The Glamour of Being a P.A. and Salvation Via Hugh MacLeod.
The truth is, I didn’t sleep. Not one wink. I was a very good P.A. My ultra-cool and glamorous job was to section off street parking spaces on Main Street in Racine, Wisconsin at 3rd and Main, and then see to it that no one parked in them. Now. Before we go further, let it be said that Any. Idiot. Can. Do. This. Job. But it takes a very special kind of idiot to want to do this job. That would be me.
My shift began at midnight last week, Thursday; August 13th. “P.A.,” for those of you who are unfamiliar, stands for “Production Assistant.” In the caste system of the film world, “P.A.” is the equivalent to “Untouchable.” No one who is above you wants to be you. And “Parking P.A.” is below “P.A.” When you work as a regular P.A., you generally and at least get to see a little action. You may even get to bring water to someone “important.” Such is not the case when you are a parking P.A. You get to set up and guard parking spots. That’s it.
When I got the phone call at 11:30 a.m. for P.A. work, I said, “Yes!” Almost instantly. Then Mindy told me what my job for the night would be.
“Are you okay with that? I mean, are you comfortable with telling people they can’t park in our spots?”
“Sure,” I said. “…Wait… am I going to be the only one there?”
“Um, yeah.” She replied.
“Because you know, this is Racine.” I added.
“Yeah, I don’t really know the area.”
“Oh, well. Yeah, sure. I can do it.”
“Great!” She then gave me the information and asked me to meet her and the production crew at 10 p.m. at the Radisson in Racine. I left Milwaukee at 9 p.m., without having slept at all during the day. Having packed a bag that included toiletries, saline solution, a contact lens case, extra clothes, my Coleman lantern/flashlight and some reading material, I felt prepared and up to the task. I stopped at Walgreens for a couple of Starbucks Doubleshots and some beef jerky for my long night ahead.
When I got into Racine just before ten o’clock, I overshot my turn and went over the bridge on Main Street, which evidently serves as a bit of a borderline between “good” Racine, and “not-so-good” Racine. Seems like nearly every town has these unspoken borders, but in the Midwest they are often–and unfortunately–fairly noticeable.
After crossing the bridge, I stopped across the street from a bar where I saw a group of college boys about to enter. As I got out of my car, a blue van buzzed by the group of boys, and suddenly, there was a “POP-POP-POP-POP!” sound, hysterical laughter, and a heart-stopping yell that only comes of injury. The van sped away, leaving the boys with bewildered, scared and angry faces; varying in color from red to ghostly-white. One of the boys had been shot in the thigh with a paint ball gun. After a moment’s pause, I swallowed and followed them into the bar.
I asked the boy who had been shot if he was okay, to which he proudly responded, “Yeah, I’m fine! I’m f***ing pissed, but I’m fine.”
“You need to call the police.”
“What are they gonna do?”
“I don’t know, but they need to know that someone is driving around town shooting people with a paint ball gun.”
“That’s true,” he said.
I then turned to one of the uninjured boys, and explained that I had missed my turn, and was looking for the Radisson Hotel. He told me to go back over the bridge and take a left at the stop light. He added that our current location was, “Not a place you want to be.” I smiled and thanked him, and made my way back to my car. Welcome to Racine.
When I got to the hotel, I entered the room to find a pretty typical-looking production camp that included several young guys and two women, and the Production Supervisor. They all had the cool and hip film crew renegade look; the supervisor being the hippest of all; complete with shaved head–save the pointy dart sideburns and soul patch–muscles, grey jeans, t-shirt, olive skin, and khaki converse all-stars with the shoelaces removed for easy access. He reminded me a little of Nero in Star Trek, except not as tall. Everyone was busy at either a laptop or a cell phone or both, except for the three P.A. guys. They were completing odd tasks such as making signs… and awaiting more instructions. I shook hands with everyone, and sat down to await my own instructions. I talked with one of the other P.A.s–a nice guy who was also from Milwaukee, but originally from Racine. He’s also in a band. After sitting around for about twenty minutes, Nero asked me to follow him and Nice Guy out to the van. “So it’s an interesting job, eh?” Nero said to me in the elevator. He spoke with what seemed to be an Eastern European accent… I couldn’t quite place it.
“Yeah? What’s interesting about it?” I asked. I thought he was referring to the project. I should have known it was strictly small talk.
