Runaround

Kicking somebody out of a concert is always tricky. The patron has paid money for a ticket, paid for parking, stood in line to get in, waited hours for the show to start, secured their spot, bought food and drinks and merchandise. So they feel pretty entitled to be there. And they’ll tell us all about that entitlement. And yet, certain rules posted all over the venue, website, and ticket will get you a fast trip outside to the sidewalk.

But kicking somebody out of the concert when they are right up front against the barricades, that’s the trickiest. Everyone in the venue is watching it happen, and there aren’t that many easy ways to get them out. We either pull them up over the barricade, walk with them through the entire crowd to the back of the hall, or dismantle a part of the pipe and drape so we can get them out the side. All of this with the crowd pushed up against the back of them.  Even the band performing notices it and sometimes comments on it.

As I’ve mentioned in other chapters, there are certain things that get you kicked out immediately. These are things fighting/violence, sexual or racial harassment, or trying to get on the stage. Also being too drunk to stand, blatant drug use, or an underage patron trying to sneak into the beer garden. For a more grey area situation I’ll give warnings first. Mosh pits and crowd surfing are ok, but simply being an asshole and ruining the show for everyone around you can get you kicked out. It is largely at our discretion. We call getting removed from the concert an ejection.

Often there is an unexpected soundtrack to our actions during the show, provided by the band. When the song perfectly matches what we’re doing it’s a kind of magic. Obviously when I’m catching crowd surfers the songs being played onstage are the natural soundtrack to the mayhem. But when I’ve got somebody’s arm wrapped up while I’m escorting them out of the venue and a heavy-ass metal band is playing their most brutal stomp-riff, it defines perfection. Somebody’s assholery is being responded to with badassery.

Tonight was just such a moment. There was a couple up at the front of the stage that had been there since doors opened hours ago. They spent that time drinking overpriced beers and camping out up at the front barricade. I made small talk when they first arrived and listened to their stories of seeing this band previously and how much they love them. They seemed all right then. But by the time the headliner came on, their drunken behavior was seriously aggravating everyone around them. Yelling way too loud for no reason right next to people’s heads. Sliding into their neighbors and pushing them. Vigorously fist-banging and almost inadvertently punching people. Spilling their water bottles. I would swear I saw the woman close her eyes and do a turbo-pass out for a few seconds. I always read the faces of the people nearby a trouble maker. Sometimes they are all friends of this person so they accept it. But when they aren’t you can see the shock, disgust, and frustration in their eyes. Usually somebody will plead for me to help just with their eyes, if they don’t feel comfortable waving me over in fear of retaliation from said troublemaker.

We spoke to them a few times asking them to settle down, telling them that they were ruining the show for others. They said they would behave, but went right back to being jackasses. I like to see if a verbal reprimand and threat of removal will calm a person down. Often it does, and the problem solves itself. But, no such luck tonight.

Another patron who was in a wheelchair was, unfortunately, positioned right next to these drunk knuckleheads. Although we do provide ADA compliant areas for people with wheelchairs, scooters, crutches, or other medical concerns, that area doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some people in a wheelchair still want to head into the breach and brave the sea of people to experience the show from the crowd. Now, a normal person notices this and accommodates them. They help clear a path for the wheelchair patron, let them up front to the barricade, and even protect them from any nonsense in the crowd like crowd surfers or oblivious rude-asses.

The guy in the wheelchair tonight was really digging the show, he had straight long hair and a kind face. He had a pretty strong hippie peace-loving vibe. I got the feeling he had seen the band a lot of times already. I always ask people in wheelchairs if they need anything extra like earplugs or plastic bottles of water, to save them any unnecessary trips wheeling through the crowd. Then I keep my eye on them during the show just to make sure they aren’t getting crushed or suffering any other peril.

Well tonight, the hippie wheelchair dude had the misfortune of ending up right next to the drunk belligerent couple. I noticed the drunk guy was bumping into the wheelchair guy a lot, knocking into him with his body and elbow. I went over and spotlighted him with my flashlight and told him he needed to be careful of the disabled man in a wheelchair right next to him. I felt like I was talking to a stupid kid on recess telling him the most obvious of behavioral expectations on the playground. He nodded like he got it. Of course, he kept doing it. I then gave him this ultimatum, “If you don’t stop knocking into the man in the wheelchair right here, we are going to kick you out. You’ll miss the rest of the show. Figure it out.”

I heard the oh-so familiar huge hit song from the band start onstage. This song came out in the late 80s and is definitely an ear worm song. You’ve heard it. It’s the highlight of their live show. Drunken fool starts yelling as loud as he can, “This is my favorite song! I’ve been waiting for this all night! WOOOOOOOO!” He starts drunk dancing, which really just means he is knocking into everyone around him, spilling their drinks and pissing people off. I saw a drink get spilled on the wheelchair guy’s lap.

I knew that this one wasn’t going to go peacefully, so I made a radio call for backup, including a manager. I went to help someone with a medical issue on the other side of the stage, and when I looked back there were 5 other security staff there waiting for my instruction. I also saw the drunk couple sway into the wheelchair hippie again hard, actually tipping his chair a few inches off the ground. The man’s face showed disbelief and anger. Who doesn’t show care and respect for someone in a wheelchair?

I told the other staff that that couple was drunk and ruining the show for everyone around them, especially the man in the wheelchair. It had already gone on too long, so they needed to leave right now. I went over and reached between the jerk and the wheelchair guy, in an attempt to protect him from any further harm. My arms made a fence of sorts and I asked the couple to move over to where the other staff were so that they could leave. They had already removed a portion of the pipe and drape so they could get out right there instead of having to go back through the entire crowd. The woman complied and walked out into the DMZ where the staff were, Of course, the man started yelling that he wasn’t leaving.

I said, “You need to go over that way, you’re done here.” As predictable as a Dean Koontz thriller, he said, “Fuck that, I paid good money for this concert. You can’t make me leave. I’m staying!” I was contemplating climbing over the barricade to put myself in between this fuckhead and the wheelchair. A couple more staff had moved through the crowd up to the barricade positioned behind him in case he tried to run or fight us. I yelled, “I can make you leave and you are leaving. Go over there with your girlfriend!” At this point our show of force was more than what was necessary with 8 staff standing around.

But that’s all anyone was doing, standing around. I think everybody wanted the other person to grab the guy first. Sometimes people get nervous and don’t want to be the first to initiate putting hands on a potentially combative person. Or they assumed that since I made the radio call, I should lead the physical escort. But I was on the inside of the barricade trying to protect the hippie in the wheelchair, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to grab him first since I couldn’t keep my hands on him and walk him through the break in the pipe and drape. There were enough other guys there to grab his elbows and start walking him out. But nobody did.

So, since my arms were already out preventing him from pushing over the wheelchair, I looked at my coworkers and just started pushing the guy along the barricade in the direction of the gap and all the other staff. I felt like a bulldozer knocking over a wooden shack. I was ready for him to swing on me, but he tripped and stumbled. The security guys behind him reacted to my push and grabbed his arms too. We all shoved the guy over to the waiting staff, who grabbed him as well.  He was screaming and yelling the whole time but didn’t swing on us. Since he wasn’t calmly walking, and to protect ourselves from physical attack, we had to just have each of the four of us grab each of his limbs.

During a physical intervention, you usually don’t have time to direct which staff grabs a the left arm, which staff grabs the legs, and which staff goes ahead and opens the door. It just happens in a flash of an instant. We had to carry this guy down the stairs, which is perhaps the most dangerous route possible. But it was the most accessible to the outside sidewalk, and since he was already struggling it had to be done that way. If any one of us tripped, or if he broke from our hold and started fighting us we would be having to tackle him on the stairs themselves. That’s a nightmare for everybody.

So just as we are lifting this guy off the ground, the chorus of the song kicks in with the entire crowd singing along.

But you
Why you wanna give me a run-around?
Is it a sure-fire way to speed things up
When all it does is slow me down?

Yep, the band was Blues Traveler, and the super happy pop song was Runaround. Picture the four of us each holding a limb and carrying this idiot down the stairs while this hippie dance anthem played. The staff carrying his ankles were headed down the stairs first, so the guy ended up in a position like he was laying on his back. I had his left arm since I started the push at the stage barricade, but I was carefully watching the steps so I didn’t trip. We carry this guy down two flights of stairs with him struggling the whole time. Amazingly he didn’t get in a kick, punch, or spit on us. Another security staff got ahead and opened the fire door for us so we could just keep moving out to the sidewalk.

Somehow, without talking about it or coordinating it, we just knew to toss him. You know how if you’re at the lake with your friends you might each grab your friend’s wrist and ankle, count, “ONE…TWO…THREE” while you swing them, and then release them to splash into the water on ‘three?’ Well that’s what happened except we tossed that guy out the door onto the concrete. I remember seeing his body at our eye level floating in the air after we released him. For just a second he looked like an astronaut floating in space. He landed on his ass and his back, and his girlfriend ran out after him and coddled him laying on the sidewalk. We closed the door and went back up the two flights of stairs to the concert. I walked back to my regular spot and exchanged smiles with the guy in the wheelchair. He mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
I didn’t even miss out on John Popper’s harmonica solo in Runaround. I will forever think of this ridiculous incident when I hear this song.

****

Six months later, I saw a familiar face in the front of the crowd. It was hippie wheelchair guy again! I’m pretty good with faces, and honestly you remember faces from an intense situation like that. He was grinning at me already, so I went over and said hello, asking him if he was the guy from the Blues Traveler concert several months back. Of course he was. I didn’t get to talk to him again that night, so I apologized for that jerk’s behavior and how long it took us to get him away from him and out of the audience. I thanked him for his patience and commended him for his grace under pressure. Then he told me something that absolutely made my night. He said that while I was holding my arms between him and the jerk, he reached down by his wheel and grabbed the guy’s ankle. He said with mischievous glee and a twinkle in his eyes, “I tripped him.” He held onto the guy’s ankle at the exact moment I started pushing him. That is why the guy stumbled as I was bulldozing him over to the side of the barricade. And that’s one reason he wasn’t able to attack any of us. I laughed heartily at this revelation. Then in my best Jack Black voice, I sang the Tenacious D lyric, “THAT’S FUCKIN’ TEAMWORK!”

 

 

 

 

Get ’em in, and get ’em out

If there was an episodic television show based on my job as a music venue bouncer, I imagine the opening credits would go like this:

INTERIOR. MY HOUSE – NIGHT

Energetic 80s music plays, think CHiPs or THE A-TEAM.
This scene should play like an action movie with the hero gearing up grabbing weapons and ammo like Rambo.

Close up, fast-edit shots of hands grabbing items from a basket by the front door.

One shot for each of the following:
Keys.
Gloves.
Earplugs.
Leatherman tool.
Tactical flashlight. (click on to test)
UV Blacklight flashlight. (click on to test)
Lighter.
Sharpie.
DPSST certification card.
Walkie-Talkie.
Earpiece for walkie-talkie. (plug in)
Smart phone.
Charger.

INTERIOR. TRUCK – NIGHT

Hand-held camera shots of main character driving in his truck. Intercut with shots of homeless people shuffling down the sidewalk, and agitated mentally ill people punching at the air. The theme music continues to play throughout entire scene.

