solves complex crimes. One of his eccentricities is that he has instructed Cato, his manservant, to randomly attack him to keep his reflexes sharp. It goes without saying that my little brother and I thought this was a great idea, what better way to celebrate our love for Kung Fu movies and keep our martial arts skills sharp by constantly sneak attacking each other?
While I preferred to employ a diverse array of attacks, my brother just tried to kick me in the nuts.
Luckily for me, he never succeeded. Unfortunately, for my brother, I often retaliated by kicking him in the nuts. My brother has two kids now, so no permanent damage was done.
One key benefit of this situation is that my reflexes were “touchy”, so when my friend Geoff tried to jokingly throw a punch at me one day, I blocked it, and twisted his arm behind his back without thinking. Geoff wasn’t mad (probably because he was really stoned) and put me in contact with this dude, who knew another dude who could get me “crowd management gigs” at concerts and other events. I was 18.
In retrospect, it was a mildly shady operation: You called a number that went to an answering machine (it was the ’90s) that listed out the available gigs, and when and where you had to show up for each. This meant that a random assortment of men and women would show up on the day of the hoping they got picked to work that day. Geoff’s and my first gig was at the Portland, Ore. International Raceway, and aside from discovering that drunken motorsports fans seem to be unaware of the fact that speeding cars can kill them, things went pretty well.
On the day of the Metallica concert, I was a little concerned about the validity of the information I had received, because my mom and I ended up confused and driving around Portland Meadows looking for where the security folks were suppose to gather. Portland Meadows is in the middle of a semi-random industrial area right off of I-5 near the Oregon-Washington border. It mostly consists of parking lots, warehouses, a horse racing track and a bunch of abandoned fields and grassy areas.
Apparently, Metallica was also confused. I was at a payphone checking the information I had when James Hetfield rolled up in a limo, stuck his head out the sunroof, and asked, “Hey, do you know where the concert is?”
I just looked at him calmly and said, “I think the concert is going to be held over there,” and pointed to an area we had accidentally almost driven into that appeared to be reserved for the bands.
It was only after he drove away that I thought, “Holy shit that was James Hetfield!” I hoped that I sent him in the right direction.
My mom’s response to seeing James was, “Who was that buck wild-looking person? Is he in the band?” We found the location 10 minutes later.
I walked up to a little tent in the center of a clearing, said my name and was given a security polo shirt. I was ready for work.
At 5’9″ and 150 lbs, I was easily the smallest guy. I was surrounded by big, muscle-bound dudes having intense discussions about bulking powders, or the stretch marks on their shoulders and pectorals from all the iron they were pumping. A couple of them had worked Metallica’s last date up north in Tacoma, and they started telling the rest of us about getting into it with bikers. I got a little nervous. My Kung Fu was okay—maybe good—but it wasn’t good enough to fight bikers who had 100 pounds on me. What was I getting myself into?
The temperature was hitting a high of 100 degrees. I guzzled water and wondered if I was going to drop from heat stroke, or get murdered by bikers a month before I was due to move across the country to start college.
After about 45 minutes, a guy marched toward us looking like he escaped from a U.S. Army recruitment poster—an All-American G.I. Joe. He briefed us on how to handle things, how long we could expect to be working, the level of police backup, and told us to keep an eye out for people who might pass out because of the heat.
The original lineup was Suicidal Tendencies, Alice in Chains and Metallica, but Alice in Chains had gone on hiatus the day before, so Candlebox would be replacing them. One of the things our briefing covered was that the fans were probably going to be angry about the change, and another thing was that Suicidal Tendencies was “god-awful,” and would probably make us want to kill ourselves.
Things were running way behind schedule, and we needed to get set-up to take tickets. G.I. Joe selected me, two big dudes, and Irene, one of the three women working that day who was 5’1 and 100 pounds (this will be an important detail for later). We hopped into the back of a pick-up truck, and were rushed to the ticket area.
Taking tickets was simple: Concertgoers were herded between two fences, and six of us would take each ticket and tear half of it into a tall cardboard box (this was before the days of barcode scanning). We weren’t shown what a ticket for the show looked like, or how to identify fake tickets. People weren’t allowed to bring in outside beverages or containers, because people had filled them with rocks and thrown them at each other at a previous concert, so we had to search their bags and confiscate any contraband as well. This meant that every fourth person decided to go back and leave their drugs and booze in their cars. Once they made it past us, they’d walk past another few feet of fencing with cops on either end, and then into the venue.
Things went fairly smoothly: I checked the people’s tickets, searched their bags, confiscated any contraband, and let them in. The bikers were really polite and cooperative (these were Portland bikers after all)—it was the young proto-hipsters and bros that gave us a hard time.
Eventually, this dude came stumbling up without a ticket. He was about medium height, with long dark hair, and so filthy that it looked intentional. He looked like a crust punk. He was so drunk that he sounded like he was crying when he spoke. He insisted that his ticket was with his girlfriend who was already inside and that we had to let him in, and when this didn’t work he cursed at us and walked away.
The man soon returned following some random woman to the ticket area who he claimed was his girlfriend, the woman said she didn’t know him or have his ticket and that he was harassing her. I told him he had to leave, or I was going to have the cops arrest him who were already observing the situation, and looked like they were going to intervene anyway.
The man continued to insist that he be let in, and I reiterated that he couldn’t come in without a ticket, and that was too drunk for us to let him in anyway.
