Sunday, August 22, 2010

Episode 34: What a Country(fest)

There is no event on the calendar like it. One's experience at Gillette Stadium is measured in how many Countryfest's they've worked. This event isn't about country music at all. It's about drinking. And 50,000 suburban kids, pretending to be hicks. And while I don't mind the girls with cowboy boots and daisy dukes, it's kind of ridiculous how many people walk around with shirts about the state of Texas, and why we shouldn't mess with it.

Driving in to work, I passed three vehicles adorned with Confederate flags. I've been to a few NASCAR races, where you'll see said flag all over the place. But it's typically attached to cars/trucks with Alabama or North Carolina plates. There's something sordid about a CSA flag on a car with Mass. plates and Red Sox bumper stickers. At least the guys from The South can claim it stands for regional pride. But what's a kid from Framingham trying to say with it?

They're probably not trying to say anything. They just want to be part of this silly trend. With my generation, it was the rap music.

Then came the rock/rap hybrid stuff like KoRn. We all wore baggy jeans, had wallet chains, tried speaking hip hop slang, et cetera. I'll admit to once owning a Limp Bizkit windbreaker.

So it's just kids being stupid, and simultaneously making me feel old.

My first CountryFest was in 2008. I had just started the whole response team gig. I wasn't on a permanent team, and didn't really know what I was doing. In '09, I was on a team, and had a very good idea what I was doing. And in 2010, I ran a team. Like I said, at Gillette Stadium, you're measured by your Countryfest experience. For me, Countryfest marks the end of the "event year." So with its passing, I'm now starting my 4th season at Gillette Stadium.

My team started at the gate. We had two teams out there, along with a phalanx of Police. Gates opened at 4, the first act went on at 5, and the headliner (Brad Paisley) would take the stage sometime after 9.

The first group of fans were orderly and sober. These were the actual music fans, and represented perhaps 10% of the actual crowd.

Then came everyone else. The two teams we had at the gate were augmented by a third. Trying to remember all the sobriety checks I requested is difficult. When I'm taking my notes on each incident, I'll usually write something to trigger my memory at the end of the night when filling out my paperwork. "Red shirt New York," "District Attorney," "Bloody arms," "Crying girl," "KG and Rondo," "Terrell Davis," and so on.

Most of our time at the gate was spent weeding out the people who "stood out" in the crowd. I put that in quotes because the best way to stand out is to have difficulty standing up.

Now, I don't expect anyone to just say "You got me, I'm intoxicated, you don't even need to have Police do a sobriety check, just take me to the station to sober up." I expect some sort of dispute. But the kind of arguing strategies employed by these people are simply comical.

"I was only stumbling because of the curb."

Curbs are minor and routine obstacles that are quite easy for sober people to negotiate, especially when the elevated sidewalk is white concrete, and the lower roadway is black asphalt. It's difficult to be surprised by such a curb.

"Come on man, my parents are really strict. They're gonna kill me if I get into trouble."

"I had parents too." The sympathy ploy isn't a bad one to try. It won't work with me, but it also won't irritate me too much. And the same goes for girls crying. I'm not going to yield for tears.

Then there's the spoiled brats who use an argument that really aggravates me.

"I'm just as drunk as everyone you're letting in to the Stadium."

I had one girl try this argument on me as a friend of hers was being given a sobriety check. "Okay, let's take your logic to the next step," I said. "Would you have the Police not detain any drunk people at all since they can't detain every drunk person?"

She stopped talking. But this self-centered logic is far too common. We'll stop one person who's stumbling, they might see someone else who seems drunk, and they'll feel singled out. It's the old "there are other criminals that haven't been caught" defense. Illic es alius scelestus, as it's known in legal circles. Unfortunately, it's never been very successful in a court of law, or with me.

Then there's my favorite disputant: the (wannabe) attorney.

Another girl asked me "Why did you single her out and how can they detain her? Isn't that a violation of public rights or something?"

"Well, this is private property. And even if it weren't, you can't just be drunk in public, can you?"

Then this girl kept going on about civil rights or something.

"Are you really feeling that oppressed right now?" I asked her. A friend of hers grabbed her by the shoulder and they went through the gate. I usually have a great deal of patience, and I don't mind briefly trying to explain to people why their friend will be spending the night with the Police, or why they have to leave the concert, or why they have to follow some rule about access points or red-lines. Some people are curious, and I like rewarding curiosity.

Some people are just jerks. I don't like rewarding that.

Later there was the law student. Her friend was stumbling in line. I was accused of "singling her out because she's short."

I shook my head and said "that doesn't make any sense at all, and you know it."

Then her friend, the law student, tried coming to her rescue. "I'm a law student, I'm going to be a DA, I know the law and you can't do any of this."

"Why not?" I asked, with some curiosity. Maybe this law student had discovered something to change the way we do everything at the Stadium. OK, I wasn't curious at all, and knew she was full of it.

"Well she's short, so even like one drink and she's going to seem drunk," was her response.

I just shook my head. That's all I could really do. Had I opened my mouth, a stream of obscenities laced with logic might have escaped.

This future Marcia Clark then said that her friend was going to refuse the sobriety check. "Alright then," I said, "let's make it official. I'll request the check, and then you can refuse. These guys [the cops] know the law pretty well. And we'll take it from there." By now, there were officers available to administer (or not administer) the check. I requested the check, told the cop that the girl was stumbling in line, and suddenly the DA was silent. Good thing she won't be a defense attorney, because her client was placed into protective custody.

It wasn't all sobriety checks and arguments. There was a guy wearing a Red Sox hat and a St. Louis Rams polo. We talked for a little bit as all hell was breaking loose around us. I asked him if he was coming to the Patriots/Rams preseason game on Thursday. It turns out his son plays for the Rams, and he was just checking out the Stadium. "This is not a typical event," I informed him.

After a few hours at the gate, the ingress slowed. But these late arrivals were also the people dedicated to guzzling that last six pack before heading in. There was a guy being talked to by a few cops. I was several yards away. Then I noticed the guy walking toward the parking lots. At first I thought he'd been released, or maybe the cops had just been chatting with him in an unofficial sense. Then I noticed some of our staff walking after him. So something was wrong.

The guy walked quicker, so we walked quicker. Then he ran. So we ran.

For a few dozen yards, we were gaining on him. Then his sandals fell off. That made him faster and he started to pull away. While two of us continued the straight pursuit, I veered to the right, hoping to cut him off. The lot was closed off in the direction he was running, so he'd eventually have to turn right.

The black line is the runner, the orange line is two of our staff, the blue line is my path.

The guy we were chasing was not a small guy. Nor was he slow. I'm not a big dude, and I'm not nimble. While running, I knew the odds of me making an open field tackle would be slim. But maybe he'd run between some SUVs, not see me coming from the side, then get jacked up.

But that would prove unnecessary. There was a tow-truck in the middle of the lot. The driver asked us if we were chasing the guy. We nodded. Then suddenly the truck sped off down the parking lot, after the guy. I don't know what the driver intended to do once he got there. Adrenaline can sometimes prevent you from thinking ahead.

