I worked the stage at a ska show tonight and caught dozens of crowd surfers. I didn’t expect that at a ska show. If it was any type of rock show, metal, punk, industrial, alternative, then sure. Surf away. But tonight’s roster of 90’s ska bands did not particularly make me prepare for the catching of human bodies. I was eagerly awaiting watching the crowd skank and sing along, but my mistaken expectations were blasted by the drunken phalanx of crowd surfers.
I was in the zone tonight. I caught dozens and dozens of people coming over the crowd into the pit. Not one person was dropped or injured themselves (or me). I even waved my stage partner away suggesting I could just catch most of the people by myself. I caught one guy at least 10 times. It was an all-ages show, he looked about 15, and he was having the time of his life, so I allowed it. Usually we might tell a person who keeps coming over that after 3 times, you’re done. If you come over again we will kick you out. But he wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t hurting the people underneath him, and he thanked me each and every time I caught him. And the kid probably weighed about 110 pounds. So I just kept catching him and planting him gently down on the concrete. Gave him a brotherly pat on the shoulder and sent him on his way to surf again. Hell a couple times I caught that kid with one arm, planted him on the ground, and walked triumphantly back to the side of the stage. Sometimes people in the very front row that watch me catch people all night will smile at me or give me a high five. Occasionally when the show ends, people will come over and thank me for working so hard catching people.
Lots of crowd surfers tonight did not approach the pit at the front of the stage. Instead they got passed back to the rear of the room, so I didn’t even have the opportunity to catch them. I wondered if this was a thing at ska shows, passing people to the back instead of the front. All crowds are different. Sometimes a person would climb up and start surfing but the people underneath them weren’t interested in carrying him, or weren’t even packed close enough together to make surfing a reasonable expectation. So they sort of sank back down to the floor, or if they were unlucky, they just fell between the people and landed on the concrete. When I spot this from up front I would usually grimace and say in my head, “Charlie don’t surf!”
When people did crowd surf towards the front, I would wait until they got close enough to the stage barricades, then stand up on the step and grab whatever limb was closest to me. Pouncing like a tiger shark. I would pull them towards me and the crowd would assist by pushing them towards me also. Then I would go for their chest area, grab them securely, and pivot, stepping down from the step and letting their legs dangle. People usually can orient themselves and use their own feet to land. Some inexperienced stage guys will just grab whatever part they can, like their ankles. Then they sort of panic or freeze up and forget to let go of the person’s feet so that they can use them to land. The other stage guy will be going for the chest or shoulders and carry most of the weight. I used to see people grab a person’s feet and then not let go while the other person missed their upper body or dropped them entirely. That happens sometimes, you just can’t catch everybody. But with a staff person stupidly holding the surfer’s feet up, they land on their head and shoulders unnecessarily. That hurts. What you are supposed to do if you end up with the person’s feet is immediately put their feet down on the floor and let go, moving on to catch the next crowd surfer. There were several teachable moments where I yelled to the new staff over the deafening music, “Don’t hold their fucking feet! Put them on the ground! Don’t let their head hit the floor!”
Catching human bodies from a height over my head and putting them safely on the floor is indeed a unique skill set. I’m not even sure how to describe this on my resume. “Extensive experience depositing live sweaty human bodies from the crowd surface to the floor without injury. Background in tackle football, physical restraints, and discrete eye-hand coordination.” With all the intense physicality of this position, I am happily surprised that I haven’t suffered any major injury working the stage besides a jammed finger or two and a bruised back. I could easily suffer broken fingers, torsion injuries, a sprained back, rolled ankle, injured neck, or a concussion. My stage partner had to leave during a show to go to urgent care when he sustained a concussion working the stage with me. While catching a crowd surfer, they inadvertently flailed around in such a way that they kicked him in the skull. Hazards of the job.
Tonight I left the stage for my 30 minute dinner break. I kept my radio on at the table quietly. I was taking pictures of my dinner to show my wife how healthy I was eating when I heard an unusual radio call. I heard one of my managers talking about how he just called the cops on a patron that just spit in his face. He gave his location which was twenty feet from where I was eating dinner. I immediately left my food at the table and fast-walked through the restaurant and out the door. I found him there with several other staff talking to a couple in their 20’s. I didn’t get the story until later, but I could tell that the man was very intoxicated and they had ejected him from the venue.
My security manager and a bar manager were standing in such a way to prevent the patron from leaving the doorway area. Another manager was in the background on the phone with the police. Yet another manager walked up next to me and we stood there waiting to see what happened. I discreetly took a couple photos of the couple, which always helps later in describing them in our reports. He will also be banned from our property, so having clear photos is key. Spitting in someone’s face falls under simple assault and battery and you can be arrested and charged for it. Which this guy is about to learn.