“You can’t keep me out of there,” he said.
“Yes I can,” I responded.
The guy walked back about 40 meters, and then proceeded to charge the ticket booth—only he charged the one woman with us taking tickets. She looked at his stumbling attempt to run and said, “Guys?”
We let him run past the cardboard boxes and then another guy and I tackled him, the other ticket agents didn’t even flinch or pay him any attention. Irene jumped on the pile too, which we all thought was hilarious afterwards. The cops saw the commotion, walked over and promptly slapped the cuffs on him, shaking their heads all the while.
Once we were done taking tickets, Irene and I were assigned to guard the exit of the beer garden. I told G.I. Joe that I was barely old enough to vote, but he said it wasn’t a problem as long as I stayed outside of the beer garden. My job was to keep people from sneaking in through the exit, because the rule was that everyone who left the area had to get back in line, and wait to have their IDs checked again.
Suicidal Tendencies was indeed horrible.
Candlebox sounded exactly like they did on the radio—in fact, they were the only band that day that sounded clear enough to enjoy.
All I heard from Metallica was loud power chords and cursing.
Guarding the exit of the beer garden wasn’t as action packed as the ticket booth. We just dealt with angry people who were mad that they had to get back into a very long line and have their IDs rechecked. Apparently, the concert organizers weren’t aware of such basic strategies as using a hand stamp for returning visitors to the beer garden.
Eventually, a soccer dad in a polo shirt and khakis confidently strode up to us. He seemed like the sort of guy who needed to hold court in every social situation and share his wisdom on all matters corporate, yuppie and/or obnoxious.
“Let me tell you about my system for negotiating with the Land Rover dealership”, or “Steve Young’s release? I figured it out the other day, get a football and I’ll teach it to you”.
Unlike the other folks, he just made conversation with us, instead of demanding to be let in. After five minutes he looked down and said, “One of you dropped a twenty.”
“It’s not my money, I think you dropped that,” I said.
Irene gave me a “what’s wrong with you, don’t you recognize a bribe when you see one?” look. We let the soccer dad in.
“I’m going to college in the fall, I need all the money I can get,” she said.
“So am I,” I said. I began to think about the fact that I would be lucky to clear $50.00 after taxes. “I wonder how much money we can make?”
Someone who had noticed the transaction walked up to us and asked, “Why does he get to go back in?”
“Lost his wallet,” we said.
He started to take out his own wallet, and Irene placed her hand on his to stop him.
“You’ll get us in trouble, be more subtle,” she said.
He walked away, and then casually walked by us, dropped a twenty, and then walked casually into the beer garden when no one was looking.
Irene was only small on the outside.
The first two guys that bribed us kept things discrete, and told only about five other people between them. If memory serves me correctly, Irene and I each wound up pocketing well over $100 in bribes.
Our enterprise was later thwarted when they set-up two more beer gardens.
When the concert ended, I was asked to guard the entrance to the backstage area with a very preppy-looking guy—the kind that looks like the future president of his college’s Young Republicans club. We would check the backstage passes, and let in the people who had the right credentials. It was pretty late, and I was glad the night was almost over. My light blue polo was covered in white salt stains from sweat. I felt depleted.
We had been working the backstage area for about 20 minutes when this absolutely gorgeous woman walks up to us. I recognized her from the beer garden, and recalled her randomly taking off her jeans to reveal a tiny thong bikini so she could turn around and flex her ass at some guy. She asked us if she could go backstage, and I said she had to have a pass, so she pulled down her pants and flexed her ass. I told her she still needed to have a pass, and Mr. Preppy said, “ignore him, he’s stupid,” and let her in. He then explained groupies to me, and said that we were supposed to let in hot girls that looked “easy”.
I listened to what he said, and started to wish that TLC concerts operated under the same policy.
For the record, I was homeschooled for a while and my parents would randomly let us have cable for six to nine month bursts before getting rid of it for a year or more before changing their minds again. So while I wasn’t necessarily innocent, I had some pop culture gaps.
A woman we had denied entry earlier was standing around watching this play out and was quite irritated.
“This is bullshit. She shows some ass and gets in?!”
Preppy told her those were the rules, so she angrily flashed us and went inside. Several other women showed up and followed suit.
I was only there for about 20 more minutes before G.I. Joe showed up and said he was taking over for me. I told him I was cool, but he insisted.
By the time my mom picked me up, I was exhausted, dehydrated and famished. I wound up spending $10 at Taco Bell—no mean feat in the mid-’90s. As we drove home, I knew I was 100 percent positive about a couple of things:
1) If I worked another concert, I needed to be in a place where I could accept bribes.
2) I would never forget the ass flexor, because she was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen on screen or in real life.
3) Working concerts for barely above minimum wage sucks, yet it’s totally worth it for the crazy stories.
4) I will be forever jealous of whoever got it on with the booty flexor.
Markham Lee is a freelance writer based in Seattle, who has spilled pixels on topics ranging from music, relationships, television and those instances where life is stranger than fiction. He’s also working on a science fiction novel he hopes to finish before 2020. His work has been published by Nerve.com, The Frisky. Pop Matters & Seeking Alpha. You can find more of his writing at his blog: http://www.disparateoddities.com and some of his more random, yet semi-intelligent thoughts on Twitter. Photo: Jondoeforty1