The worst call I was ever on began at 5:30 for a 6AM load-in and I did not leave the building until 2:30 the next morning. Or was it 4:30 for a 5? Who the fuck knows anymore, it was one of my earliest arena shows. (And I’ve actually slept since then). I seem to recall being in the building for 22 hours straight, which is just plain stupid. Of course, so is “professional wrestling”, which is what kind of show it was.
It was horrible. It was one of those oh-so-rare occasions when it was cold enough in Louisiana that it wasn’t raining, it was “frozen precipitation” and the bridges were all in danger of being closed. With a venue that sits on the banks of a river, this is most definitely a concern. Which didn’t matter to me since I didn’t leave the building for a whole damned day. My car got to leave the building. A friend got cut, but since he grew up driving in New York, we figured he could handle it just fine. The only demand we made was that he go straight to the closest fucking store and get me a toothbrush and toothpaste. Because the arena leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Or maybe it’s the road case grime. Either way, yuck.
I cannot count the number of times my car has driven me home on auto-pilot because I have been too tired to remember my name, much less where I live. See, when all the paying attendees leave after the show, our work has just begun again for the day. We have to take all that shit down and put it in the trucks so the touring crew can drive all night to start again at 6AM in the next venue.
This is the glamour of being a stagehand, folks.
We work trade shows. Yawn. I mean, really. We work festivals (can I slit my wrists now, before another one rolls around?) Festivals, which may seem fun to all the folks who show up to drink lots of beer and prove that white folks, as a general rule, should not dance, well, they’re not so much fun for the people who start working them days before the gates open and work through the night and the following day after the gates close trying to restore the city to its normal state.
And concerts? No, I cannot get you tickets. Even in the venues where I probably COULD get you tickets, not-no-but-hell-to-the-fuck-no. Because, see, I’m not burning up favors for you when I might someday want to use one on myself. And no, I cannot get you an autograph. Because, see, we don’t actually get to hang out with Chad Kroeger and Justin Bieber and Eminem. We don’t even get to meet them. As a general rule, we don’t get to watch the concerts, so the only excitement comes from what harm we can cause each other.
And I assure you, we do harm each other. Somebody actually wrapped a job steward’s drive shaft with saran wrap a few weeks ago. That would be the same job steward who knows which of his female employees aren’t offended by a smack on the ass with his clipboard. And heaven help any of the lowly male peons who think it would be funny to try the same stunt—Mr. Job Steward has a paddle just for them.
But back to the hours. There have been times when one touring crew rolled out of the building a mere 4 hours before the next crew was due to load in. Stagehands have slept in the venue and used the dressing room showers to clean up.
It is not glamorous, people. It is a job—one with plenty of hazards. And nowhere near enough sleep, which is not so easy without chemical help. So if you happen to be one of the rare recovering addicts who work in this industry, you better have a strong program, make a lot of meetings, have a sponsor who can read your mind from 4 states away, and a Higher Power that does for you what you cannot do for yourself. Thank heaven I’ve been clean long enough that the thought of using isn’t attractive to me anymore. Because the hours suck in this job.