Then some cops on bicycles sped by us, like the cavalry at the end of a black and white Western, and saved the day. They reached the runner, dismounted, cornered him, and put him in cuffs.

With a light flow at the gates, we went inside. It wasn't too hot out, but the running had me sweating a good lather. We went up to the 300s for the rest of our evening.

At first it was quiet. I talked to the supervisors up there to get the mood of the section. It seemed like we might spend our time clearing stairways and telling people not to smoke on the concourse. I sent half my team on break. Then I went on break with the other half of my team.

I'd eaten 3 of the 4 slices in my small pepperoni pizza when a call came over the radio and it was back to work time.

A bit later on, we got a report from a fan of someone doing something in the last row of 307. So me and one of my team perched ourselves at the front of the section and watched (it was in between acts, so the house lights were on). As that was happening, we saw someone throw a cup at someone else. Talk about right place, right time. Everyone in the section pointed out the two culprits. We brought them down to the concourse and dealt with them. They'd thrown at a particularly large man, who we had to prevent from exacting his revenge.

Then there was the drunk guy in the Kevin Garnett jersey. Who was helped out by his buddy in the Rondo jersey. Ubuntu!

There was a group of people crowding an ADA platform in one section. We and the other supervisors talked to them about half a dozen times. And each time, they gave us increasingly more attitude. Especially one guy wearing a Terrell Davis jersey.

We got into a bit of a debate about the difference between standing in the platform, or standing behind it. "What's the big deal if I'm standing in there?"

"What's the big deal if you're not?"

I said to TD: "This is the last time we're talking to you."

With the platform clear, we walked a few sections away, with the intention of returning quickly and dealing with anyone who'd returned to the platform. But when we got back, Terrell Davis was giving one of our supervisors a hard time. That was it for him.

The entire night, I dreaded all the paperwork I'd be required to fill out. The concert ended at 11:00pm. I didn't leave the building until 1:40am.

But now it's time to look ahead to my 4th season of doing this stuff. No more concerts at Gillette until next summer. BC football starts soon, the NFL's regular season shortly thereafter. There's still the Jets game to anticipate, along with visits from the Colts and Brett Favre's Vikings. But these events will pale in comparison to Countryfest.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Episode 33: 'Tis the Preseason

Football season will soon be upon us. Fantasy leagues are drafting. Compulsive gamblers are convincing themselves that this will be the year that their "system" finally pays off. In its annual tradition, the state of Texas has officially forgotten it has two baseball clubs. A mass of hot air is blowing out of Cortland, NY as Fatasaurus Rex Ryan bellows BS to his HBO camera crew. And the New England Patriots are back in Foxborough.

Photo Credit: David Silverman

I'd never worked at Pats' training camp, although I've attended a few times. In fact, that's how I got this job. I was back home, just after graduating college, and looking for part-time work. My buddies and I went to training camp, one of them picked up a pamphlet from TeamOps, I applied, and a few weeks later I'm watching the Pats dismantle the Chargers 38-14 as an usher in section 118.

A few years later, and I'm back at camp, on field and on the other side of the rope. I inadvertantly called that rope "the wire" a few times. I'm reading a book about World War I, so that's why. But I never once said "Enjoy the game," to anyone during camp. I said "Enjoy the practice" about 500 times.

I did around 10 sessions of training camp. My fair/pale/translucent skin survived intact. Thank God for SPF 70. Most of the time it was repetitive and kind of dull. Being on the field isn't as exciting as it sounds. Especially for a practice. I'll describe it this way: it never felt like I wasn't working.

But it wasn't awful, either. There were a few entertaining moments...

At one session, Mr. Brady was one of the last players to arrive on the practice field. When he appeared, the PA system blasted "Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred.

I was working the season ticket-holder night practice. It's basically a normal training camp practice, only held inside the Stadium. I was on the field for that, as well. The D-line were doing their sled drills in my corner, and nearly pushed it into me, which would have seriously wrecked my ankles.

Later that night, during goal-line drills, I was watching the crowd when a brown blur zipped by 2 yards to the right of my skull. It was a football fired by Tom Brady, and was a mere 6 feet from giving me a concussion, and possibly making me a YouTube celebrity. "You see that video of the security guy getting nailed by Brady? He dropped like a bowling pin." I'm glad I work in the stands, and not on the field.

Randy Moss signs tons of autographs. As I said, I worked 10 sessions. After each session, a group of players will sign, based on position. One morning it'll be linebackers, then receivers in the afternoon, then offensive linemen the next day, et cetera. Moss randomly signs of his own volition. A lot. He signed 6 of the 10 sessions I worked.

Photo Credit: David Silverman

Punt returns are crazy. The gunners trying to get to the returner will scream pretty much the entire play. They'll try to startle the him before he catches the ball. "I'm coming mother [expletive]!" They did this trash-talk to the rookie and sophomore players. When Kevin Faulk was the return man, you could hear a pin drop. That's respect.

The Saints came to practice with the Pats for 3 sessions. That was cool, to be on the field with Drew Brees and company. And to watch joint practices, a rarity these days.

Photo Credit: David Silverman

After one of the practices, NFL Network was going to interview Belichick by the field, so we had to make sure that the fans didn't interfere with the shot. This was the ultimate pinnacle of glory for a security guy/Belichick aficionado/film school graduate. I have to admit, I had goosebumps once I knew I'd be standing a few feet from Belichick. Then finding out that Sean Payton would be joining him only made me more excited. But once the Coaches arrived, my nerves settled as I did my job, and tried to look as bored as possible. That's my poker face.

Here's a link to the interview.

At 2:33 you can see my elbow enter the frame from the left. It's that thing whiter than my white shirt. And at 4:02 you can see me climb under the rope to do something else. I don't care about being in the video, but that's how close I was to two of the most highly esteemed coaches in the sporting world. Pretty cool.

Oh, and just before that happened, I had a close encounter with another legend. As I said, there's an autograph signing session after each practice. The designated position group (plus a 60% chance of Randy Moss), will spread out along the sidelines and sign. The people working the field, like myself, carry Sharpies. Because obviously, the players don't have them. So we provide the pen, and then the players can sign for everyone.

I'm standing at the extreme end of the stands as practice concludes. And Tom Brady starts running my way. He's impossible to miss, with the red QB practice kit and the bouncy Justin Bieber haircut. He started signing autographs. I maintained a distant but watchful presence. Then Tom got to someone who had a football to sign, but no pen. "Anyone have a pen I can use?" he asked.

And faster than Clint Eastwood in the Man With No Name Trilogy, I drew my Sharpie, uncapped it, and handed it to Tom Brady.

"Thanks" he said. And with the same right hand that's thrown 225 touchdowns (plus 28 in the playoffs, 7 in Super Bowls), he signed autographs with my Sharpie, which I've been using to chart weight-loss during my current diet.

He probably disposed of the instrument unceremoniously. Or maybe, just maybe, he knows I'm an up and coming writer, and he's enshrined the pen on his mantle, with a plaque reading "Rob Zeitz Wrote With This." Maybe he sold it on eBay.