EXTERIOR. MUSIC VENUE FRONT DOOR – NIGHT

Main character confidently walks up to the brightly lit front door of the music venue. The other bouncers greet him and give him a handshake or a high-five. Cut to shot of the marquee listing some famous bands performing. Main character stands in the doorway of the venue in silhouette. We see him put on his gloves, attach his walkie-talkie to his hip, and put his earpiece in. Main title covers the screen.

FADE OUT

****

Being a bouncer in music venues is honestly the most fun job I’ve ever had. Even though most people view us as someone to avoid. We are considered ‘The Fun-Enders.” Normally, if we are talking to you, it means you’re going to be told to stop doing something that you are having fun doing. I’m going to impede upon or end your fun evening by telling you various things. Things like A) you’re being cut off and the bartenders will no longer serve you, B) you can’t smoke inside, C) you can’t sleep here, D) you are being too loud, E) you are harassing women, F) you are in an unauthorized area, G) you are making people uncomfortable and need to stop or leave H) whatever activity you’re doing is not allowed here, and finally I) you are being kicked out and must leave immediately. If you don’t go willingly, we are going to put our hands on you and walk you out. That is commonly called an ejection, or being 86’d. Whatever the particular reason, it’s a person of perceived authority ending your fun. In most of those cases, I’ll be asking you to leave, and therefore, your night will be concluded.

Another friend in the bouncer industry described it even more simply. He said that his jobs have all given him a lot of experience moving bodies around. And that does seem to describe it well, in the most basic terminology. We move bodies around in many ways. First, we process people through the door checking their ID and scanning their tickets. Moving the bodies from outside the venue into the venue. Then we move bodies around with our voices. I regularly tell people where to go or where they can’t go with their alcoholic beverages. Or I move people out of the way to make a path for a wheelchair, staff members, or band members. And, of course, we move bodies around with our voices or our hands when they have ignored all warnings and are finally being kicked out. I’m moving you out of our establishment with either my stern voice or my strong hands.

But let’s get back to the fun parts of my job.

When I’m working the front door at any given venue I often greet people by saying, “Welcome!”
In my head I then say,
To the pleasuredome….
This is from the opening song of the landmark Frankie Goes to Hollywood song of the same name.
This was one of the first compact discs that I bought when that technology became available in the early 80s. The other first CDs I bought were Prince 1999, and the soundtrack to the film 1984 by The Eurythmics (For the Love of Big Brother). I have now owned those three compact discs for over 35 years and still play them all the time. Some albums just have legs. 
I will continue to greet people in this fashion. Someday I hope that Holly Johnson (lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood) comes into a venue I’m working at and recognizes my ‘WELCOME’. 

At the start of the night, I’m pretty much the friendliest door guy you’ve ever seen. I’ve had strangers tell me I’m their favorite security staff at the venue. One tour personnel told me at the end of the concert that I made his day. He appreciated my overall demeanor and welcoming attitude. Another guy told me that I should win the door guy of the year award, if such a thing actually existed. People are obviously expecting the door guy to be an asshole due to their previous experiences. So when I’m the opposite of their expectations, people relax and warm up to me. I attribute this to my innate customer service skills and a whole lot of caffeine. I honestly like answering the endless questions and making people feel at home. Come on in and have a good time. I’m here to help.

When the evening starts I’m smiling and greeting people and making small talk. I’ll even flirt back if you want to flirt. I’m selling the concert or event, and bringing people into the venue. I feel like I’m the lead singer of Kool and the Gang. I’m stepping left and right dancing in place snapping my fingers singing, “This is your night tonight, everything’s gonna be all right.”

But flash forward 8 hours later and it’s a different story entirely. Now I’m standing statue-still, frowning with my arms crossed in front of me. We have reached the hour of the furrowed brow. After dealing with entitled, rude, drunk patrons, I’m ready to kick every single person out of here. And I’m looking for a reason to do so. By this time of the night all I want is for GTFO hour to get here. I wish we had a neon sign that I could click on that flashed in super bright letters GET THE FUCK OUT.

Now I’m more like Prince singing, “Closing time, ugly lights. Everybody’s inspected.”
And I am totally inspecting you. I’m looking for a reason to kick you out (stumbling, yelling, dropping drinks, falling asleep). If I observe signs of visible intoxication, then you will be leaving us sooner than you planned. I can’t wait for these people to go home, they have sapped all of my enthusiasm and energy. Our motto is, “Get ’em in, and get ’em out.” Sometimes getting them out takes a long, long time. Nobody really wants the night to end, except all the staff.

But I still try to be gentle with my “Get out” speech. I might say, “OK everybody last call was 15 minutes ago, the bartenders need to close up and I need to lock the doors.” I’ve been known to say, “Ok my friends, the time has come.” Or, “If you love us that much we open again tomorrow morning, but you need to head out for tonight.” If my patience was thin, it’ll be something like, “Okay, that’s it. We are now closed. Please make your way to the door and get home safely.”
If I have a friendly bunch of people, I’ll lead them with this familiar exchange.

Me: “Hey everybody, you don’t gotta go home but…..”
Drunken revelers: “WE GOTTA GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!!”

That usually gets the group laughing and they get it and begin moving towards the door.

That’s the ideal way to end the night, with laughter.

****

EXTERIOR. MUSIC VENUE FRONT DOOR – LATE NIGHT

Main character removes his earpiece and turns off his walkie-talkie. Intercut with shots of staff sweeping the venue floor, pulling down the letters from the marquee, and flipping off lights. Main character walks out the front door in silhouette. He doesn’t have the same bounce to his step as earlier. He is weary. He leans down and gives a homeless person a slice of cold pizza. Another staff behind him can be seen chaining the door shut, then they flick off the lights. Main character waves at the homeless person and walks off screen. Credits roll.

 

Cletus in the DMZ

The largest indoor venue that I work at holds 1500 people at full capacity. There’s only one official entrance, so that’s a whole lot of people to process inside in a big hurry. Every single person is going to have to come through this one checkpoint; it’s the bottleneck of doom. We check IDs, scan or sell tickets, stamp wrists, answer all the questions, then get them through the metal detectors. Or we deny them entry because they are already too drunk or high to come in. We are always referencing faces of people that have been permanently 86’d from the venue. When in doubt one of use will go to the private area with photos of all the people who are not allowed inside due to previous assholery. This collection of photos of angry people is called the wall of shame.

The room itself is divided down the middle to accommodate all-ages crowds. We are one of the few Portland venues that can put on all-ages shows. But it’s a lot of extra work for us, and frankly, it’s a huge pain in the ass. We have to keep the underage kiddies away from the beer garden area, and stay in accordance with the OLCC guidelines of alcohol consumption and monitoring at a show with minors present. To do this we build a DMZ, or really an aboveground trench to separate the all-ages section from the 21 and over section. Obviously putting on a strictly 21 and over show is much preferable and easier for us to set up.

This DMZ (demilitarized zone) is a protected walkway made up of huge heavy steel concert barricades bolted together in a particular formation. We arrive early to lug these heavy bastards into place and lock them in position. They have steps on the inside for us to use to catch crowd surfers or see into the crowd better to address a problem. Or so we can jump over the barricades easier to enter the crowd to break up a fight. Photographers will also step up on there to get that perfect across-the-top-of-the-crowd shot of the band onstage. It’s also designed to be wide enough so an over 21 person from the beer garden side cannot pass an alcoholic beverage to a minor on the all ages side.

Nobody is allowed in this walkway without being authorized. If you don’t work here, or have a laminate or photo pass, you aren’t allowed in here at all. But there are always exceptions. ALWAYS. One exception is when a crowd surfer makes their way to the front area (the moat) to be caught by us. We then allow them to run down this DMZ pathway to get back out into the general population of the crowd, usually to crowd surf up to us again. Another exception is when the band members (who all have laminates) give all-access passes to their friends or family or (potential) fuck-buddy.  Gear load out is also sometimes done between sets, so drum kits and gig bags and amps are being rolled down the DMZ by the stagehands and tour staff. Videographers, photographers, tour personnel, roadies, stagehands, promoters, other industry people, and us security staff can all be seen moving up and down this metal trench. Sometimes we offer ADA placement of a patron in a wheelchair up by where I stand. And the lead singers love to jump down next to me and run up and down the DMZ. It’s a great way to get into the crowd safely and give a lot of high-fives, hugs, and Instagram video opportunities. So, for a place that nobody is supposed to be, there’s actually a hell of a lot of people moving around. And I’m supposed to monitor all of this activity.

You’ll see us move extra fast if we are responding to a fight or a medical situation where someone has passed out. This corridor is hugely important, as it is the only way to move quickly across the room to an emergency without having to push people apart through a packed crowd. I can’t even count how many times I’ve had to climb over the barricade into the crowd to help a patron who had fainted or passed out. I’ll then talk with them and gently walk with them out the DMZ pathway or just through the crowd to the back where we can get some air and fresh water. It’s amazing how many people just didn’t want to lose their spot, so they didn’t eat or drink any water for hours. One show we actually stopped the band, raised the house lights, and brought in EMTs though the DMZ so they could get to a patron who collapsed and had a seizure. The band never got to play their encore that night.

My position once the concert begins is right up by the stage where this DMZ corridor begins. I’m monitoring the DMZ itself and stopping anyone that isn’t supposed to be there. I’m watching for people smoking or sneaking alcohol into the all-ages section and dealing with that. I’ve kicked a lot of people out of concerts from up at the stage. I’m also watching the stage and the moat area and my stage buddy on the other side (stage right). I’m keeping my eyes on the VIP area that has their own bar and is often full of entitled drunk industry people. I’m also somehow supposed to see behind me to monitor the backstage area and sound engineer station. Having eyes in the back of my head would be a most appreciated upgrade. Sometimes really famous people get positioned right near me. I’ve looked over and found myself bumping shoulders with famous athletes, actors, models, and other musicians who aren’t performing that night. Sometimes I have to ask them to stop doing drugs where the crowd can see them, or politely ask them to move so a huge crate full of musical equipment can come through. That does give me a small degree of satisfaction, since these people are not used to being told that they have to move, or to stop smoking pot.

On rare occasions, we might have to haul out some asshole from the stage area down the DMZ. This would be because they were fighting, groping women, being aggressive, trying to actually get on stage with the band, or were ruining the show for others around them. Or if they intentionally try to get in the DMZ after being warned not to.
This next incident is precisely that last example.

I don’t remember what concert this happened at, but I surely do remember the Cro-Magnon jerk that we had to kick out. There was some stereotypical white redneck dipshit trying to get our attention from the beer garden side of the DMZ. He kept gesturing that he wanted to crawl over the barricade. I would shake my head no at him, but he continued to pester me and any other staff that would walk by. I went over and acted like I wanted to help him. “What do you need?” He asked if he could climb over the barricade to get into the staff-only area I was in. I told him very clearly and firmly that he was not allowed to do that, as this is an off-limits area. In my head I said, “Staff only, cretin.”