“Well, you’re the parking P.A.”
“Oh.” I chuckled. “You mean my task. Well, it has to get done, right?” That was more or less the end of that conversation.
We rode several blocks to 3rd and Main, where I would be working. Nero pointed out where on Main Street he wanted the crew, as well as a small section of 3rd Street. He assured me that if I ran into any trouble, I could call them and they would come to help. I figured what that really meant was, “If you’re being held at gunpoint, call us after you dial 9-1-1.” He added, “The police station is right around the corner.”
Nice Guy and I dropped Nero back at the hotel, and then to where I was parked to transfer the cones from the van to my little Subaru Impreza Sport, which was soon chock full of cones. We walked back to the hotel together, to find a stack of full pizza boxes in the room when we reentered. I reluctantly had two pieces, only because I felt like it was the polite thing to do. I had already eaten dinner and was not much in the mood for mozz and sausage, and anyway, it was about 11 p.m.
I hung out for about another half hour, and since I wasn’t feeling too useful there, I announced that I was heading out to set up my own camp.
“Okay,” the assistant supervisor (I will call her ‘Joanne’) said. “You sure you don’t want some more pizza? Take it with you for later?”
“No, really. Thanks,” I said with a smile. “I’m all set with my Starbucks Doubleshots.”
“Good call. Okay, well, we’ll call you later to check in and see how you’re doing.”
“Thanks,” I said, and headed off to begin my adventure.
I parked in the middle of Main Street across from a place called Evelyn’s Club Main. The street seemed busy for a Wednesday night, but then I guess I don’t really know what a busy night in Racine looks like. Maybe it just seemed noisier than I thought it would be. A group of drunk kids–guys and girls–walked down the street yelling things to each other. I couldn’t really figure out what, nor did I care. At one point, two of the scantily clad girls plopped themselves down in the middle of the sidewalk and just yelled a blue streak. I think they were upset at the bartender at Evelyn’s. I think he kicked them out. Could you blame him? I was glad they were on the other side of the street. It was early for me to start setting up, but I was antsy, so I figured I would start with spots that were empty and then wait until more people cleared out. Evelyn’s was jumpin’. It sounded like screamo was their music of choice, and I say “sounded” like, because I don’t really know that much about screamo, except that I think it’s the kind of “music” in which people pretty much just scream the entire time. I have to think that somewhere along the line, it stops being cathartic for the screamer… if catharsis was ever even a goal… It’s difficult to say. Personally, I think I’d rather listen to dreamo music. Stuff that will lull me to sleep and provide me with sweet dreams. Stuff like Enya. The weird side of that, though, is that even Enya can drive people to want to hurt themselves after a while. That’s why you can never go wrong with Lynyrd Skynyrd. But I digress.
As I was setting up my cones (notice how they are now my cones), a bartender from Evelyn’s asked me what I was doing, and if it was okay for people to stay in their spots. I explained that everyone was just fine, and the spots were needed for the morning. The goal was to not upset the townies. I went about my business of setting up cones where I could, and then returning to my car to read my book. I was about eighty pages into it. It’s a short, quick read called, Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. It may have saved my life that night–or if not mine; somebody else’s. The book was a gift from my friend, Anthony (thanks, Anthony–truly–great book. You rock). Hugh MacLeod is a copywriter, but moreover, he is a CreativeBeast. Let me just say that if you dig my blog at all, and you get what it is that I’m after (the answers to life’s deepest mysteries… such as the alchemy used in the making of the world’s most perfect chocolates), then you will completely and utterly adore Hugh MacLeod. Have you ever met someone (or come across someone) who had such a way of saying things, that it made you say,”I wish I could have said it like that.” That’s how I feel about Hugh MacLeod. I once heard Bruce Springstein speak wistfully about how he wished that he could sing like Roy Orbison. I get that. Hugh, for the most part, says what I feel, and he says it with such style and grace, wit and grit. He’s highly original, and I’d like to think that part of that comes from being Scottish… Anyway, chapter 11 is called, The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props. It’s a couple of pages long, but really, the title says it all. And Chapter 9 is called, Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity… that’s what I was getting at with my previous post, called, So you don’t fit in. Good (thanks for the affirmation, Hugh!). This guy makes you think. He makes you ask yourself, “What is it that you really want out of your creativity?” His book will crack you up, but it will really get you thinking, too. Read it. I finished it before daylight. And check out his website: http:www.gapingvoid.com.