So that was cool. And to me, that's much cooler than an autograph. I don't see the big deal with autographs, especially for people over 12. I had one fan at camp suggest I casually bump into one of the players while they were on the sideline. "Why would I want to do that? I'm trying to not get hit by these guys."

And that's the truth. During punt and kickoff drills, I'd see the ball spinning in my general direction. I wasn't afraid of the ball hitting me, just the 22 guys that would arrive shortly after the ball did. So I'd casually take a step or two away from the field, and literally stay on my toes.

And it's not the Vince Wilforks you have to be worried about, even though he has 100 pounds on me. It's the DBs, with their speed. Like #24 on the Saints (Leigh Torrence), who was a gunner in a punt drill, got pushed out-of-bounds, and took the liberty of running the length of the field unblocked out-of-bounds behind 80 Patriots lined up on the sideline. He's listed at 5' 11" and 179, which sounds human, but a .22 calibre bullet is still a bullet, even though it's smaller than a .45. And #24 was certainly a bullet. Thankfully, I was well downfield, and aware of him. But he did get close to a few staff, who didn't even know he was near until struck by the wake of air trailing behind him.

Preseason games aren't the same, and not just for the players or fans. There are a lot of families in attendance, a lot of people who know someone with season tickets, who've never or rarely been to the Stadium. It makes for a pretty good crowd, at least from a security standpoint. I ran a response team, and our primary function was to make sure people were standing behind The Red Line that encircles the stands. After just one pass through our sections, and the fans were standing behind the line, even telling new arrivals to stay behind the line. I'll enjoy that while it lasts.

The Pats/Saints preseason game was a fairly quiet night for me. As I mentioned above, we did Red Line duty, and that was essentially done after just one pass. We did have a nice response team moment, when something unexpected to do quickly springs up. We had a new employee with us, and I kept harping about how much I love doing response teams because the routine is unroutine.

There were a few dozen former Patriots attending the game, in conjunction with Sam "Bam" Cunningham's induction into the Patriots' Hall of Fame. Our team and another team were to line the steps of an aisle as the alumni walked down and eventually onto the field. And of course, the other team gets called to help an usher supervisor with something 10 sections away. So it's just my team, supplemented by some ushers who got thrown into the mix.

It was uneventful, but I did have to go up and down all 38 rows about half a dozen times, quickly briefing my staff and the ushers about what was going on. Telling them to direct traffic up/down only the right side of the aisle, and to keep the left side clear for the players.

That was the only memorable or notable part of my first Patriots game as a supervisor. Which is good, because CountryFest looms on the horizon, and I'm sure we'll be slightly busier.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Episode 32: Response Team Sampler

In my previous episode, I bemoaned the fact that having my own response team meant no longer participating in the "special responsibilities" that my old team gets. Things like escorting Tom Cruise around. Be careful what you wish for.

Bon Jovi came to Gillette the other night, along with Kid Rock. And if somebody wanted to experience all the possibilities that being on a response team entails, they should have spent the day with us. Because we did it all: Customer service, security, "special responsibilities," assisting other departments when needed, VIPs, an ejection, several situations defused, and walking a few miles. It was a long, but uniquely enjoyable day.

That's a rudimentary illustration of our travels. Our travels BEFORE we got up to the 300 level for our "routine" roaming. Just a quick rundown of what we did that's shown on this map. It starts with the red dot in the upper left.

1) Provide security/intermediation for VIPs checking in near the Pro Shop.
2) Escort a group of VIPs into the Stadium.
3) Escort them through field access.
4) Escort them across the field, to the tunnel where they began their backstage tours.
5) Backstage stop #1
6) Backstage stop #2
7) Walk around catwalk in front of stage (Backstage stop #3)
8) Escort VIPs to catering on the suite level

Now we switch to blue:

9) Escort a separate group of VIPs back to the check-in area by the Pro Shop to check-in for a different event.
10) Return to suite level to escort first group of VIPs to their seats adjacent to the stage.
11) Guide VIPs to "The Pit" by the stage.

And now to the lime green:

12) Help divert congestion at a backed-up gate to a larger gate on the other side of the Stadium.
13) Divert traffic from will-call to the larger gate to ease the pressure on the backed-up gate.
14) Assist field entrance in wristbanding people with field tickets.

And then we went on break. In a 7 hour span, we did quite a bit.

As you can see, we spent the first part of our day with some VIPs. Nobody famous. I was hoping for Belichick (he's a big Bon Jovi fan), but I knew that was a long shot. But they were VIPs nonetheless.

There were some ruffles, some wrinkles that needed smoothing, if you will. There always are, especially with concerts. So many overlapping layers of Stadium security, tour security, Stadium PR, tour PR, facilities, parking, concessions, and so on. All this division is necessary. These events are massive, and it's impossible to have one unified command structure, especially with concerts that all bring in their own nuances and staff. It's imperative, therefore, to be able to have these cells communicate with each other so the larger creature can function properly. I'll pat myself on the back and say I did a good job being an intermediary between the tour people running the VIP stuff, and the Stadium.

Before the concert, I checked the weather. I don't know why, Gillette Stadium's climate is generated by a device Coach Belichick has hidden in the practice fieldhouse.

And when the Pats aren't playing, he puts it on Random.

The forecast called for "isolated" thunderstorms. A storm isolated itself over Gillette for a good hour, dropping buckets of rain. The VIP people fled into the Pro Shop, as did we. Then that started to flood. And not gradually, either. I thought the Stadium had hit an iceberg and was going down by the bow into the briny deep.

I had my Customer Service Moment (CSM) in the rain. One of the VIPs got lost trying to find the check-in table. She had previously been lost trying to park. She was on the phone with the woman in charge of registering the VIPs. Apparently, she was outside the Club entrance. I thought it was the one on the other side of the Pro Shop. I donned my poncho and said "I'm going out there to get her. I'll be back." And as the heroic music swelled, I ventured into Waterworld.

I checked the nearby Club entrance. She wasn't there. I turned to go back, then said to myself "I'm already drenched, might as well check the other Club entrance." That's at the far end of the Stadium. It's about a 300 yard walk or 1/6 of a nautical mile. She was at the second entrance. Good job, Rob.

The rain lifted, the floodwaters receded, and after dispatching a dove out into the Patriot Place Plaza, and having it return carrying a leaf in its beak, we ventured back outside.

Eventually, we escorted a few dozen VIPs to the stage. These VIPs must have been VVIPs because they got a real good tour. We were told to hang back and make sure stragglers didn't get lost or anything. We went under the stage, then went around the catwalk, and along with the guests, we enjoyed a thorough tour.

I had no idea being a musician was such an athletic endeavor. This catwalk was maybe 4.5 feet wide, about 6 feet off the ground, and slippery from the earlier rain. Lights, monitors, and plugs studded the slim path, and I could only imagine trying to walk on it in the dark, while singing/playing.

And wow, was the view from the stage surreal. I've been on the floor, I've been up against the stage. But never on it. I was hoping one of my friends attending the show would spot me and take a picture, because it'd be pretty cool looking. We were just hanging back a few yards behind the tour group, as they took pictures of the stage and themselves. But I think only one or two people I know saw me, and they were working too, so no pictures :-(

Then there was a lot of walking and riding elevators. To the suites, down to the concourse, to the Pro Shop, up to the suites, down to the floor, and finally we released our VIPs into the wild.