He nodded his head like he understood, but kept asking everybody as they got near him if he could climb over the barricade. He thought he was funny, apparently. He even would mimic the motions of putting his hands on the railing like he was about to jump over. I went over to him again and stated, “If you try to get into this area, we will kick you out and you will miss the concert.” I called for a manager on the radio just so they would have eyes on this fool and know who I was talking about if I had to kick him out later. Manager met with me in front of this dude and I explained that he was repeatedly asking if he could climb into the DMZ and acting like he was going to try the moment I looked away or got distracted with some other issue. The manager repeated my expectation to the guy. When he made faces like a sad puppy dog being chastised, I told him a final time that I would kick him out if he entered. He could walk over to the ID station between the two areas like everybody else and get to the all-ages section if he wanted. Then I walked back to my station, keeping my eyes on him.

This guy was a big dude. He was 6 feet 4 inches and probably 280 pounds. Not fat, not super muscular, just farm-bred and stocky. If I had to guess, he probably eats a lot of red meat and drinks Monster energy drinks. He wore a gray wife-beater t-shirt and camouflage army shorts. I imagine that the military wouldn’t let him in, but that he probably does indeed beat his wife (if he even has one). And yes, he had a classic mullet. I know I’m making a lot of assumptions. But after working in this field for a few years, you can get a good read on people based on their appearance and how they communicate with you. If I were a betting man, and I’m not, I would put down money that this guy drove a pick-up with a lift kit, barely graduated high school with a C average, votes Republican, and experimented with making bathtub meth. His Christian name is probably Cletus.

I obviously didn’t like this guy, which makes what happened next all the more sweet.
Like I expected, he waited until there was no other staff in the area, and I got busy talking with the stage manager about some cool things the band was going to do that I should be ready for once the show starts. I glanced back over to see our man Cletus actually pushing up onto the barricade and trying to come into the DMZ. House lights were still on and the concert hadn’t started, so this was literally the worst time to try this nonsense.

I called for backup over the radio and started charging towards him to intercept. Surprisingly, he got his big ass up over the barricade pretty well and was going to land in the DMZ in seconds. I think his intention was to leap all the way across the 6-foot wide chasm, somehow landing on the opposite barricade and then just falling into the crowd on the all-ages side. Except that he didn’t clear the barricade entirely before he started pitching forward. His foot was still stuck on the top part of the barricade. And I’m sure being drunk didn’t help this graceful white trash wizard’s coordination.

His body fell forward into the heavy metal trench with his foot still hooked on the barricade. Remember the steps I mentioned that were on the barricades? His forehead hit that full force. Unyielding black steel. He could have just broken his neck. I thought of Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs saying with no remorse at all, “If they hadn’t a done what I told them not to do, they would still be alive.” I couldn’t believe this idiot might have just killed himself. I saw the manager running towards me responding to my radio call making a face of disbelief and shock. He was aghast, and I’m sure my face showed the same thing. It was a bizarre slow-motion moment of seeing this huge man falling and being too far away to help prevent this brutal injury. I laughed out of nervous fear, and at the absolute insanity of this whole situation.

We both ran up to the guy and found that he was alive. In fact his foot had come loose from the barricade and he was pushing himself up off the floor and the metal step. We each grabbed his arms and started walking him up the DMZ so we could kick him out of the venue, just like we promised we would. I hooked his arm like I’d been trained to do for years and yelled at him to walk with us. Obviously he was stunned, disoriented, and probably had a concussion. He started struggling and trying to break loose, grabbing the barricade to the all-ages side and acting like he was still going to try to climb up and over. I peeled his hand off the barricade and started force-walking him out. Since he was much taller than either of us, I imagined he looked like The Hulk trying to shake off two regular sized humans from his arms. Since the band hadn’t started yet, there was nothing for anyone to do but watch this ridiculous scene unfold. He was indeed a big strong dude, but I had a superhero grip on his arm. I’m not going to say that I had him in a pain-compliance hold or anything, but I had his hand twisted in an uncomfortable way to say the least. And once I put hands on somebody, I do not let go until the situation is resolved.

We kept walking him down the DMZ towards the elevator that would take us to the main doorway. The adrenaline takes over and you don’t want to get hurt or have them spit in your face, so you grip the person’s arm like a C-clamp holding fence posts together. More and more staff came to support us in case he broke free (which I wasn’t going to allow). We got to the elevator and he made a verbal contract not to struggle if we released his arms. So everybody let go of him except me. I just didn’t think releasing anybody that we had previously been hands-on with until they were outside the front door was a good idea. But he seemed much more calm now, and there were now so many security staff surrounding him that it would be pretty easy to get him in a physical hold immediately. So I reluctantly released my death-grip on his arm.

Then he did a really stupid thing. I don’t think there is a name for it, but it’s that thing you would do if you wanted to scare your friends that weren’t expecting anything. He turned towards me quickly and stomped on the ground really hard while puffing up his chest and arms. A fake-out move intended to make somebody flinch or recoil. Big dudes and bullies do this.

But what made it even more shocking was that his forehead and face was covered in blood from the impact on the barricade step. In that whole physical escort fracas, I hadn’t actually seen his face until now. He looked like a demon. I flashed to scenes from The Shining, Evil Dead, and Rob Zombie movies with evil faces covered in bright red blood. Hell, he probably couldn’t even see for most of the time we were manhandling him down the DMZ from the blood in his eyes. And since he was covered in blood, it was also a good idea that we let go of him at this point. Blood-borne pathogens training, you are always on my mind.

But, in the second that he power-stomped trying to get the last laugh by scaring me, I reacted as well. Without flinching, I immediately raised my hand up to his face. I had grabbed my tactical flashlight and brought it right up to his temple aimed at his eye. And turned it on. It was so fast people probably thought I was going to punch him in the jaw with an upper-cut. So picture Cletus making a face meant to scare me, now illuminated by a 1000-lumen flashlight mere millimeters from his bloodied eye. This was the moment where he could have pushed it further and lunged at me. And the moment where I could have cracked him in the temple with my own black metal flashlight, dropping him to the ground. I wish that there was a photo or security camera footage of this moment. He was stunned that there was a metal spotlight almost touching his eyeball. I’m sure he could actually feel the heat that the flashlight puts out. So he backed down and the situation de-escalated. Everybody let out a sigh. People handed him paper towels to sop up the blood. We examined our own arms and were amazed that we didn’t get bled on at all.

I was done dealing with Cletus, so I let a bunch of the other security team ride down the elevator with him and walk him out the front door. He missed the concert like I warned him he would. Once he took care of his head wound and sobered up, he reportedly apologized to all the staff and said that he never acts like that.

I washed my hands and returned to the concert hall. I walked down the DMZ to the stage, and a dozen smiling people from the crowd gave me high fives over the barricade walls. It felt like when athletes walk onto the playing field and their fans high-five them. They thanked me for getting that guy out of there. Apparently he had been irritating people even before he got our attention. Patrons told me that he was saying creepy inappropriate things about going over to the all-ages side. Comments that were reported to me were, “I’m going over there to get me some of that fine young pussy.” And also, “Look at all that sweet teen meat over there.”

Hearing that, I was extra glad that I kicked him out. Cletus, you got what you deserved. I hope your head hurts for weeks, I hope you need chiropractic work on your neck, and that you need a bunch of stitches. And you best believe that you are on the wall of shame now.

 

The Demon Alcohol

Glasses-In-Bronco-Bar

I had already clocked out and was hanging outside the entrance of the venue talking with my coworker, who was closing by himself tonight. Almost all of the patrons were gone, and the bartenders were doing their closing cleaning duties. Two males exited the venue and wobbled off to wherever they were going. Now that we live in a time of cheap and convenient Uber and Lyft drivers, there is literally no reason to ever get a DUI. There never really was to begin with, but you get my point. Cabs regularly park outside our venue and wait for some easy fares. People stand on the sidewalk watching their Lyft or Uber driver’s progress on their smart phone’s map. Within minutes, they are safely picked up and transported home.

But tonight a female bartender came outside in a panic and yelled to us, “Those guys are hammered. We cut them off and they were talking about driving home. STOP THEM!” Immediately the adrenaline shot into my system and I kicked back into work mode. We ran around the corner and sure enough, saw the more-drunk of the two men opening up his car door.

We sprinted over to the car yelling at the men. I went to the driver’s side door where the man was already sitting, keys in hand looking for the ignition. All of his windows were down. My coworker was on the other side of the car talking to the other man. I started trying to talk the man out of it. “Sir, you are not going to drive home tonight. You have had too much to drink and you’ve gotta stay.” He mumbled some drunk-speak about being fine and he was going to drive. “Nope. You can pick up your car tomorrow. Let’s get some coffee in you and call you a cab.” He kept mumbling his protests. “My friend, this isn’t worth going to jail and losing your license. Or hurting somebody. I just want you to get home safely.” All of this sound logic would have worked on a sober person. But you just can’t reason with drunk people. My coworker and the man’s friend were on the sidewalk pleading with him to give me the keys. I finally said, “Hey look over there, your friend is talking to you.” The driver glanced over and I reached inside the car window and snatched the keys out of his hand.

The man looked like I had just stolen all of his retirement money. He nodded to himself bewilderedly and smiled. I walked away to the sidewalk with his keys. It turns out the less-drunk friend had a hotel room at the hotel directly behind us. He offered to let the driver stay in his room that night. I gave the keys to the more sober friend. We thanked him and watched them stagger over to the hotel room, open the door, and go inside.

My coworker said, “Damn man, you oughtta clock back in. You just saved somebody’s life tonight.”

* * * *

Some thoughts on alcohol. Without it I wouldn’t have a job. If you take a macro view of what I do, my job is essentially to confirm that you are old enough to drink alcohol, and then kick you out when you’ve had too much of it. That’s it. It’s a legal drug that kills more people than all other drugs combined. And yet, it is tolerated, promoted, pushed, advertised, and worshipped by our entire culture. At least here in the United States. It is potentially a part of every family celebration, rite of passage, and life event. It is the most popular social lubricant or anxiety crutch.

I work around alcohol and deal with intoxicated patrons all the time, yet I barely drink at all myself. I’ll occasionally accept a free shot after work, commonly called a ‘shift drink.’ When I do drink I choose hard cider that I’m drinking for the taste, not to get buzzed or drunk. The last time I was drunk was at Burning Man in 2005, and that probably qualified as alcohol poisoning. I just can’t tolerate the hangover and the headache the day after being drunk. And I’m not 21 anymore, either. In college I could drink a bunch and snap back pretty well the next day. Now that I’m substantially older I would need the entire next day to nap and recover and be miserable and in pain. Screw all that, it’s just not worth it. I suppose I would actually make a great bartender since I don’t crave the product at all. I could never work as a chocolatier though. I would eat my weight in chocolate and be fired after one shift. I’m reminded of something somebody probably said in some western film I can’t recall the title of. “Alcohol? Oh it’s the devil’s drink. I ain’t got much use for the stuff myself….but I sure do make a livin’ off of it.”