Outside of reading my book, I waited for the remaining Ghoulies to drag–I mean drive–themselves off of Main Street, so I could put up the rest of the cones, and hopefully spend what remained of my watch, peacefully. At around 2 a.m., the last Ghoulies stumbled out of Evelyn’s and other places (Ivanhoe’s, maybe?), and back to their cars. One group of drunk’ins made up of a couple of guys and several girls saw that there were cones around their car when they got to it, which upset them, evidently. I don’t know why; it wasn’t as though anyone was blocked in… Anyway, one of the guys picked up a cone and hurled it across the street. I got out of my car, and stomped over to them. “Hey!” I said. “Did you just throw that cone across the street?” They said nothing and the girl behind the wheel simply drove off. “Yeah, you better get out of here!” I yelled after them as I picked up the cone from the other side of the road and carried it back to its proper spot. Then about half an hour later, another guy from across the street decided to just remove four of my cones and take them to the other side of the street. “Hey, what are you doing?” I barked.
“I’m moving cones. What are you doing?” He answered.
“Put those down right now!” I chased after him, and he just casually dropped them on the sidewalk and went up to his apartment. I grabbed the cones and put them back where they belonged, and flipped off the window on the second floor. Fuming, I got back into my car and returned to my book. I made sure all the windows were down slightly, so I could hear if someone was coming. With the recent activity, I was wide awake and feeling rather like a target. I tried to read with one eye, while keeping the other on the street. The clock ticked away, and not much later, I heard footsteps coming from behind on the sidewalk next to my car. It was a woman carrying some bags. She seemed pretty harmless. Then I heard a “crunch” sound, like something had been tossed and hit the ground. She walked on by like nothing happened, so I figured that nothing did. After a while when the street had finally become silent, I got out and walked around to help myself stay awake. Then I noticed it. Next to my car on the driver’s side was a splattered egg. Some of it had reached my tire, but I didn’t spot any on the actual body of my car, which was good. I heard that raw eggs can take the paint right off, so if you do get bombed, you have to get your car washed immediately. I got back in once again, and this time I laughed out loud. “Unreal,” I thought. “This is the lowest I have felt on any job–maybe ever.” I recounted the chain of events in my head. I pictured myself chasing after young men roughly twice my size, and yelling at them about cones, and wondered if they didn’t argue with me simply out of not wanting to have to deal with a crazy lady. I pictured a rotten little prick-college twerp heaving an egg at my car from his apartment window. “There are better ways to get ahead,” I thought. Just then, a strange, bedraggled, very tall man with long hair and a knit cap walked past me on the sidewalk. “Please don’t notice me. Please don’t notice me,” I silently prayed. He noticed me. He stopped in his tracks, and stared at me. I stared back like a deer in the headlights. He just smiled, and gently waved the “wax-on” wave to me. I waved back with a half-smile… “wax-off.” He smiled again, and walked on by, and I sighed in relief. I think he was the most normal person I encountered the entire night… er, morning.
At about 3:30 a.m. I drank my second Doubleshot, and finished my book within the hour. Just before the first signs of daybreak, a huge, noisy truck drove up behind me–and–you guessed it–rolled right over my cones. It was a water truck, coming to give the city’s flowers that hung from the lamp posts their morning drink with a giant sprayer that was rigged to the back to match the height of the posts. I jumped out of my car and waved up at the driver with both arms. “Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” he replied. “I need to water the flowers,” he said with a friendly smile.
“Okay, no problem. Let me just get the cones out of your way.”
“I’ll help you,” he said.
“Thanks!” I raced up the street and made room for him to move through without destroying my setup. Just as quickly as he watered the plants, he set most of the cones back in place before I could even get to them. He was like Santa Claus. And before I could say “Jack Robinson,” he was on down the lane, and I watched him fade into the distance; a happy truck for happy flowers. In a couple of hours, the sun would be up. Joggers were starting to surface. That was weird. Joggers in and of themselves are not so strange. Joggers at 4:30 and 5 a.m. are very strange. “Yeah, there’s nothing I would rather do at 4:30 a.m., than get up and jog!” Nothing except maybe sleep.