As we escorted the last group of them to their seats, one of them said "Thank you," to all of us.

"No, thank you," I said. "We got a backstage tour thanks to you guys"

I thought we might be able to take our break, but it was bad timing for that. The gates were getting jammed up pretty bad, so we were sent to one of them to help redirect people to a larger gate. On the way there, in the tunnel, we walked by Bon Jovi. I was disinterested.

Token helping out at gates, which is what our job is when they get really backed up. Redirecting people to a less jammed gate, siphoning traffic from one gate to another, that kind of thing. Then once we got all the people through the gate, the field access inside the Stadium was just as jammed. So we helped in wristbanding people. I'd never clipped bands to other people's wrists before, and I wasn't very good at it.

Oh, I should mention that the Friday night before this concert, I was a good boy and went to sleep at 12:30am. Only to inadvertently wake up at 3. After watching Rocko's Modern Life for a few hours, I took a nap from 8 to 10:30.

We also had to get there earlier than everyone else in order to do the VIP thing. I was so tired, that after planning on getting a small pizza for dinner, and fantasizing about that pizza all day, I got a chicken sandwich when we finally went on break. I just totally forgot what I'd wanted all day long and got what I typically order for Revs games.

Anyway, with the VIP details done, all the guests inside, and my stomach flooded with Mountain Dew, we went up to the 300s. We spent most of our time doing standard stuff: answering questions, making sure people weren't clogging the staircases, that sort of thing. We were supposed to go around to all the concession stands to shut down the alcohol, but every one of the stands shut themselves down a few minutes before we were told to do so. I didn't mind.

There were a few near-incidents. A guy tripped over his buddy's shoes and fell into the people the row in front of him. Both guys were very cooperative and coherent. Besides, tripping over a shoe can happen after the house lights go out, quite easily. We took their info down and bade them to enjoy the rest of the show without further incident. Which they did.

There was a sort of false alarm as we were told something serious was happening on a ramp leading up to the 300s. We ran for a bit, but upon arrival, whatever was happening had already happened. That's something that occurs quite a bit on a response team. It sucks to rush to get somewhere, only to find nothing. Then again, there are a lot of somethings that would be unfortunate to have to find at the end of that rushing.

After guzzling down water and stretching my quads, a fan told us that people in front of her were smoking "something" and passing it around. We went up to the section, and 3 rows of people pointed out the two culprits. So we brought them down to the concourse and talked.

It's not common for several rows of fans to indicate strangers. It's quite damning. So I suggested to the guy that we bring him to another section, and that he stop smoking. He denied smoking anything, and refused to move to another section. He couldv'e just admitted that he was smoking a cigarette, and promised to stop, then I would've been fine with letting him return to his seat.

Then he started swearing. Swearing is against the rules, but I'm not going to toss a guy just for swearing. Being a jerk, on the other hand, that's different. Calling me a "pussy" because I won't tell him what my name is, that's different. Getting in my face, repeatedly saying "Search me! Search me!" That's different.

I don't like kicking people out anymore, especially from the 300s. It's a long walk down. It's additional paperwork at the end of the night. So even after a long and occasionally unnerving day, my mounting irritability is tempered by laziness, which results in a calm, reasonable attitude. It's a good balance.

I kept playing Let's Make a Deal with him.

First Game:
Door #1: Admit you smoked, promise you'll stop, and go back to your seat.
Door #2: Don't admit you smoked, be belligerent, but move to another section to avoid any further incident with the dozen or so people who have had enough of you.

He chose neither door.

Second Game:
Door #1: Move to another section.
Door #2: Walk out of the building with my team.

He chose neither door, but was subconsciously striving for Door #2, I think.

Third Game:
Door #1: Walk out of the building with my team.
Door #2: Be escorted by Police.

He chose #2.

He kept accusing me of being on a power trip, but if he only knew how little I wanted to extend my day with added paperwork. If he only said "I was smoking a butt. It won't happen again."

We didn't know what he was smoking, just that people around them said he and others were passing it around. One even gave us her information and a witness statement. The cops didn't find anything illicit on him, or detect any sort of intoxication. I didn't mind his swearing much. I curse like a sailor with Tourette's who had truck drivers for parents, although not when I'm on the clock. But when he said "I was just trying to enjoy the fucking show," and I said "Watch your language," and he retorted "Kid Rock was swearing," I mean this meatball was just asking for trouble.

The guy was an escalator. The kind of punk at a poker table who just has try bluffing at every pot. And I wasn't the only one getting annoyed. He had a crack at everyone. The usher supervisor came by to try to mediate, but he gave the usher supervisor guff. Then he mouthed off to the cops. We gave him every opportunity to stay in the Stadium and enjoy the rest of the show, but he made his choices.

Ultimately, though, it was my choice. That's not a power tripping statement, it's just how it is. "He's leaving, either with just us, or with you guys. That part of it's up to him," I said to one of the cops.

He violated multiple policies, all minor in nature, but more importantly he was irritating guests then refused to cooperate after violating those policies. Instead of doing what 99.9% of Stadium smokers do (say "Sorry, I didn't know I couldn't smoke up here"), he decided to lie, to get tough, and refuse to cooperate in any way.

Not much happened after that. There was a spat between two groups of fans. "She threw a quarter at me." "She flipped me off." She said vs. she said. We just relocated one group to empty seats a few sections over.

We bumped into the group who made the quarter throwing accusation, and they went over the whole sequence of events, including a vivid ballistic analysis of the coin's trajectory. I made a "back and to the left" joke that went over their heads.

Get it? Over their heads? My sense of humor is hit or miss (like Ace-King), but when it hits, it hits hard (like Ace-King). If they'd seen JFK or were big Seinfeld fans, they would have laughed.

Then the night fizzled out. It took its time fizzling out, though. I didn't turn the ignition in my car until about 2:15. By then my contact lenses had sealed and laminated my eyeballs, my knees and ankles stopped sending me pain signals as they gave up on life, and my brain cells flickered out one-by-one, like overworked light bulbs.

We had a new guy on our team; someone who'd just started working. This was his first event at Gillette Stadium. He told me this when we were underneath the stage. "Yeah," I said, "the enjoyable part about being on a roam team is that it's never routine. We always do something unexpected."

He learned that right away, no doubt about it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Episode 31: Movin' on Up, to the (300) East Side

Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber came to Gillette. It was my first event supervising on my own. But of course, as I discussed in the last Episode, you're never alone. At least you shouldn't be.

I was designated Romeo-9 (response team #9), and would start out at the East Gate, then move up to the east side of the 300 level. For a normal concert, the cheap seats can get a tad harry. But this was not a normal concert. Normal concerts don't have large pick-up/drop-off areas for parents to collect their kids.

I was thankful for this irregularity. I felt it was a good way to grace into the whole supervising routine, with a crowd that would, for the most part, be sober. Then again, I've heard stories of full-blown fist-fights breaking out at an Alicia Keys show. And the possibility of two 13 year old guys slapping each other over a 14 year old girl did enter my mind before the concert. Especially since it'd be humiliating to get my ass whooped by some junior high sprat on my first day running a roam team.