One behavior that I don’t  particularly understand is this: Getting off work but staying at the bar you work at drinking with your coworkers. Some people hurry up so that they can clock out and run a block or two away to another bar. This is where their friends work, so they can get a drink or two in there before they stop serving. I suppose that if you really like alcohol, it must be a kind of torture to handle it, pour it, and serve it all shift when you can’t have any. Then when you’re done all you want is a shot and a beer back. Me? I just want to go home and chill out after work, where I could have a drink in peace and solitude. I’ve already been around people all night and I don’t have the bandwidth to put on the social mask and engage in small-talk with anybody. And drunken small-talk is even worse. I’m not single, so I’m not interested in flirting with anybody. And I’ve already been here for too many hours, so staying longer just doesn’t appeal to me. Blowing my cash tips that I was just given on overpriced drinks seems like a complete waste. I know I sound like a boring old miser, but I’ll save my money by not remaining in the bar giving my tip money right back to the business. I have a Tupperware container hidden away at home that I put all my tips in so I won’t spend them on impulse purchases. I even have a secondary envelope full of tips I get specifically from working private rental events or catering jobs. This envelope is beginning to look like something you would see in a crime movie when somebody is making a payout after robbing a bank. My Tupperware tips and thick cash envelope will hopefully allow me to take my family on a vacation somewhere without puddles of rainwater.

I’ve had a couple girlfriends who would definitely qualify as alcoholics. Functional alcoholics. Binge drinkers. But still alcoholics. That certainly contributed to the eventual demise of those relationships. I also used to throw epic parties out at my house in the country. Since the parties would go for three days, everybody would just stay and camp. That way nobody had to worry about driving home after drinking on dark curvy country roads. I’d put out a huge bowl and people would put their keys in there. But, accidents do happen and I always felt like I had to maintain sobriety in case I needed to drive anyone to the ER. So even though you’d see me walking about with a drink in my hand tending the bonfire, I was nursing the same drink for six hours. Reminds me of stories of Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin pounding back an entire fifth of Jack Daniels while performing onstage. He later admitted that the bottle was full of apple juice.

I can’t say that I didn’t experiment with alcohol. Friends of mine from high school and college might remember stories of me drinking too much in the dorms or a friend’s house. Luckily, that was decades ago and minimal evidence exists to prove our intoxicated excesses. In my thirties I did develop a taste for mango cognac, which I would deliver to guests at my parties in tall shot glasses. Nobody refused mango cognac. “You cannot possess mango.” I also liked drinking absinthe. I really liked the ritual of preparing this anise-flavored spirit. You pour absinthe into a special glass, then slowly drip iced water over a sugar cube on the slotted spoon set across the glass. When this drips down into the green absinthe and the cloud of sugar swirls around, it is called ‘the louche’ or releasing the green fairy. This was from the time where the psychoactive ingredients wormwood and thujone were still present in absinthe. Much rumor and confusion any mythology accompanies the story of absinthe. Absinthe was finally legalized in America in 2007, and it is commonly available in nightclubs and bars. Today’s absinthe is just an unusual tasty drink with much history, that appeals to those who like the taste of licorice.

My parents never had any problems with alcohol, but there were many alcoholics in their family. They did sit me down and talk about alcoholism at one point when I was a little kid, years before I would ever have even been thinking of trying alcohol. They said that, due to my heritage of being Irish and German, I should be very cautious when drinking alcohol. They said that many family members have struggled with alcoholism, and that I may be potentially more prone to react poorly to it, or to even become an alcoholic. The idea was that I may carry around a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. This warning lodged itself deep into my brain and I never forgot it.

I did indeed have an uncle who was an alcoholic. He almost died before I was born. He was drinking with his friend and they attempted to drive home. His friend was driving drunk without any insurance, and my uncle wasn’t even wearing a seat belt. They lost control and drove straight into a building storefront. My uncle went through the windshield of the car, and then crashed through the store window. He was in the hospital for three months recovering from that accident, and had to have his jaw wired shut. I never forgot this story of his completely preventable accident caused by drunk driving. When he would visit at family events I would secretly examine his face for any scars or evidence of his jaw being wired shut. As a little kid, I didn’t really comprehend what that entailed. But as an adult, I never got into a car with a driver who had been drinking, I always wear a seat belt, and I have never driven drunk.

I was also deeply affected by the loss of several of my musical heroes due to alcoholism. One of my favorite bands of all time, Led Zeppelin, broke up when drummer John Bonham died. He died from choking on his own vomit after drinking the equivalent of 40 vodka shots. Jimi Hendrix died the same way, but from a barbiturate overdose. Not only did I love Zeppelin beyond measure, but I was a budding young drummer myself, so I felt like this was a warning I shouldn’t ignore. When I started learning to play drums at age 16, I put on Led Zeppelin IV and attempted to play along with Bonzo. Keith Moon of The Who also died due to alcoholism, along with Bon Scott of AC/DC and Jim Morrison of The Doors. So many great talents self-destructed due to their abuse of alcohol. It seemed like the accursed trifecta of things to avoid as a musician were alcohol, heroin, and airplanes.

In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn
All I want for you to do is take my body home

When I do spend a few minutes at the bar after a long shift, I’m usually decompressing over a non-alcoholic beverage just watching people. Most people there are talking loud and saying nothing, to quote James Brown. They clumsily flirt and ogle one another, trying to glean some confidence from their friends around the pool table. They are spending far more money than they should be on unhealthy bar food and alcohol in an effort to treat themselves, celebrate some accomplishment, or let off steam. On the good side, they are creating memories with friends. On the bad side, they are getting sloppy drunk in public. Now that I’m clocked out, they aren’t my problem anymore. The problem is, I’m still in uniform, and being a bouncer isn’t something I can turn off easily.

I think mainly of the missed potential when seeing people getting drunk in a bar. Instead of regressing to a cro-magnon level, these people could be home creating something or achieving their goals. I think of all the dreams and projects that people in the bar might have while watching them smoke cigarettes and drink beer. I bet these people have projects that they are procrastinating. I bet they would normally be writing music for their band, working on writing their book, or studying for their college coursework. They could be working out by lifting weights or running, building their own business plan, or finishing their screenplay. Or even just the more simple act of spending time with their partners, parents, or kids — creating those good memories. There’s nothing but squandered potential in here during the wee hours. Very rarely, there are people who can get amazing things done while drunk. I’m thinking of the famous painters and writers who reportedly would create masterpieces while drinking. But that is the exception, there can only be one Charles Bukowski. That cantankerous old bastard wrote more amazing lines while he was drunk than I’ll ever write in my sober lifetime.

I have theorized with my coworkers that a certain very popular television sit-com has affected all of our lives in this industry. Cheers was one of the most popular shows ever made and concerned the lives on and off shift of bartenders. This show won numerous awards, ran for 11 years, had spin-off series, and started the careers of many beloved actors. Most of my coworkers are around the same age group, so we watched this show as it aired, or later in syndication. The idea of your neighborhood bar being your safe haven and sanctuary started with us all watching this show. No matter how bad your day was, you can walk into the bar and everybody yells, “NORM!” The neighborhood bar is the great decompression center with your friends. I think we internalized the themes of having work mentors/coaches, friends/therapists, lovers, and people you see more than your family becoming your family. No, I never consciously thought I would grow up and work in a bar. But somewhere in my childhood those archetypes and characters and relationships making a home and a family in a bar embedded themselves deeply. And decades later, here we are.
We all just wanna go where everybody knows our name.

I don’t think most people like drunk people. Intoxicated people become rude, boisterous (loud), selfish, cocky, demanding, and really repetitive. They can’t control their bodily functions well and might vomit, or trip and hurt themselves. Property damage is also a concern. Or they want to fight people, or put their hands on people without consent. And I would guarantee that alcohol has involvement in a majority of rapes and sexual assaults. Then, to compound things, the usual verbal de-escalation techniques or verbal judo that I typically employ are rendered ineffective. It’s like they put up a +10 Shield of Unreasonable. Because you just can’t reason with drunk people. Honestly, I really hate drunks. The irony isn’t lost on me that I hate drunk people, yet I have chosen a career that literally manufactures drunk people. We are producing the very problem that we then have to handle. Job security at it’s finest.

So at the end of the night, I’ve clocked out and am sitting at the bar. I’m tired and drained and sweaty. I’m not drinking alcohol, obviously. I’m drinking soda water with about four squeezed lemon slices in it. I’m texting my wife goodnight and telling her what time I will probably get home and quietly crawl into bed with her. I hear the manic sirens of an approaching emergency vehicle. Instead of rubbernecking to see if it’s police, fire, or an ambulance, I just look up at the rows of glasses hanging upside down above the bar in front of me. The red and blue lights from the police car reflect and glitter inside all of the glasses, lighting them up like a string of Christmas lights. I stir my drink slowly, wondering if they are responding to another drunk driver wreck, and hoping that nobody went through the windshield.

Sidewalk stories – Episode 1

A young and relatively well-dressed couple was wandering down the sidewalk towards me as I was standing outside checking IDs. It was pretty early on a Friday evening, about 8pm or so. Not usually the time for the nonsense I was about to witness. I noticed the woman seemed to be looking for something, and I assumed that she was looking for the bus times on the bus stop kiosk next to her. But then she backed up against the kiosk and began pulling down her pants. She was looking for a place to urinate.

Mind you, this was not some dark obscure nook unseen by others. There was absolutely zero privacy here. In fact, I couldn’t think of a more public and inappropriate spot for her to attempt this. There were numerous pedestrians walking to and fro on the sidewalk, and I was standing outside the front door very visible to everyone as the door guy. Not only was there regular vehicular traffic just feet away from her, but it was a bus stop. The MAX had just pulled up and opened up it’s doors, so there were people boarding and offloading. Homeless people were wandering all around, and I had a small line in front of me waiting for me to process them inside. People on scooters, bicycles, and skateboards were zooming past her, and there was a street musician playing his violin just in front of me. The panoply of the downtown nightlife moved all around her.

I couldn’t believe what I was watching, so I shined my flashlight on her. I wanted her and her fella to know that at least I could see them. Her boyfriend was standing next to her helping stabilize her as she tried this public urination maneuver. They both noticed my light on them and showed the bare minimum of surprise, but not embarrassment. She did abandon her attempt to pee right there. As she attempted to walk, her boyfriend stabilized her with one hand and kept video chatting with his buddy on his phone in the other hand. She was as drunk as an underage sorority girl during pledge week. She could barely walk at all. I was stunned that she didn’t fall down and break her heels. In fact, she had the gait of a show pony that had suffered a brain injury and then drank cheap whisky. Clop, clop.

As I expected, they walked right over to me and pulled out their drivers licenses, expecting me to let them into the venue. I stifled my laugh and told them, “I’m not letting you two in here tonight.”
The boyfriend looked honestly confused by my statement and asked me why.
“Well…because she just tried to pee over there, and she’s so drunk she can barely walk.”
The woman moved in very close to me, put her hands on her hips, and said loudly and defiantly, “BUT DID I PEE, THOUGH?!?! DID I PEE?”

I shook my head and dismissed them saying, “You two have a good night.” I resumed checking the IDs of the sober people who were waiting for me. People who knew how to pee in a bathroom, I imagine.  Do you really think that after showing such terrible decision making, and stumbling over drunk, that I would just let you in to my place of employment? Keeping out people like this is literally why I am here. The drunk woman walked about 20 feet away from me, proceeded to pull down her pants, and sure enough peed right there on the bricks in front of everybody.

