Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Welcome Break

       Crisis management, good stuff, and it's almost time for my fix... I just got off the phone with the Chautauqua Institution's Operations department, and from what they're telling me, they won't be able to get down to clean out our trash closet until Saturday morning. It's overflowing already, and 6,000 rowdy concert-goers will be filing past it tonight. Unacceptable. A constant whirlwind of activity over the last few weeks has left my shared office cluttered and unkempt. I sit at one of three old, beat up desks, surrounded by time sheets and order forms that need to be checked and signed. At my left sit two more desks. One, belonging to my boss, is adorned with 30 years of souvenirs and gifts from famous people and coworkers. The other is completely bare, waiting for the road manager to set up shop for the evening show. In the corner, behind the delinquent copy machine, sits metal shelving stacked to the ceiling with supplies: soap, shampoo, Fabreeze, four different sizes of copy paper, and a few dozen cheap, white bath towels. The average person would be surprised how many towels it takes to keep a incoming show happy. Josh Turner, the show that is coming in tonight needs 25 full sized bath towels and a dozen hand towels. I won't be closing up till later than usual if 25 guys are taking showers tonight, I guess that's what I signed up for.
     On the tiny, dusty video monitor across the office from me, I can see the morning devotional clearing the stage while Jerod plays a wonderfully complex hymn on the Amphitheater Organ, famous for its size and longevity. I later found out that he played that specific tune at double time, simply because he was that good at playing the organ. He pulled out all the stops for a final chord that shook the windows in my little office, which is just across from the pipes. Time to go.
     Working at the “Amp” is a little like working as a fireman, and fires need to be snuffed quickly in a centuries old,  sun-baked wooden building. I take off, out of my office, and swing by the choir loft, hoping to catch Keith out on the stage setting up for the lecture. He has a lot more leverage than I do and should be able to “encourage” the operations department to find some time before the concert tonight to handle our trash problem. Keith is respected and feared throughout the Institution. He's a great guy and a superb boss, assuming you stay on the right side of his temper, which is shorter than a sawed off shotgun, and easily as frightening if provoked. I survey the situation from the choir loft, dominated by towering brass organ pipes, looking out on a a sea of rough off-white wooden benches, filled with the not so off-white heads of “Chautauqua People,” out of towners that come to experience our home during the summer, with hair the color of the snow they never see. Tourists.
     Keith is standing on the stage in shorts and an Amphitheater polo shirt, looking decidedly overheated, managing the slow clinking rise of one of three gigantic projection screens via radio, speaking exclusively in stage crew jargon, which indicated that he was all about business right now. Better not bother Keith, he'll handle an overflowing garbage cabinet the afternoon before a big show more diplomatically with cool water in his hand. I broke my holding pattern in the choir loft and dove into my other chores. Compared to the musty, stuffy confines of my office, being out in the “Amp” is a welcome improvement, but it was still too warm to be comfortable. A rare breeze noses its' way under the giant, slouching roof, and sways the projector screen on its way up.
     The sun is beating down on everything  today, and the heat slows down everyone except me, even the kid selling newspapers across the way is calling out a little less often. “GETCH'ER CHAUTAUQUA DAILY” Thank goodness, that 13 year old kid's shouting can get annoying. I lower the tarps that keep the sun from glaring on the projection screens, make a touch and go landing at the cooler backstage to grab some bottled water for the lecturer, help the crew set up back drop curtains, and once that and a dozen other things were finished I crash land in a chair on the back porch to wait for the lecture to start.
     It's then when I realize how thirsty I am. The moldy air of the office hangs in my dry throat like cobwebs. When I sink into that chair on the back porch, overlooking Chautauqua lake, I can't help but be thankful for the water cooler, the smell of old wood and newly cut grass, and a few seconds of hard earned respite. Feels good to work something other than my calculus muscles. As I sip from the little paper cone cup, I look forward to lunch, invariably my first meal of the day; still a few hours away assuming everything goes according to plan. I still have my mail run to do, and I can't take lunch until the 50-foot trailer full of tonight's stage lights and effects is unloaded, and the bus load of crew have been fed. I notice that I'm tired too, my feet are sore from all the walking I had done that week, and they're still adjusting to my new shoes. My old ones fell apart in the middle of the day yesterday. Honestly, I felt as worn out as those old shoes, I had hit the end of a 40 hour week like a brick wall, and I still had another 13 hours or so until I could go home around 2 am that night. Then I'd be back to the Amp at 7:30 to get the Saturday morning sweepers started. I like my job, the crew are great, the pay is... decent, and as I close my eyes to enjoy the ice cold water, part of me wishes I could work here for the rest of my life, running from crisis to crisis, keeping everything in the air; savoring each 5 minute break like a week's vacation, that little paper cone of ice water like a crystal goblet of the finest wine. Everything is a luxury when you've got hard work to do. The rest of me is very glad that this is only a 12 week job. This addiction to crisis management can't be healthy.