I was more thankful to have a reliable and assertive female with us, because EVERYTHING we dealt with involved females. I'd estimate that 85 to 90 percent of the crowd were females. And most of the males were dads, apart from two jacked frat looking dudes that entered through our gate, and they stood out like blood on a wedding dress.

The whole supervisors routine was still not routine for me. We have our meeting in this auditorium, where I'm told the Patriots hold their postgame press conferences. I guess that's kind of cool. Before the meeting, all 4 and a half feet of Justin Bieber walked by. Not nearly as cool. During the briefing, it was vividly stressed that this would be a "HANDS OFF" event.

Now it's not like we roam around cracking skulls at other concerts or Pats games. But considering that most people in attendance wouldn't even have their learner's permits, it was heavily emphasized that we'd be extra careful with how we handled situations. We wouldn't HANDle them at all. We'd manage them. And if there were a female involved, we'd womanage them.

After the briefing, Taylor Swift walked by us. That's slightly cooler, but she's not my type. Sorry, hun. Bulk up, eat some Spaghettios.

After mustering my staff together, we took a walk up to the 300s before heading to the gate. My God that is a long trek. The ramp we took is 1,400 feet (a tad more than 1/4 mile) in length. And the grade is somewhere between 7 and 10%, at least that's what I'd estimate. It seems steeper the higher you get.

Meanwhile, I'm dragged down by a pair of pants that weighs around 20 pounds. I had 2 flashlights (one makes a harsh ultra-bright spot, the other is a broader and gentler light, and I wanted two in case someone on the team forgot theirs), my cel phone, my radio, my keys, ponchos for everyone (rain had been forecast, though all the storms would skirt around the Stadium), earplugs for everyone, my paperwork, contact lens moisturizer, contact lens case, 2 handwipes, chapstick, 3 small packs of gum, 2 pads of paper, and 3 pens.

That doesn't sound like much, but it adds up, especially in June, and especially hiking 1,400 feet to the Stadium summit. I felt like those cops on Flashpoint who carry a thousand different things in their overstuffed pants and jackets.

I even had a utility belt that toted my radio, my flashlight holster, and a cell phone caddy. I wasn't trying to look overly coplike or militant, it was just the best way to haul so much stuff around, but also keep it accessible.

Bart's New Belt

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After that, we went down to the East Gate, which would be where a lot of the floor tickets passed through. The gate was set-up differently from normal, but was actually quite sensible. Bicycle fencing created a corral around the gate, and three tables were arranged inside for bag checks. It took some thinking over to realize how it'd work, but it all went according to plan.

There was a girl a few yards from the gate who requested first aid. Then some floozies wanted to know where to pick up their StubHub tickets. They then wanted an escort across Route 1 from me or one of the males on my team. Not much else happened. We went inside, took our break, then headed up to the 300s.

By this time, Justin Bieber was on stage. Or so I was told. His voice was an octave higher than the squeeling masses of tweenage fans who now filled Gillette Stadium to the brim.

And a tall brim it is. I don't have acrophobia. Heights have never bothered me much. Looking down from the top of a skyscraper doesn't bug me. But turning my back on that height does. I have no idea why that is. I guess because I want to know precisely where the edge is. But all and all, being up high in the 300s was no big deal. It was nice being so far above the speaker banks that I didn't need earplugs.

There were some minor, unremarkable incidents. Then a woman complained about the drunk girls in the seats behind her.

Don't stand out in a crowd. That's the best way to prevent being ejected from a game/show. Have a few drinks if you'd like, but don't get obnoxious and loud when you're drinking at a Taylor Swift show. As we accompanied the two girls out of their seats, other fans from adjacent aisles thanked us. And that's a reaffirming feeling. We usually enjoy torrents of slurred abuse when we evict someone.

We uneventfully had alcohol shutdown a few minutes after Taylor Swift took the stage. There was nobody in line for beer, so nobody to complain, or beg to be bestowed that one last drink.

After the 5th or 6th song of her set, Taylor Swift emerged at the top of one of the 100-level sections. She sang and strolled her way down the aisle, then stepped onto the floor. A few of our teams participated in the stunt, making sure the aisle was clear in front of her, and so on. As I looked down from my perch in the 300s, I thought to myself "That used to be me. The team I was once a part of gets assignments like that." Assignments like hanging out with Tom Cruise.

Meanwhile, up in the 300s, it was a by the book, no frills, no thrills kind of night for Romeo-9. No escort of Taylor Swift. No VIPs to look after. No cheerleaders to guide (yes, that happened to us before). No going on the field at the end of a hotly contested international soccer match to walk with the referees.

But that's the deal, isn't it? I equate it to being an offensive coordinator for the Patriots, then taking a job as the head coach of some mediocre college program. Yeah, you're calling the shots and running your own show, but you have to give up a little bit of the "glamor." You'll be the #1 guy in the spotlight, but the spotlight will be dimmer.

Throughout the concert, I strove to balance my own self-centered sense of personal responsibility, along with the fact that I can't do everything alone. At one point, a member of our team reminded me "There's no 'I' in roam team."

"There's an 'I' in Zeitz, though," I quipped, like a smartass.

And I'd say I did a good job of delegating responsibility, but also taking control of situations. Having good, trustworthy staff was the key to that. When I can ask someone to go do something and know it'll get done, it makes it easier for me to stay focused on what I'm doing.

Coordinating with the ushers also went smoothly. After the show we did the sweep of the 300 level, ensuring that only employees remained. The usher supervisors provided staff to check the ramps and stairs, and we swept the 300s with remarkable speed.

On the way down the ramp, three separate parties of people halted our snappy sweep. Two groups were waiting for friends/family to come out of the suites. Another group was trying to return their mother's Stadium ID to her up in the 300s.

And this was the last time I'll try to find that 100% utterly perfect solution to a problem. I waited 5 minutes, as all three groups said the person they wanted to meet was "Coming right now."

And of course none of them were coming to meet any of these people. It finally dawned on me to tell the suite people to meet up with their buddies outside the Stadium. I didn't know where to tell the kids with the ID to go. I tried calling it in on the radio, but my mind had been toasted to a crisp by that point:

"I have two kids, ramp, mother, ID, card, employee, where should they meet?"

I'm not kidding. It was a jumble of words pertaining to the situation, but completely out of order and lacking any coherence. I got a good lesson in teamwork as my radio girl called in a more intelligible description of the situation. Then the two kids started walking out so the problem solved itself.

We got to the bottom of the ramp and I released my staff, thanking them for a job well done. That's a nice treat for me that I've enjoyed, being able to thank people for helping me out.

A few minutes later, my former team arrived, completing their sweep. Not only did they get to staff Taylor Swift's walk through the crowd, they met her Dad, and they had the impeccably beautiful Ayla Brown dancing in the aisles of their section.

That would have been fun to write about. But I had a different kind of fun. And that's how it's been so far. Being a supervisor hasn't been better or worse than what I was doing before. It's been different. Of course, it seems better when paychecks are issued.