A homeless man on a bicycle was stopped right in front of her and dropped some metal case that made a loud noise. This effectively drew even more attention to this grown woman squatted down peeing in the doorway of a business. Anybody who wasn’t already watching her was watching her now. I assumed that the case he dropped was his rig, full of whatever needles, pipes, and paraphernalia he uses to get high. He took a very long time picking up everything that fell out of this book-sized metal tin. I don’t think he even registered the woman peeing two feet in front of him. The harsh light from the streetlight hit the urine at just the correct angle to make the stream glitter on the bricks like liquid mercury. A quicksilver rivulet. Her urine trickled all the way across the sidewalk bricks, going directly under the bicycle and the homeless man. I wondered if the urine got his rig wet, and if he cared.

If I had reason to, I could access the video footage from the security camera outside the door to watch her pee all over again, but I’ve got work to do.

The couple crossed the street and went somewhere in the night to continue their date, hand in hand, romance and weed in the air. The violinist who set up across the sidewalk from me was playing the underwater theme from Super Mario Bros. This waltz made a surreal, yet perfect, soundtrack to this asinine nonsense happening on our sidewalk. He gave me a wink across his violin, as this is a memory that only he and I will share.

Collider Accelerator

Tonight I was driving home after a long night’s work thinking over all the choices that people made, as well as the choices that I made about how to handle them. I was listening to the Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I-IV, which is an instrumental album of dark ambient moody work from Trent Reznor. It’s great atmospheric late-night music for writing or driving. It makes driving home through the Portland cityscape feel even more like a movie than it already does.

On this particular night, around 2am, I was lost in thought driving down a major street called Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. This is a 4-lane major artery that connects North and NE Portland with SE Portland and Milwaukie. It’s a one way street at the section I was traveling. Up ahead a few blocks, I noticed a car pull out into the street against the flow of traffic and start driving towards me, going the wrong way up a one-way street. Portland is full of one-way streets and some people find this confusing and frustrating. A car turning up a one-way street the wrong way is so common that it doesn’t really register much surprise on my end. Usually they notice the error and self-correct with a wave of embarrassment.

This particular car didn’t immediately self-correct, so I did what I always do when this happens at night. I started turning my headlights from regular to high-beam. Their headlights continued towards me and the other cars all traveling south on the street. But they were in my lane, so their lights and their car were aimed directly at me. I then started turning my headlights off and on and switching from high-beams to regular lights, which can appear like a police or emergency vehicle. It’s definitely attention-getting and impossible to miss. Still no response from the wrong-way driver. So now I continue to flash my headlights and start laying on my horn. Continuously, not short spurts of horn. The car continues to drive right at me.

At this point I was almost laughing to myself at how this driver could possibly continue to not notice that they were driving the wrong way up a one-way street. First off, there are no street signs or street lights that are visible to them. They can’t see anything from a street sign to a stop sign to a speed limit sign, because all they see is the silver backs of the signs without any words or symbols on them. Huh, that’s strange. Then, what about how all of the parked cars on both sides of the street aimed right at them? That’s another dead giveaway that the flow of traffic is towards you, and that you are not going the right way. And then there’s the ultimate kicker, the fact that there are cars in every lane driving straight at you. And they are flashing their lights and honking their horns at you. I think even the newest, most inexperienced driver would pick up on that super clue. I started to think that this car was empty, like Christine in the Stephen King movie.

At this point I figured out that whether this was a driver-less car, or the driver was fast asleep, they weren’t going to stop. We were going to have a head-on collision car wreck. I didn’t have any experience of my life flashing before my eyes, but I did think something like, “Oh hell no, this motherfucker is really going to hit me!” There were parked cars to the left of me and another vehicle driving to my right, so I had nowhere to go for evasive maneuvers without causing an accident or involving a third innocent driver. So I smashed on my brakes and tried turning to the right as much as I could without hitting the other truck driving right next to me.

The car smashed into me and my truck stopped moving instantly. Their car somehow kept driving off to my left. Amazingly, my airbag did not deploy and my windshield did not shatter. But my truck was stopped dead as if I hit a brick wall. Looking behind me I saw my wheel rolling down the street behind the car that hit me, as if it were giving chase to the other vehicle. My truck tire had been dismembered. Somehow we hit each other at just the right angle to avoid both cars colliding and suffering impact injuries. My front end was all crumpled up, headlight smashed out, and my front axle broken. My front driver’s tire was perfectly removed from my truck and was rolling down the street.

I bolted into action and jumped out of my truck to give chase to both the other driver and my tire. I had the composure to turn my hazard lights on before exiting my truck, just in case somebody didn’t see my destroyed and abandoned truck in the middle of the road. I considered that this might now be a hit and run accident since they definitely aren’t stopping. Leaving the scene of a crime is bullshit. I pulled out my smartphone while running and began taking photos of the car to at least get the license plate. I must have looked like a crazy person.

As my tire finally started circling to a stop, it made me think of how a quarter will spin around on it’s wide edge faster and faster until it finally lays flat. I looked down and saw something quite strange on the ground behind my truck carcass. There was what appeared to be organic goo all over the ground and the tire, as well as some small limb-like thing laying on the concrete. It wasn’t red like blood though, it was light tan and splotchy. That could be an alien arm or some body-horror object from a David Cronenberg film. Did we somehow also hit and kill a small animal when we collided? Am I hallucinating? Did I actually hit my head during the impact?
Note to self: check that gory-looking business out later after I chase down this car.

I keep running after this vehicle yelling at it to stop and taking blurry photos of the rear end of it when it slows down and turns off on a side road. It pulls over and stops and I run around to the driver’s side. I found a young blonde white girl sitting at the wheel looking scattered and rattled. She rolled down her window almost like I was a cop about to ask her if she knew how fast she was going. But what I wanted to say was, “HOW THE HELL DID YOU NOT SEE ANY OF US BACK THERE AND WHY DID YOU DRIVE INTO ME?!?!” Instead, always the helper, I asked her if she was ok.

My Dad was an insurance agent for decades before he retired, so I was well-versed in what to do when you get in a car wreck. He was an insurance agent from the 60s through the 90s, when you actually knew your agent and went into their office regularly to talk about coverage and plans. I worked in his office as a teenager answering phones and such, so I would see people come in to chat with him all day long. It felt like social hour at his insurance office. It’s too bad he couldn’t serve drinks, because it seemed that casual and fun. All these people who just seemed like good friends coming in and shooting the bull for a while before signing some new coverage paperwork on their way out. Your insurance agent was your friend that you saw a few times a year and was on your Christmas card list. It’s a far cry from today where your insurance agent is just a computer app and you never talk to anyone in person. You just pay your premium online to Geico or Progressive or Allstate and hope you don’t get in an accident.

So my Dad’s voice was in my head saying, “Never admit fault. Never admit fault. Never admit fault.” The first thing the young lady said was, “I’m so sorry, that was all my fault. That was my bad.” And I wanted to answer her, “Well no shit it was.” It’s hard to argue culpability when you were going the wrong way up a one-way street. This accident was 110% percent her fault.

After assessing that she didn’t need any medical attention I called the police. I took a bunch of non-blurry, non-running-man photos of her car and license plates. I then spoke with the young woman and we got out our drivers licenses and insurance information. I was afraid she was going to be an uninsured driver, but sure enough she had coverage under her parent’s insurance. The car was also registered to her Dad and not her. She was freshly 21 and didn’t even appear drunk to me. We took photos on our smart phones of each other’s information, which also was a new thing for me. Technology has changed a lot since I was last in an accident. I haven’t been in a vehicular accident since 1988, a fact that I was very proud of. I’m a very cautious and defensive driver. I’ve avoided dozens of accidents over the years, I just couldn’t avoid this one.

She had absolutely no explanation for how she didn’t see me. No reason for driving up a one-way street the wrong way into oncoming traffic, missing all the situational cues, ignoring the flashing lights and honking, and crashing head-on into me. The police arrived and assessed her, and she was not intoxicated. She just…..fucked up. My theory is that she was looking down at her phone and messaging somebody while driving. It’s gotta be that. I bet she had the stereo up loud so she didn’t hear any honking, and she was in some deep flirty texting conversation or video chat on her phone while she drove. I wanted to classify her as a Millennial, I really did. But based on her age at the time, she was technically a Generation Y. Weeks later she tried adding me as a friend on Facebook. I declined her request.

So after the police cleared us to leave, I walked back to my truck and examined the Area 51 alien leg goo I noticed on my car chase sprint. My adrenaline and imagination got the best of me. It was discolored axle fluid from the broken axle. The little limb that I thought was that of an animal or an alien was part of the axle and wheel attachment. Since my truck had over 330,000 miles on it, the axle fluid was perhaps discolored and created the light tan splotchy goo that was everywhere. It was sticky and thick, like putrified salt water taffy. This whole tableau did have the somber feel of a crime scene carnage to it. I picked up my dismembered tire like I would the body of a deer hit by a truck, and placed it gently in the back of my 4Runner. I also grabbed the axle pieces and laid them on top of the tire like bones on a funeral pyre.

I heard a voice call out to me. It was somebody who said that he heard the incredible crashing noise from upstairs in his apartment. He said he would be happy to be a witness since that was clearly the other driver’s fault. This guy looked familiar and I asked his name. Turns out I knew him as an acquaintance from the bands he had played with here in Portland. Of course we would know each other. Portland is the smallest big city I’ve ever lived in.

I called Triple A and waited for my tow truck to arrive. I sat on the curb under the hyper-bright street lights and watched traffic go by. My wife was out of town with the kids so there was no way I was going to call her or text her about this. But my house was going to be empty except for the dogs. Also, it was Mother’s Day today. I’m certainly not going to text or email my parents about this until it is a reasonable hour. People worry.

The tow truck got me home at about 5am and I was still amped up from the adrenaline rush of being in a car accident. I loved on my dogs and sat out on my back deck, thankful that the accident didn’t injure either of us. As the sun started to come up I went to bed and finally slept.

The aftermath of this was that both vehicles were totaled. My truck was a 1999 Toyota 4Runner. Those things do run forever and it had treated me well. But mine had 330,000 miles on it, and it would cost more than the value of the truck to replace the front end, front axle, and wheel. So it was written off as totaled, as was her little white sedan. Since it was her fault and her parents had good insurance, I was able to get a new (to me) vehicle out of the deal. I got a check for the high-end Blue Book value of the truck and purchased a 2007 Nissan Xterra with low mileage on it. I also had her pay for a rental car for a month while I searched for a new car. And I got about 8 months of chiropractic treatments as well.

I drive past the site of this collision every night coming home from my jobs. It’s a nightly reminder of how any moment can potentially change or end everything. If we had each been driving just a bit faster, that collision would have been far more damaging. Driving takes 100% focus and concentration, and I get angry when I see people looking down at their phones while operating a vehicle.

So after all my worrying about the perils of my job getting me like tweakers, zombie girl, stray bullets, crazy drunk fighters, or angry homeless dirt wizards, it was a young woman texting while driving the wrong way that finally took me out. I hope that she got a good Tinder date out of it all.