Speaking of sleep, it was starting to hit me. I walked up and down Main Street to avoid the sandman. I peeked into the shop windows, and snap a few photos. “What a cute street,” I thought. “What cute shops.” If I didn’t know better, I would think that the cutest, smartest people lived right in Racine, from the look of Main Street during daylight hours. I wondered if I would actually get to see any of them. It occurred to me that downtown Racine might be a good setting for a horror movie: Swellsville by day, Hellsville by night.
As the day became brighter, traffic picked up considerably. Then Mindy called. “How’s everything going?” She asked.
“Oh, fine,” I said, feeling rather drunk from lack of sleep. “I could use a bathroom break, though.”
“Oh. I didn’t even think of that,” She said. “Well, why don’t you just shoot over to the hotel for a few minutes? Do things seem pretty secure?”
“Yep. I’ll do that.”
“Okay. Joanne said she thinks I can relieve you at about 8:30. Is that cool?”
After my potty break, I decided I could probably use another caffeinated beverage. There was a fake Starbucks in the hotel lobby, and I ordered a grande mocha from the boy barista. He didn’t know what it was, and explained that he had only started three days ago. “Do I use the white chocolate or the dark chocolate?”
“How cruel,” I thought to myself. I explained to the kid what a mocha was, and that I was once in his shoes (except I left out the part that I had been consuming espresso since he was a spark in his dad’s eye, and that he at least ought to try it to get an idea of how it should taste). I gave him a couple of quick tips on the fine art of barista-ing, since it was evident he had only been given the two minute crash course, and crash, he would. Oh, well. Not everything is meant to be.
After about seven minutes he handed me a cup. “Well, here you go. I hope it tastes like it should.”
“I’m sure it’ll be great,” I said, smiling. It tasted like Swiss Miss instant cocoa. I hustled back to my car, and back to my post. Everything was fine. No ghoulies.
Suddenly, Nero called, and he was yelling–telling me do something. “I’m thinking we’ll need more parking spaces… like another block’s worth,” Was what I could make out. The traffic was terrible and very loud, so that combined with his accent… and then there was the fact that I hadn’t slept in twenty four hours… “I want you to block off more spaces on the north side of Main Street.”
“The north side of Main Street…” I looked around. There was an east and west side of Main, but there was definitely not a north side.
“Hon-ey, Hon-ey,” that was what he called me. “Do you know where Milwaukee is?”
“Yes. Look, it’s very difficult to hear. Traffic is bad.” I was getting a little irked. First he calls me ‘Honey,’ and then he insults me. And we’re not even sleeping together.
“Okay, so NORTH of where we set up on Main–north of 3rd Street, on the west side of Main.” Now he was making sense.
“Thank you, Honey.” He hung up.
“Oh no, thank YOU, Honey,” I thought, as I hung up.
I set up my new row of cones, sans problems.
Then Mindy called. “Hey, I’m running about twenty minutes late. I have to run an errand, so I’ll see you around 9:30, okay? If you see a cafe or something, feel free to grab yourself something to eat.”
“Okay.” What else could I say? But I was hitting my wall. Sleep was coming whether or not I wanted it to. I sat on a bench and pretended to read my copy of The New Yorker. Who was I kidding?
I felt like crap. I needed a shower. I spotted a Dunn’s Coffee across from my new row of cones. I went in and got a Pom Wonderful and a pre-made breakfast sandwich from their cooler. I took my warmed up sandwich and juice, and went back to my car to eat. I don’t even remember what kind of sandwich it was. A bacon-egg-with-cheese paste ball, I think. I could barely swallow it. Yuck. I got out and sat on the bench again. I did my best to keep my head up. Then I spotted Mindy walking towards me from across the street. She looked like a tall angel wearing jeans, a t-shirt and sunglasses–the sun shrouding her like a halo. “Hey!” She said, smiling. “How’d it go?”
“Great!” I said. I gave her the 30 second version of my graveyard shift, and the receipt from my meal at Dunn’s, which she traded me cash for.
She said, “Well, I know you probably want to get some sleep.”
“Yes,” was all I could say with a weak smile.
“Thanks. Let’s keep in touch.”
It was hot and perfectly sunny as I drove back to Milwaukee, and I made it all the way home without crashing into anyone. Or anything.
I’ll sign off with a quote from Hugh MacLeod… Chapter 38: Meaning scales, people don’t.
“Anything worth doing takes a lot practice. Adventures included.” — H.M.