Next Episode: I supervise a typical concert and an atypical soccer game.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Episode 30: The Shadow

Well after three years and countless events (I estimate it to be around 290 total, with around 70 of those being large-scale events), they've made me a supervisor. Scary, isn't it? I'm responsible for other people.

And to be honest, it took that many events, and that much time for me to be mature, decisive, and confident enough to be a supervisor. I still remember the overwhelming feeling of taking tickets at my first Pats game. How can one feel overwhelmed by taking tickets? I'm kind of ashamed to admit that I was, and only do so now because I'm not overwhelmed anymore.

I remember the power trips I'd go on as an usher. How thrilled I'd be to participate in the ejection of an annoying fan. Now I do my utmost NOT to kick someone out.

I remember chain-smoking before events to ease my anxiety, not being able to sleep the night before a Pats game, and needing 20 hours of lying down to rest my feet after a 10 hour event.

I've come a long way; from timid ticket taker, to uppity usher, to reserved and reticent roamer, to reassured radio guy, and now hopefully a sure-handed supervisor.

My first taste of supervising came when the Revs hosted Portuguese champs Benfica. I was "shadowing" another supervisor, leading a roam team. The shadowing process is a way to gradually introduce potential supervisors to the ins and outs of the position. But it's also a step in the evaluation process. I shadowed a roam team supervisor, but was actually told to run the team for the night.

Thankfully, I was working with people I've worked with dozens of times, and who I trust. Nevertheless, it was a very different, almost jarring experience. I learned a great deal, and in abrupt fashion.

As I mentioned, Benfica were in town to play the Revs. We had about 13,000 fans show up, almost all of whom wore the red colors of Benfica. One particular duty of our team was to cover the visitors' tunnel.

It's a fairly straightforward task, but it's a highly visible post, so there's little margin for error. For pregame, we had two staff at the bottom corners, and two at the top. Minimal coverage, but all that was necessary.

At half-time, we supplemented our coverage with staff from another team. This kind of interteam cooperation is something altogether new to me. It sounds so basic and simple, particularly in this cases, but in other instances it's been a very novel concept for me. Anyway, just before half-time, I had to brief the additional staff on what to do. I was surprised at how succinct I was:

"Go down the aisle, walk into the row about 1/3 of the way down, go all the way to the edge of the tunnel, crouch until half-time, then stand up, watch the crowd. DO NOT look out to the field, or into the tunnel. Watch for projectiles, and get my attention if anything happens."

That went off without a hitch. The Benfica fans were loud, passionate, and highly excitable, though quite orderly. And they didn't come to Gillette to hurl bottles at their favorite team.

But not everyone in attendance was a Benfica supporter. Two guys showed up wearing the green and white stripes of Sporting Clube de Portugal (which I erroneously called Sporting Lisbon, but that's a common mistake that even ESPN has made). Sporting CP and Benfica are bitter rivals.

And these two green and white clad guys not only stood out, they spoke out. It was all in good nature, but that's tough to tell when people are yelling at each other in a foreign tongue. And as a general rule, you always observe the guys/gals who stick out. Whether it's the Notre Dame fan at BC football, or the 60 year old guy loitering by the bathrooms at a Taylor Swift concert.

The two Sporting CP fans not only drew the crowd's attention (and subsequently ours), they drew some followers: more guys wearing the green and white. They coalesced into a gang of maybe 10 Sporting CP fans, and roamed from section to section in our corner of the Stadium, being annoying, but not antagonizing. They were pests, not threats.

In general, it was a quiet night, until the 85th minute of the game. This tends to happen. You'll spend most of your time roaming the concourse, fielding general questions about seat locations and the club-level elevators. You'll discuss with your team how quiet the night's been. Then multiple things transpire at once. And if you don't stay loose and relaxed in your head, you're toast.

Around the 85th minute, I had to brief some of the ushers to help us cover the visitors' tunnel, a missing child report was being broadcast over the radio, an usher pointed out a potentially drunk patron propped up against a steel column, and there was some sort of commotion going on a few sections to our left.

Two new charges/challenges for me as supervisor are:
#1: Delegating responsibility within my own team.
#2: Coordinating responsibilities with the other teams so that we work together in concert.

My radio guy jotted down the lost child's info (and yes, he was eventually reunited with his parents). The supervisor I was shadowing went to check on the commotion in section 120. But another team had shifted south towards our "territory," as they knew that our team had the tunnel, so they filled in and picked up the slack. I found a pair of policemen to give the potentially drunk guy a sobriety check. But I couldn't stay long enough to get the guy's information or ticket, as I had to brief a half dozen ushers for the tunnel. Over the radio, I called in the sobriety check, while simultaneously conversing with the ushers. And I do mean simultaneously:

"Romeo-2 to Observation. Alright guys we're going to be covering the visiting team tunnel. I have police already on scene giving a sobriety check to a male behind Section 117. We want to ensure that nothing gets thrown at the players when they come off. Copy that. Go down the aisle, walk into the row about 1/3 of the way down, go all the way to the edge of the tunnel, crouch until half-time, then stand up, watch the crowd. Romeo-2 to Observation. DO NOT look out to the field, or into the tunnel. That sobriety check behind 117 has resulted in a PC. Watch for projectiles, and get my attention if anything happens. I copy."

I sent the two staff from my team to the bottom corners again, then asked the ushers which side of the tunnel they'd prefer to cover. I then asked myself "Does that matter? And who the hell would have a preference anyway?" So I arbitrarily directed "You two go left, you two go right."

As you can tell form this blog, I think a lot. I'm pensive, contemplative, I drill down, I dissect, I analyze, I examine and reexamine. It's a strength and a liability. I rarely make the same mistake twice, but I've been prone to hesitate with simple decisions like which ushers should cover which side of the visitors' tunnel.

But I've learned that a lot of things don't need to be thought over or analyzed, they just need to get done. And I've also noticed that in high-stress situations, I just do what I do. Then when the proverbial smoke clears, I'll give it a think. And in the above situation, I spent more time thinking about who should cover which side of the tunnel, than I did about the sobriety check/missing child/usher briefing cluster.

There's an old poker adage: "Think long, think wrong." Don't think about that. It's true.

As Benfica slowly vacated the field, one by one, some of their members lingered in the tunnel, signing autographs. Fans would float down a jersey or hat, the player would sign, then toss the paraphernalia back. I thought it was pretty cool of them.

Unfortunately, this wasn't enough for some fans in another part of the Stadium. Several "invaded the pitch," which is soccer lingo for hopping onto the field. While our team couldn't really do much about that as we were fully enveloped by Benficans and 60 yards way, I still learned yet another lesson.

A roam team went onto the field too. They didn't try to tackle or apprehend the invaders. And nobody got tased.

The team went down to the field to DIFFUSE any incidents, to DETER against any further encroachment, and to be present to DEFEND the players/coaches if need be. The Three D's. I just made that up. And I was impressed by the gall and the initiative of the team, coupled with their composure not to escalate a manageable mess into a full blown YouTube moment.

The Police also deserve a big nod, as they ensnared the fans on the field without incident.

The lesson was: You've got to be firm and vigorous, but not aggressive.