Roundhouse

While working a big dance party event, I noticed some people in the back of the room having an intense conversation. It was one man having a really emotional talk with a woman who was probably his girlfriend. They were sitting down near the back of the venue with another woman that seemed like the first woman’s best friend.

It was near the end of the night and I was just wandering around the dance floor ‘floating.’ That is when you’re not posted at a checkpoint so you are available to respond to any radio calls or incidents. You usually check on things like water stations and offer breaks to coworkers. You are also available for patrons having concerns or medical issues, cutting off people who have had too much to drink, breaking up fights, escorting people out, etc.
I think of it as being a roving problem-solver.

So my eyes were drawn to this group in the back due to the guy’s intensity and body language. The woman was gesticulating with her hands and speaking to him firmly.  There was certainly some drama happening between these people. The guy was grabbing the young woman around the back of her head to stress whatever point he was making. She wasn’t pulling away or recoiling, so this must just be the physical way that they communicate, especially when out drinking. The guy would even put both hands around her head and speak very seriously to her. Something about his mannerisms and intensity made me pay attention to their interactions. It easily could have been her dumping him and him begging her for one more chance. I never understand why people choose to have the big emotional fight in public. Oh wait, alcohol and insecurity, that’s right.

The man was generic with a capital G. He was white, wearing a plaid flannel shirt and blue jeans, probably in his thirties, and had a bald head. Not bald like he lost his hair early, but bald because he noticed his hair thinning and just gave up the ghost and shaved it down. A good comparison would be the tough guy actor Jason Statham, but shorter and nowhere near as handsome. He honestly looked like every other white dude in Portland. The young ladies were both tiny and wore tight jeans and button up shirts. They both had straight black hair in a similar style. From a distance they could actually pass for sisters.

Suddenly this guy stands up and storms away from the women. He even put his hands up on his head like he had a headache, or was anguished. As one of my friends would say, “Brother was distraught!”  He makes a bee-line for me. I don’t think he had seen me prior, but perhaps he did and didn’t like me eye-balling him or his girl. Or maybe I was just the nearest male staff to him. Whatever the reason, this drama-king wanna-be tough guy tries to roundhouse kick me.

People like Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee are famous for roundhouse kicks in movies. But this dude was neither. In fact, his roundhouse kick was barely executed in an identifiable manner. Alcohol had definitely taken away his balance and ability to connect his strike. It was the slowest, weakest roundhouse kick I’ve ever seen. It was as if he was kicking at me in slow motion, and only got up to my hip level. Most roundhouse kicks aim for the face. He would have kicked my upper thigh, had he succeeded. I’ve seen nerdy 8-year-olds deliver a better roundhouse kick in martial arts class.

Without even thinking, I automatically swatted his leg away and he spun away from me. I felt like I was pushing down a large over-friendly dog that keeps jumping up on me. He recovered from this foiled kick attack that he thought he would lay me out with. I don’t know anything about this guy. Maybe in his (sober) real-life he is a martial arts instructor. Maybe he is a complete badass during the day. But right now, overcome with emotion and alcohol, he was about as threatening to me as an angry child. He needed to go take a nap.

I believe I stifled laughter and said, “The fuck is wrong with you?”
I didn’t even really consider this an assault since it was so laughable and he didn’t even connect with me or hurt me at all. In hindsight, I should have called an emergency code over the radio right there. But I was kind of in shock at the stupidity of this whole nonsense situation.

I put out my hand and made the gesture that means, “Come over here.”  You’ve seen a dozen action stars make this gesture. Most famously would probably be Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves during their kung fu sparring session in THE MATRIX, which is an homage to Bruce Lee, who did this decades prior. I’m not sure exactly why I did this to the guy. Maybe I honestly wanted him to come talk to me so I could tell him I was kicking him out. Or maybe I wanted him to try to roundhouse kick me again so I could take him down. I don’t really know. But he probably saw it as a challenge, like I was ready to take him down on the dance floor in front of his girl and everybody.

Suddenly the two young women were right in front of me making a human barrier between me and this guy. The screened him out and were probably afraid I was about to annihilate him. They were apologizing for him and saying they didn’t know why he did that, and that he never acts this way.  With the young ladies right in front of me I got a much better look at them. They were what I would call ‘club girls.’ They were made up like models to grab the attention of every male in the party. Heavy black eyeliner that would make Siouxsie Sioux proud. Eyelashes so long they almost got tangled in my beard as they talked to me. I suspected that they applied habanero oil lip gloss along with some collagen injections to make their lips all huge and swollen like that. I won’t even comment on how their cleavage was pushed up and out of their shirts, because that doesn’t really do anything to further the story.

The failed roundhouse master wisely decided not to attack me again, and stormed off towards the exit downstairs, leaving the two women there with me. I think he figured I was a super confident kung fu bouncer after I so deftly deflected his Chuck Norris-quality roundhouse kick. I quickly made a radio call that meant “Escalating situation” and gave the location and description of the guy and which way he was headed. I then asked the one that was probably his girlfriend, “Are YOU all right?” I didn’t like the way he was grabbing her during their conversation and wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he was an abuser of women. I thought also that she seemed well-practiced in how to intervene and cover for him. She’s probably seen him pull this drunken tough guy routine many times before. And sadly, she’s probably the one who’s going to pay for all this later. He’ll find a way to blame her for his outburst by saying she was ignoring him or flirting with other men. And then maybe he’ll slap her around in the privacy of their apartment before apologizing and crying and begging her not to leave him.

I told both of them that he would not be welcome here again, and asked if they wanted me to secure a ride home for them. I was assuming that he would be out of the venue soon and they should definitely not go anywhere else with him. I was implying that whatever their relationship was, perhaps it should end tonight and they should go their separate ways. But, of course, they were concerned about his well-being and chased after him around the corner.

I was following to see if there would be any further drama, and kick that asshole out finally, when I heard another radio call about a violent situation. I rounded the corner and saw the two young ladies trying to restrain the man at the top of the stairs. Then they all three ran down the stairs and out the front door. I followed in case he turned on them, and I was ready to put his ass on the concrete if he did. The part that I missed was that when angry guy rounded the corner to go downstairs another patron was coming up the stairs, and he punched him in the face. A complete innocent bystander got punched in the face for absolutely no damned reason. I think the angry guy couldn’t rally the nerve to attack me, so he attacked a random person that was even less involved than I was. Misplaced and unchecked drunken male aggression. Other staff people must have whisked the victim off into the bathroom to see if he needed first aid, because I never even saw the guy. I wanted to check on him and apologize and help him.

I feel like this incident didn’t go like it should and I feel guilty for not handling it faster and better. Sometimes the night just doesn’t go the way it should, and we don’t get the happy ending we want. You can’t try to kick a security staff and then punch a stranger. Everybody deserves to be safe here. The dance event was 10 minutes from ending, I was already in the mode of getting ready to clean up and go home, and I let my defenses down. You always need to be ready for some drunk asshole to roundhouse kick you. But apparently I should have tackled him to the ground right then and there when he spun around trying to kick me. I misjudged him as a credible threat, I suppose.

I hope the girlfriend didn’t get beaten up later that night. Ideally I hope that she broke up with him. But my instincts tell me she’s going to keep tolerating his anger problem and likely suffer some physical abuse herself. This will continue, and if I ever see them again we won’t let them in in the first place. And to the dude who got punched in the face that night, I definitely owe you a couple beers.

 

 

Prom Night

 

“Look! There’s a rhythmic ceremonial ritual coming up.”
-Back to the Future

I never went to my high school prom. The party line on that is that my girlfriend and I just broke up unexpectedly a few weeks prior, which we did. The truth is I probably never would have gone anyway. I was a bit of an outsider and that just really wasn’t my social scene. I never was part of any cool inner clique. I never would be remembered as part of the in crowd, the cool kids, or the beautiful people. Rather happily, I was an outlier. On prom night itself I probably had a movie night at my house with my other dateless nerdy friends watching John Carpenter movies and drinking Mountain Dew until the wee hours.

I was the kid that kept to himself and excelled academically. High school was easy for me and I knew I was going straight to college after. I didn’t care in the slightest about fashion or fitting in, as evidenced by any photo of me in high school. I was reading H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker as soon as I finished my assigned classroom reading. I chose solitary activities like radio broadcasting and yearbook staff. So I was either in a room talking to myself over the microphone about music, or in a darkroom by myself developing black and white photos. I did attend lots of high school functions, but as an observer photographing the events and not participating in them. I watched everybody else have fun through a camera lens.

I spent my high school years discovering and delving into music. Playing vinyl records was, to me, attending church. Reading or deciphering song lyrics before the internet existed was like memorizing ancient holy tomes of scripture verses. Becoming an acolyte of the church of Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Judas Priest album by album until I owned their entire discographies brought me spiritual happiness and enlightenment. I also worshipped at the altar of Van Halen, Metallica, Pat Benatar, and early Pretenders. Amen and hallelujah, my big brothers and sisters of rock.

I also started volunteering as a disc jockey on my high school radio station, KRVM 91.9FM. I got to play music I deemed important over the radio for other people to listen to. Going on record-buying trips at The Record Garden in Eugene was such an honor. The radio station would give me a purchase order to buy records for the station and review them. I felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world to be entrusted with this duty.

I never played any sports in high school. None at all. Instead I started taking drum lessons when I was 16. Any hand-eye coordination or athletic prowess I had was only showcased when playing drums. I found playing drums to be a mathematical exercise in ambidextrous rhythm making. A workout for the body and brain requiring stamina, control, and precise calculation of patterns and timing. And yeah, I liked hitting things with sticks.

But back to prom. I had gone to a couple high school dances with my girlfriend before splitting up. I remember walking through the crowd with our arms around each other while Guns N’ Roses (of all things) was playing in the cafeteria. We hung out for a few songs and then left so we could go make out. Notoriously, we once got kicked out of an arcade for kissing and making a spectacle out of ourselves. That’s a badge of honor I wear proudly to this day.

Now, decades later, I find myself working security at a high school prom at the music venue where I work full time. Many groups rent out our venue when we don’t have a famous touring band playing there. So I’m familiar with staffing fundraisers, weddings, anniversaries, work parties, and even high school proms. The proms provide their own Police officer on premises, so our job becomes less security and more dance chaperone.

I couldn’t help it, but I was looking up in the rafters for a bucket of blood to be dropped on Carrie White. I would have been like the Amy Irving character trying to stop the slow-motion humiliation of Sissy Spacek. In my revisionist daydreaming of the movie, I also would have gotten to kick John Travolta’s ass. Luckily, there wasn’t even any crowning of the prom king and queen like in the Brian De Palma film. No popularity contest rating of the most popular echelon of high school representatives.

My high school prom (that I didn’t go to) was many years ago. Watching all these kids tonight pushed a lot of memories and feelings out to the surface. I haven’t gone to any high school reunions at all. I believe I found most of my cohorts and chosen family in college, not high school. I do retain a handful of good friends from back then, but I just didn’t bond as strongly with people until college. I barely stayed in contact with anyone from high school after graduation. I think I wanted to compartmentalize that period of my life and put it behind me. It wasn’t particularly a bad time, it was just….high school.