This guy was attempting to drunkenly argue with the staff about what happened and started filming us with his smart phone asking us our names. When he got to me I told him he didn’t need to know my name. A random citizen walked up to scan the scooter that was right in the doorway, and drunk patron started interrogating him as to why he was being detained and asking him for his name. We all told him that guy is an innocent bystander and doesn’t work with us. He wasn’t wearing a STAFF shirt and he didn’t have a radio, genius. The scooter guy said, “I’m not telling you my name, jerk,” and flipped off his camera. I would love to see this footage from his phone.
Sure enough, drunk guy thought it would be a smart idea to charge and start trying to push past the manager whose face he already spat in. He thought if he could push him out of his way he could run away before the cops arrived, I suppose. And leave his girlfriend there with us? Getting in to a pushing match with the bouncers on the sidewalk mere feet from passing traffic is a terrible idea. And it’s very easy to move from a push to a punch.
This is the point where I clicked into automatic mode from all my previous training. I think I said, “NOPE!” and reached over to grab his arm and pulled him away from the alcove he was in. The staff next to me grabbed his other arm. Drunk patron continued to struggle so instead of putting him up against a wall I decided to put him down on the ground. I’d like to say that I strategically planted my leg in front of his and pulled him along, causing him to essentially tip forward and touchdown on the ground in a prone position. The proverbial “Sweep the leg, Johnny” move. But, in reality, I kicked his foot out from under him and helped him land face-first on the concrete. Then we each held his arm by his wrists and biceps and I dug my shoulder into his back. He kept struggling and yelling so I moved further over his torso and put more of my weight on his back. His girlfriend was screaming in the background. I removed the still-recording smartphone from his hand and handed it to another staff person. At this point I said, “Since we have now put hands on him, could we please call the police again? It’s a bit more urgent now.”
The second phone call was made.
He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and kept trying to wriggle around and push his way up off the ground. This only results in cuts and bruises. He wasn’t feeling it then, but tomorrow morning he is going to feel like he was hit by a truck. If only he knew how many homeless people had urinated on this very spot that he was laying on. I started saying reasonable things like, “Stop struggling. You’re going to have bruises all over tomorrow and I don’t want you to have bruises. Calm down.” Of course never in the history of the world has telling someone to calm down ever done anything but rile them up. I should know better than to say that. Concrete hurts. I was trying to relate to him with some humanity, but you just can’t use reason with drunk people.
Within minutes the police arrived and instructed the drunk guy on the sidewalk with two staff holding him flat to cooperate so he wouldn’t get hurt. The officer came to my side with handcuffs ready and I moved my hand further up his arm so he could be cuffed. I’ve never been arrested, so the sound that the handcuff made was new to me. It was very dramatic and final. The clicking sound reminded me of the sound of the hammer of a revolver being pulled back. There’s really no arguing with handcuffs. I moved his arm to his side and the officer and I put his hand behind his back. Then he handcuffed both of his hands together, pulled him up and put him in the back of the police car. The sense of relief was palpable for everybody.
We talked with the police officers, telling them the story and giving them our information. The manager who was spat on pressed charges so they took our boy to jail. He also thanked me for intervening in that situation. We are a team, and when I heard that one of our team was being spat on, I ran to help. It’s what anybody should do. I want us all safe. I went back inside to wash my hands and look for any cuts on my hands or arms. I took some deep breaths and calmed myself. I finished my dinner, then went back to the stage to continue to catch crowd surfers until the show ended. Tonight is going to be a night for a hot bath with Epsom salts when I get home.
Later, after the concert was long over and we were all writing reports about the incident, somebody looked for the guy’s mugshot on the Multnomah County Jail website. Sure enough there his smug face was, facing pending assault charges.
My job is certainly a strange one with unusual expectations and outcomes. For most of the night my job was to prevent bodies from hitting the concrete by catching crowd surfers in the concert. Then, for a moment, my job was to put someone down on the concrete and hold him there against his will. The exact opposite parameters. People saw both sides of the concrete tonight.
After the concert was over and people were streaming out to head home, I noticed a young blonde girl standing by the door probably waiting for her parents to come drive her home. She was looking at me longer than she should without saying something or smiling. I was definitely sweaty, exhausted, and disheveled at this point in the night. But she stepped forward and said, “Thank you for catching me.” I smiled back at her and said, “You’re welcome. Glad you had fun.” I remembered her now. She came over one time. This may have been her first concert, and it seemed like it was her first time crowd surfing. I remember her floating towards me looking nervous and anxious before I caught her and lowered her down. She had a good landing and walked out of the pit with a huge smile on her face.
“Thank you for catching me.”
That short little interaction of earnest human gratitude made my night.