I shadowed the next game at a gate. I've worked at gates countless times, taking tickets at Gillette and BC. I've heard those little scanners PING so many times I feel like the overworked, burnt out sonar operator of a submarine.

But supervising at a gate was still very new. It's not rocket science, but there's a lot of detail and nuance to it. Retrieving the scanners, gathering the required wristbands, mustering your staff, ensuring they all have meal-tickets/water/ponchos, briefing them, testing the scanners, deploying the staff, arranging the signage, setting-up the tables, unlocking the gates, distributing the scanners. Et cetera.

Then the gate officially opens and you have to support your staff. Give answers to the obscure questions that will invariably be asked of them. Stand by them when they tell someone that their umbrella isn't allowed into the Stadium. Tell guests that purses are indeed bags and need to be checked. Adjust and possibly repair the scanners.

It's weird. I've rarely had to keep my eyes and ears so wide open. Because I've never had staff before. So needing to be attentive was something new to me. And while I enjoyed it at this moderate Revolution game, I can't yet fathom how much more amplified all these tasks are for a Patriots game, where 45,000 people try to enter the Stadium in 30 minutes. It sounds challenging. I've been liking challenges lately.

After breaking off the gate, I did the roam team shadowing thing again. This was a much more typical event. The New York Red Bulls were in town, but fortunately, their wannabe-hooligan-firms were not. The US National Team was playing in Philly that afternoon, and the jerks from Jersey went down that way instead of up to Foxboro. So there was no repeat of the Boston Pepper Party.

There was one semi-incident that taught me a good lesson. A woman complained to an usher that some kids behind her were frequently and loudly swearing. The usher informed his supervisor, who summoned us over. The problem was that the woman didn't point out which fans were swearing, just that they were "around rows 5, 6 and 7." Then the woman went on her way along the concourse, disappearing.

So only the usher could identify the woman, and only the woman could identify the offending parties. I realized all this about halfway down the aisle into the section. And as I concluded that I had no idea who I was looking for, I decided to keep going.

In the past, I've been especially hesitant and uncertain when I don't have sufficient information. This would, at times, infuriate my old team's supervisor. Sometimes you just have to go in without knowing every available bit of information, and it took me some time to learn then implement that lesson.

But I honestly had no plan as to what to do or say once I got to the area around rows 5 thru 7. I arrived, and a couple fans looked at me and the usher. And like a substitute teacher I asked "Who down here's been swearing?"

And of course nobody answered.

I broke the silence. "Well, it'd better stop."

In retrospect, I should have gone down the aisle slowly, loitered a bit above row 7, hoping to catch the profanity myself, then talk to the ones spouting it. If instead, nobody sore, I could drop to the bottom of the aisle, give the old look-over of the entire section, remind people that we exist, then be on my way.

The lesson I learned there was that sometimes there is no perfect solution to an issue. Frequently, circumstances will conspire to prevent achieving that 100% satisfactory resolution. Recognizing this is key, and must be followed by an adaptation in approach in order to achieve as decent a result as possible. That's a fancy way of saying, sometimes you've got to compromise with reality, do the best you can, and understand your limitations.

Do what Pringles did, when they ordered rubber but got potatoes. They filled their tubes with chips instead of tennis balls.

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As much as I've learned in 290 events, there's still a great deal of education left for me. My last Episode was about how far I've come as an individual, both in my job at Gillette Stadium, and outside of it. But that individualistic focus is merely the beginning. I now have to refocus toward a collective and cooperative approach.

When supervising, I'm responsible for my staff, and they're responsible for me. There's no militaristic rank structure, no salutes. I'll giggle if one of my staff ever calls me "sir." There's no division between supervisor and staff, at least there shouldn't be.

I feel that a major aspect of being a good supervisor will be changing my attitude from a "me," to a "we," kind of perspective. Shadowing at the gates, and running a roam team was like being the quarterback, which means I was dependent on those around me, and they were dependent on me. I may have called most of the plays, and gotten the snap, but WE did things well, and WE made occasional mistakes, and WE will learn from them.

Now imagine that there are multiple quarterbacks, with multiple sets of receivers, rushers, and blockers. And all these groups are trying to work together for the same purpose. That's something more than teamwork, that's a coalition or alliance. Each undertaking separate specific tasks, but frequently overlapping and (ideally) cooperating.

You can peruse history and see a multitude of failed and successful alliances.

In World War I, for instance, the Germans, Austrians, and Turks never coordinated. They hardly communicated. Germany tried to dominate the alliance and get Austria to fight the Russians. But Austria wanted to fight the Serbs.

Meanwhile, the French and British had some strife in their alliance, but they eventually smoothed things out. They coordinated attack and defense, shared resources and ideas, and had a clear joint objective.

Alright, I know, it's not war at Gillette Stadium. But it's still a massive task to pull off a Full Stadium Event. To have 70,000 assemble, park, congregate, enter a Stadium, enjoy a show/game, leave safely, have a good night; is an epic achievement. And it takes a lot of people working TOGETHER to pull it off.

Being a part of this larger machinery is quite intriguing. And I'm loving what I'm learning about myself, about others, about how people function together. It's been quite fascinating so far.

Next Episode (coming very soon): I actually supervise on my own

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Episode 29: Ushering on the Side

Last night I went to the Bruins/Capitals game, and watched the B's extend their losing streak to 8. But the night was made more enjoyable thanks to some drama on the subway ride home.

In the last three years, I've grown a great deal. On the outside, I don't smoke anymore, don't drink as much, and I've lost weight. But psychologically there's been much more significant improvement. I've developed from a quiet, shy, meek, scared shitless wallflower into a boisterous, personable, confident and outgoing man.

Here's a good story to illustrate just how terrified I used to be of responsibility and/or control. Essentially, I was scared of making mistakes, so I altogether avoided making decisions. I was afraid of control.

There was this girl, we'll call her Eileen, who was in a class with me my sophomore year. Cute girl, beautiful eyes, nice smile. She was a bit different from normal. Not a psycho, just an Eat-Pop-Tarts-For-Dinner kind of weird. Interesting.

Junior year I'm smoking a cig before a class, she sees me, waves to me, walks up, and says "We've got to hangout sometime, here's my number."

For the entire semester, I waited for the "perfect" situation to call Eileen and invite her to hangout. We'd see each other between classes once and awhile and talk for 30-40 seconds. She once said to me: "You're real quiet."

"I'm tired."

"No, it's okay, it's cool just being around you."

Yeah, I know right! How did I not pounce on this girl?

I never took the initiative, never took control. I was waiting for one of my friends somewhere to have a party at their house that I could tell her to come to. I never even considered doing something at my place. And it never occurred to me to just ask her to my apartment on a Tuesday night to watch a movie and potentially make-out.

The whole semester, and into the next, I was doing nothing, waiting for the "right" time. It was like going fishing, sitting next to a pond, then waiting and hoping for someone to bring you a rod and tackle.

We never hungout.


So that was me then. This is me now. If I want something, I try to get it. I don't wait and hope for it to come get me. To steal from Swingers, I'm not the guy in the PG-13 movie that everyone's *really* hoping makes it happen. I'm more like the guy in the rated R movie, the guy you're not sure whether or not you like yet. You're not sure where he's coming from. At least, I'm well on the road there.