The kids tonight are having the time of their life. Or they want it to look that way. Everybody is taking selfies and uploading SnapChats of them dancing with their friends. There is so much pressure for this night to be all things to everyone. I am stricken with how grown up these kids look. Times have changed, indeed. The young men in my graduating class didn’t have full beards or tattoos. I don’t recall them being so tall or filled out either. And the young women here tonight wearing shiny dresses and makeup could pass for 26-year-old businesswomen. Absolutely nobody in my class was this physically mature or developed. Some of these young ladies look like glamorous sexed-out actresses or models. And there was so much booty shaking and twerking I thought I was at a strip club. I had to remind myself that everybody here is about 17 or 18 years old. Exactly how old to you have to be to get a boob job in Oregon anyway?

There was a mass exodus of attendees leaving the prom about an hour and a half in. They had other better things to do that likely involved drinking alcohol and having sex. Hotel parties and homes where the parents are away are calling them. Some coworkers and I would joke quietly, “Somebody’s getting pregnant tonight.” Although I remember being 17 and not knowing nearly  as much as I thought I did. Sadly, the late hours of prom night are most likely to just bring fumblings in the dark, bad sex, and disappointment.

At one point the crowd got so animated that one guy was able to get up on top of everyone and crowd surf. This was definitely something that I had never seen before. Crowd surfing at a high school prom. I thought some of the young women would be angry with him for potentially ruining their expensive hairdo or damaging their corsage. Not so, everybody held him up as he fist-pumped along to the song. I was moving towards them to stop him when the DJ lowered the music and said, “No crowd surfing, no crowd surfing. Gotta keep it safe, everybody.” Thanks for doing my job for me, friend.

I was so interested in people watching and figuring out who was who. I could see the hyper-popular people that everyone wanted to take a photo with. I smiled when I saw the nerdy academic types clumping together. I loved the people who didn’t go along with the norm and wore exactly what they wanted to wear. They had their own quirky fashion style and didn’t care about fitting in. Nobody was being a wallflower either. Everybody was out on the floor in some way. I nodded with recognition when I saw the yearbook photographers doing the exact thing that I used to to. Documenting the event without participating in it. But with a valid excuse and something to keep their hands occupied. Their classmates are going to look at these prom photos for the rest of their lives.

I see so much fresh-faced optimism and innocence here tonight, along with some awkward naiveté. For most of us, the age of 18 is when we are at the peak of our beauty, health, and attractiveness. We haven’t been burdened with the grind of life yet. We haven’t been worn down by failures, tanked relationships, or lost jobs. With some exceptions, we usually haven’t been tied down with early pregnancies, major deaths in our families, or debilitating health issues of our own. We haven’t yet suffered crippling credit card debt, divorce and alimony, student loans we never pay off, a foreclosed home, or medical bills that bankrupt us. We aren’t jaded and cranky yet, and the future still seems like a wonderful dream. At 18 the world is still your oyster, and the world hasn’t broken you yet.

I couldn’t help but think about how for most of these kids, this is going to be one of the milestones of their lives. This night, no matter what happens, is the night that everybody remembers and talks about for years to come. They might even tell their kids about it. Your parents might display a framed photo of you and your prom date for a long time after you wish that they would take it down. Some of these people you will never see again. Some of these friends will later end their friendship with you, disappear, or die prematurely.

But during the dance, you assume that you will always be such good friends with these people. Not accounting for moving far away, getting married and having kids, traveling for your job, or just losing the shared history together. Or simply growing up and growing apart. For many this signifies the end of high school, and therefore the end of childhood. It’s the beginning of adulthood; moving out on your own, starting college, taking time off to travel, or joining the military. Whatever your calling is, wherever the winds of adulthood set you down. And there is no going back. It’s becoming a memory as we speak.

I realized that to these kids, I’m just some middle-aged guy sitting at an access point looking bored. And I guess I am. But I’m remembering where I was and who I was those decades ago. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. It is certainly a surreal experience to watch this prom decades after my own prom. It’s no wonder that my favorite music and movies all come from the 80s. I’m also realizing how bad most of the music that they love really is (it’s fucking terrible honestly.) Pop music has honestly devolved since I was in high school. I hated all of the songs they played until the very end. Music today just doesn’t energize and inspire me like it did when I was younger. Music was better and more innovative in my day. Lyrics were like poetry and actually meant something. Get offa my lawn, kids. I took satisfaction that for the final big songs, the DJ played classics from my era and the crowd went wild. The crown danced to those old classics from Journey, Bon Jovi, and David Bowie.

Mainly I’m watching them with envy and happiness. I’m happy that this night went off without any problems and that they all had so much fun. One of my favorite moments was when one of the nerdiest, goofiest kids there who had been dancing like a fool for most of the night started a conga line. All the other students joined in. The jocks, nerds, goths, miscreants, trust fund kids, and the beautiful elite. They all were part of this spontaneous moment of unity and brotherhood. They will never again in their lives all be joined together in equality and solidarity like that. Celebrating their graduation from high school and the beginning of their adult lives.

To be young and optimistic again. To be young enough where all of your accomplishments and greatest moments are still ahead of you, not behind you.

Back to the future, indeed. Hug each other longer than you think you need to. Tell your friends that you love them. Kiss them on the cheek. You will never be here again.

Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away
-RUSH, Time Stand Still

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ascension of the Dirt Wizards

In a previous chapter I wrote about the depressing reality of homeless people living on the streets of Portland. I continue to encounter the homeless population on my post-work walks, and continue to have lots of thought about them. Sometimes I see something different that actually uplifts my spirits at 3am.

First let me lay out the different levels of homelessness that I observe as I walk around the city after my shift.

Level 1: UNPREPARED

These are the people who you see sleeping on the sidewalk or in a doorway without any supplies. They just have the clothes on their back and maybe a jacket or blanket. It can be startling to see these people because at first glance they appear to be a dead body on the sidewalk. Especially if the blanket is covering their face and they are out in the middle of the sidewalk. They are splayed out on the sidewalk as if they were dropped there, and they may be using the curb as a pillow. When I’m walking by them I slow down and walk close to them to listen for their breathing or snoring. So far I haven’t found a dead person.

These are the people who I assume are suffering from debilitating mental illnesses. They most likely were discharged or kicked out of a residential treatment home and are off their medications. Or they might have had a psychotic break or are in a fugue state. They truly do not know who they are. It is as if they just gave up wandering the streets cussing at ghosts, and just dropped to the sidewalk from exhaustion. This patch of concrete qualified as their best option for sleeping quarters tonight. The Robert Duvall character from the film THE ROAD embodies the kind of person I’m talking about. Disheveled, confused, unrecognizable, and struggling to remain lucid and functional. They have no protection from the elements, no gear, and not much hope. The song that always pops into my head when I see these people is “Scarecrow” from Ministry. The spoken word phrase repeated throughout the song is, “They live…without hope.”

Level 2: PREPARED

These are the people who have been doing this for longer and have acquired some necessary resources to make their night on the streets more tolerable. They scouted and chose a business doorway to make a little hovel for the night. Sometimes they choose one under a street light, and sometimes they choose a dark doorway. But they have a sleeping bag and often a backpack of belongings that they use for a pillow. If someone were to try to steal the backpack they would be awakened by their pillow moving. They often have found a tarp or cardboard and have put it up in the doorway for a wind break and rain protection. Often I see a cardboard pizza box, some water bottles, and a small shopping cart with them. They know what restaurants give out food at the end of the night. People at this level have the skills and resources to provide some privacy and defenses against the weather.

Level 3: NETWORKED

These are the people who have found friends and established a small mini-community of campers. They have networked and created a cohort. They utilize the soup kitchens and food donations services. They all have individual tents and often have collected wooden pallets to put them on. They have flashlights or camp lanterns inside of their tents, and safety in numbers. Some of them have cell phones. They circle their proverbial wagons in a larger area under a bridge or in a grass area with bushes and trees. Their tents are secured with bungee cords. I’ve even seen small campfires set up in the middle of the circle of tents with people sitting in lawn chairs drinking. It’s an interesting tableau of modern city homelessness for sure.

Looking at this established homeless camp, it’s almost like a twilight zone commentary on American suburbia. They are living the American dream available to them, while we all chase the American dream of our own that we were sold. They have found social groups and BBQs, camping outside from necessity and not a desire for nature on a vacation. We value our cars, jobs, houses, spouses, kids, and all the competition that comes along with it. They value sleeping bags, a working tent, gifted food, and their shopping cart full of their life. Some of them spend much of their day traveling around finding the resources of food and recyclable cans and bottles. Some hold up signs asking for money or food. Collecting the treasure of aluminum cans and glass bottles that can be traded in for a dime each earns them buying power. We work a job to collect a paycheck that we use to buy things. When we go on vacation we end up doing what they do every night. For a week or so we have no responsibilities. We get away from worrying about bills or our jobs. We sit around a fire and drink alcohol with our friends outside in nature before falling asleep in a tent.

Level 4:  ENTRENCHED

These are the people who I alluded to at the start of this chapter. Some people have been homeless so long that they have achieved stasis and embraced it as their permanent lifestyle. They don’t care about getting into a residential center or finding a job. Some might say they’ve given up, but some might that they have come to peace with living off the grid and existing as a homeless person. They aren’t achieving anything better, but they aren’t decompensating or losing anything either. They are exactly where they are and have accepted it. They are the zen homeless.

My coworker has lovingly dubbed these elder statesmen of the homeless community the Dirt Wizards. They do indeed appear as bearded Gandalf-like men using walking sticks that could easily be mistaken for magical staffs. They stride over the dirt fields on missions unknown to us. A pagan procession. A Wiccan walkabout. I believe that they mentor the newly homeless in the ways of survival and acquiring resources. They wear cloaks or wraps similar to that of Jedi Knights. They often have trinkets on their wooden staffs that I assume are talismans or amulets. We are pretty certain that they are out there casting spells. They are keeping the land, and those who sleep upon this land, safe. Charging amulets to bring food and valuables to the vulnerable tent sleepers. Powering a huge invisible shield of protection over this area. Checking in on their brethren at their outposts. Guardians of the night, they are the wandering nomads of the neighborhood.

Maybe the mysterious spell work that they do is why I haven’t found a dead homeless person yet. I like to think that is the reason.

Occasionally you will see the dirt wizards travel in groups. Seeing six of these men walking slowly together reminds me of the Mystics from the 1982 film The Dark Crystal. These four-armed healers slowly hobble across the land and play a large part in the film. I always listen closely to see if they are chanting like in the movie, but never quite hear it. A group of dirt wizards could certainly be formidable opponents. I would certainly give them a wide berth. I wonder what a tweaker thinks when they see a group of Dirt Wizards walking around their turf. They must just think it’s a hallucination. But I can confirm, the benevolent dirt wizards are indeed real. And I’m happy that they are out there, working their magic.

When I see them walking around the berms downtown I sometimes nod or bow my head in reverence, as if seeing shamans out on a vision quest. I would never disturb them on their journey, but I will acknowledge and thank them from afar.

Between my walking by the homeless tent campers whispering, ‘Sleep in safety’, and the Dirt Wizards blessing the sleeping sidewalk citizens, we might have this section of the neighborhood covered and protected. Hell, I might even join them someday. Part of me would be proud to join the noble ranks of the guardian angels that are the Dirt Wizards. May the ascension of the Dirt Wizards continue.

 

The Long Walk

I’m walking out to my truck after the shift is over, starting the surreal post-work trek. Now it’s dark, about 2:30am, and the city has changed. Neon lights dominate the nightscape, but it definitely isn’t as tourist-friendly or fun any longer. The hot spots that were bustling seven hours ago are now all locked up and dark. Homeless people have set up their cardboard boxes and blankets in the doorways, trying to stay warm and unmolested until sunrise.

I walk past empty parking spaces and notice the bits of broken glass on the sidewalk. Somebody had their window shattered and their car broken into, a sadly common occurrence. I see new glass on the ground just about every night. I always advise people to not leave anything that somebody might consider worth money visible in their vehicle. Nothing, not even a phone charger or a compact disc. People cruise around on bicycles casing vehicles, looking for something you left on your seat or the floor that they could sell or trade for drugs.

When I see the little bits of blue-green broken safety glass, I know that someone’s night was ruined by thievery or simple vandalism. After having a fun evening downtown, they find their window broken out and their personal belongings gone. I’ve had my vehicle broken into twice prior to working in the service industry in bars and clubs, and a third time recently after working a shift downtown. It’s a devastating feeling that makes you lose faith in humans. Glass beer bottles don’t shatter the same way as car window safety glass does. All the broken bits of cubed glass pieces are about the same size. It reminds me of the worthless plastic emerald baubles that my daughter plays with. Glittering prizes on the concrete. Uniform treasure chest gems. It’s as if some demented child had a bag of blue raspberry jolly rancher candies that they didn’t like, crushed them all up, and left the pieces all over the sidewalk. They do make a satisfying crunch under my boots as I walk over them, shaking my head. Occasionally I’ll see black cubes of broken glass on the sidewalk.  These are from a tinted privacy window, and look like pieces of obsidian. If it’s raining and the broken pieces are in a puddle, it looks strangely like boba tea.

Over time, these pieces of broken car window glass gather in the straight cut lines of the sidewalk. The ones you avoided stepping on as a kid lest you break your Mother’s back. I assume they get pushed to the crack by people’s feet, bicycle tires, wind and rain, perhaps even some sidewalk fairie magic. However it happens, the sidewalk cracks end up filled with these little sparkly glass bits. Lined up perfectly straight as they are, it almost appears intentional. It also reminds me of a line of ants walking along the kitchen floorboards in my home. Those industrious little bastards that find one crumb of food, then within minutes invade your house, set up communication lines, trade routes, and a governmental infrastructure. Marching ants, broken glass. The street lights bathe the tiny glass chunks in artificial nocturnal light, making them glimmer and twinkle like overgrown nanobot electro-ants.

The streets are relatively empty and quiet now. The entertainment hub of the city is still. The rapid pace of downtown has finally slowed, as if sedated. It feels like the city itself is on heroin. Occasional emergency vehicles race by on their way to a crisis. People walking around downtown after 3am are typically up to no good. Most normal people are home already. Bars and clubs stop serving around 2am and close by 2:30am. People are usually where they are going to end up staying the night by now.  The daywalkers are asleep. The hours of 3am to 6am are primarily filled with homeless people switching locations or scavenging for food in restaurant garbage bins. Mentally ill people wander around yelling and cussing at people who aren’t there. Tweakers coming down from their high, desperately looking for more. Thieves casing cars or stores for valuables. And the occasional lycanthrope or vampire looking for blood sustenance.

Sometimes I will walk the extra long route to my truck, or just walk around in an ever-widening circle. Often I’ll just walk, destination unknown. I’ll decompress, listen to the sounds of the city, and watch for anybody who’s up to no good. I continue doing my job of keeping people safe even after I’m off work. I can’t turn it off. Am I looking for trouble, or just trying to expand the ring of safety around my job? I’ve followed people looking sketchy/tweaking, walked people to their car, helped with medical situations, and called the police on criminal activities. I helped catch two people vandalizing buildings. On two occasions I’ve chased men out of parking garages who were about to break car windows with a metal pipe. Filming them with my smart phone is usually an effective deterrent. I watch for drunk women stumbling to find their car. Or more precisely, I’m watching for other men who are taking an interest in them as targets. Always watching.

The seedy underbelly of any major city is the same. I feel a bit like Charles Bronson in the 1974 vigilante film Death Wish. Except I’m not walking around with rolls of quarters rolled up in a sock. Nor am I riding the subway with a pistol waiting for a mugger to attack me. But the general idea is there. I’m putting myself out there and waiting to see if something happens. I’m no superhero, but maybe I can at least ensure that this small little square on the map is going to be safe tonight. Just this small 3 block by 3 block grid is mine, and nobody is getting raped, mugged, or killed here. Instead of just getting in my truck and driving home like a normal person would, I’m purposely walking around downtown Portland at 3am seeing what I can find. Or who I can help. I just don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone on my watch. And apparently my watch bleeds over with no discrete ending point. My personal end of watch might be when I finally get in my truck and drive home.

I walk past a metal stop sign with just the frame of a bicycle still locked to it. Last night it was a full and complete bicycle with wheels and a seat. Chains, pedals, and a basket. All of these part are now gone, and the remaining frame lies on the sidewalk as if it fell there.  The white bike frame looks like the skeleton of an animal that has been picked clean by scavenging vultures. Completely stripped. Brittle bones on concrete, a dismembered steel corpse.

A road flare still shines bright red like an arc-welding torch on the road. Evidence of some previous car wreck earlier tonight, these road flares never get cleaned up. They continue to burn and smoke and turn to ash, even in the rain. Long after the cars are towed away, reports filed, and people taken to the hospital, the burning road flares advertise the previous trauma that happened here. They remind me of a lightsaber from Star Wars, broken and sputtering on the ground after being damaged in battle. Not all three feet of a functioning light saber, just a centimeter of plasma extending from the hilt. The flare itself looks like a stick of TNT, or in this case, the hilt of a Sith weapon. The other neon sign colors reflect off of the wet asphalt. The street surface itself winks reflections of color on and off, on and off. But that red road flare is the brightest light of the night, cutting through everything like a beacon of despair.

I often refer to the denizens of the night as zombies. This is more accurate than you might think. The homeless population and mentally ill people obviously wear cheap clothing that is purely functional. It can be unclean, tattered, and torn up. Psychotropic medications can certainly affect one’s gait, presenting in the shuffling lurching walking that we see in George Romero’s zombie films. Various psychiatric conditions can affect movement and coordination. Neurological disorders can affect balance, cause loss of sensation or dizziness, and trigger seizures. Tweakers also have their own twitchy agitated mannerisms. These can include obsessive behaviors like pacing or repeating the same activity or statements over and over. You’ll see scratching, swatting, manic babbling, and various other repeated tics. The phenomenon of ‘meth mouth’ is the terrible condition of someone’s decayed and missing teeth after prolonged methamphetamine abuse. This looks exactly like the gaping zombie mouths in ‘The Walking Dead’. Hard drug use, malnutrition, and general perils of living on the street can cause skin sores and bleeding. You can understand how at 3am, through tired eyes, the people skulking around the streets would literally appear to be zombies.

I’m pretty much at DEFCON 1 when I’m walking around after work. I’m wide awake and vigilant. I’ve already worked a long challenging shift. I’ve dealt with drunk, entitled, and irritating people all night, and my patience is at its lowest point. I think that this is when it happens for most people. Exhausted, you have let down your guard. You just aren’t paying attention, your focus is elsewhere and your hands are full. Messaging on your smart phone, digging in your pockets for keys, and carrying a to-go box full of food. Texting people about hooking up or heading home. You make the mistake of thinking that you are safe. And that is when they get you.

There are moments where one or two people are walking towards me on the sidewalk. The first thing I do is look at their hands to see if they have anything in them that could be used as a weapon. If they have their hands in their hoodie pockets then I assume that they have something I won’t like in there. I’m usually acutely aware of anyone behind me, but I’ll look in the reflections of store windows to verify. Then I make a mental note of their clothing, hight, build, and features in case I need to describe it later for the Police report. Then I make eye contact with them and do not look away. I’ll slow down and pull my hands out of my pockets. I’ve already planned on what to use around me if necessary. The brick building wall, the parking meter, the concrete garbage can, the parked car. All are valid unyielding and painful objects to throw someone onto as hard as I can.

I never listen to music when walking around at night for obvious safety reasons. But I’m a huge music fan, and a song usually makes its way into my brain. In this instance I channeled this Marilyn Manson song from Antichrist Superstar called “Kinderfeld.” Glaring at the approaching men and gritting my teeth, these lyrics empowered me:

This is what you should fear
You are what you should fear
This is what you should fear
You are what you should fear

If any of them starts talking to me or asks any questions, I’m ready to move into the street where I can’t be backed up against a wall. There is no valid conversation that needs to happen between us at this time. Asking me for a light or a cigarette is just an excuse to get my hands occupied and to get within striking distance. I don’t smoke, but even if I did I’m not stopping and having an interaction with anybody at 3am.  I usually ignore them or shake my head and say things like, “Nope”, “Move on”, or “I can’t help you.” What I really want to say is something more like this: “If you step to me I will put you down on the concrete. Hard. If you fire one shot at me I will call in an air strike and drop napalm. Your jungles will burn. Broken Arrow. Scorched earth.
Keep. Walking. Motherfucker.”

But this isn’t a movie and I’m not Charles Bronson. The men walk around me and even move further away, giving me a wide berth. My hands relax a bit and I listen to their footsteps get quieter as they walk away. Now I just hear the sound of my breath. In and out. Inhale, exhale. Right now there is nothing else in the world except the calming sound of my own breathing.

The agitated mentally ill street person walking toward me is yelling and cussing, “Motherfucker! Goddammed cocksucker! I’ll kill you!” He is flinging his hands around like he is swatting at an enemy who isn’t there. Throwing punches at ghosts. I keep my eyes locked on him and walk slower, taking my hands out of my pockets. Paranoid schizophrenics need clinical supervision and medication management, not a solo 3am walkabout. He doesn’t even see me. I don’t register to him at all. I am certain that whatever phantom person he sees is in crisp focus, while I am a blurry shadow moving by in the background. His hallucination nemesis is more real to him than I am. And he would rather fight with him than me anyway.

These are the dark thoughts that orbit around me as I walk the long walk. These little moons that I’ve named paranoia, fear, defense, and anger. Perhaps someday a catastrophic event will occur on the planet of me that will knock these satellites out of their orbit. But until then….my eyes are wide open and my fists are clenched.  And I’m finally going home now; I’m done walking for tonight.

It’s a very fine line between vigilant and paranoid. And I don’t think I know the difference anymore.

The final line of one of my favorite films resonates strongly with me. At the end of the 1995 film SE7EN, Morgan Freeman’s weary voice leaves us with this:

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.”  
I agree with the second part.