And a great deal of that is thanks to my working events. I've learned a lot from them, but learned even more from the people I've worked for and with. Specifically, my supervisor at Gillette and the other members of my response team.

And it's been a nice feedback loop of confidence helping me work events, and events helping my confidence.

I should tell you what I wore to the Bruins game. I decided to don my Vladislav Tretiak USSR (CCCP) jersey.

Why? Because we were playing the Capitals. Communist jersey... communism... anti-capitalism... anti-Capitals. It was a great example of my nerdly sense of humor. But I also love the jersey, and the player.

And if people can get away with wearing those Chiefs jerseys to a game, which were once funny and novel but are now tired and wornout, then why can't I be THE ONLY PERSON IN THE GARDEN wearing a CCCP jersey?

I was aware that the Capitals' also wear red. So just to avoid confusion, I wore a black Bruins shirt under the jersey, and my Bruins scarf.

During the game, one guy in passing praised the jersey. "Tretiak! Yeah!" Another guy asked me what it said (the name on the back is in Russian, so it looks like –ĘPET6RK with the R backwards). But there was little discontent.

After leaving the Garden, we walked to the North Station entrance at Valenti Way, went through the turnstyles, then rushed down the escalator for the approaching Orange Line train.

A group of three guys, in their mid 20s, challenged the validity of my jersey. Rather, they questioned my wearing it and also wearing Bruins gear, thinking that I was trying to represent both the Capitals and the B's.

So I explained to them that it's a goalie from the USSR who played in the 70s and 80s.

The train arriving next to us slowed and halted, and we all got on, the conversation continued. They asked if Tretiak played in the 1980 Miracle on Ice game. I told them he did but was pulled in the 2nd period (turns out it was the 1st period). My answers satisfied their original confusion, and my knowledge of the guy seemed to impress them.

Then I went into detail about my whole Communist/Capitals joke as the doors closed and the train pulled out. "Wow, that's deep man," one of them joked. "Are you an artist?"

"I'm a writer."

A voice rang from halfway down the train: "Are you a retard...?"

"...You'd have to be a retard to wear that!"

I saw the fat, mid-40s, salt and pepper bearded man who'd decided to disrespect me.

"You got a problem?!?" I yelled down the traincar.

He made a beeline up the car, like a bull charging my red jersey.

In the past, in situations similar to this, I'd get nervous, even anxious. My pulse would double, my adrenaline would surge, gooesbumps would poke through my skin. My body language would instinctively portray several things, a few tells. I'd take a halfstep backward with my left foot, I'd draw my shoulders slightly forward and in, I'd lower my head and neck, I'd have to do something with my hands like hold my keys in my pocket, I'd avert my eyes around the room, things like that. Weakness.

But as this puffed up ball of middle-aged angst rolled toward me, I did nothing. I stood rigid and firm, as if the train weren't even rolling. My eyes deconstructing his as he came nearer. No increase in pulse, no goosebumps, no twitches.

But in his body language, I noticed a great deal.

When I picked up my friend to go to the game, it was my first time going to her new place. Two dogs that lived there, a pair of Yorkshire terriers, greeted me with barks. But not when I walked in (which would be when they'd smell and hear me) but when they saw me. I'm not afraid of dogs anyway, but their bluff of aggression was ridiculously easy to call. And they just wanted to put on a show.


This guy was bluffing. He was trying so hard to scare me, with how fast he moved up the traincar, with the billowing and wild swings of his arms, the almost inaudible grunts exuding from his nose, the puffed out chest, and the sourpuss grimace.

Plus he was wearing a Milan Lucic Fight Club shirt.

I like Lucic, but any shirt that says "Fight Club" on it and is splattered with fake blood is lame. If any male older than 15 wears it, they're a complete dink.

So this guy arrives at my face. We'll call him Tuffy. Tuffy answers my "Got a problem?" question:

"Yeah, you're wearing the wrong jersey."

"No, it's a Soviet throwback jersey, not a Capitals jersey. Anyway, what do you care? It's just a hockey jersey."

"No, it's not!"

I lean in toward his face, holding up the ridiculously wide longsleeves of this XXXXXL goalie's jersey. "Then what the fuck kind of jersey is it?"

"It's gay!"

"Good one, coming from a guy wearing a shirt with fake blood on it."

"This isn't fake blood!"

"It's real blood? Wow, I'm fucking scared of you."

He chuckles to himself, obviously proud of what he was about to say: "Man, you are ugly!"

Attending an Ithaca College club hockey game against some other obscure Central NY school. These were fun events to occasionally attend. Half our players were drunker than the fans, and we'd usually lose by 10+ goals. Still fun though.

I'm attending the Ithaca game with the same friend I went to the Bruins game with. I walk up behind the opposing bench, and start screaming at #22. "HEY DEUCES!! WHAT DOES #3'S COCK TASTE LIKE?" #22 turns around, looks at me, and says "Man, you're the ugliest motherfucker I've ever seen."

And I was devastated. No lie. Crushed. Back then my hair was ridiculously long, I had glasses, bad acne, was 30 pounds fatter. I looked and dressed like Michael Moore.

As non-photogenic as I was back then, I was 1,000 times more selfconscious. I let this guy's remark get to me. After the game, instead of having a good time hanging out with some of the hockey players, I went back to my apartment, downed half a bottle of vodka, and hated the ugly bastard looking back at me in the mirror.


I'm hardly George Clooney now, but I don't much care. It is what it is. If a girl I want thinks likewise, then ship it. If not, whatever. I'd prefer they did, but I'm not going to brutalize myself because of what someone else thinks. And I certainly don't give a rat's ass if a male finds me unattractive.

"Man, you're ugly!"

I laughed at him, "That's nice."

Behind me, those 3 guys who'd first asked about my red jersey, suddenly make their presence known. Apparently I'd recruited them to be my followers. One of them pointed his arm over my shoulder at Tuffy.

"Hey man, it's just a fucking jersey! He's a Bruins fan!"

This is when my brain changed gears. I'm fine with the 1-on-1 with Tuffy, and whatever happens happens. But now there's 3 semidrunk guys who've joined in spewing testosterone all over this cramped and poorly ventilated subway car. That's a recipe for drama that ultimately ends with police involvement.

Up until this point, I've had one priority in mind: Don't back down to this asshole.

But now a second priority enters the equation: End my night in my bed in my house, not at a police station.

My body language changes as well. I morph from a tower into a wall, spreading my arms and legs wider so I can box out the people behind me and keep them separated from Tuffy. I even try to negotiate a ceasefire with him.

"Listen man, you hate me, I hate you, you don't like my jersey, and that's great. Do you really want this bullshit to go farther than this subway car?"

I calmly presented him with an opportunity to walk away without losing much face. It was 4 against 1 at this point, there's absolutely no shame in discontinuing.

I know what he wanted to say. It was all over his face. This guy wasn't drunk, maybe 2 or 3 beers in, no big deal. But he couldn't bring himself to end things. Instead, he brought out his tough guy act for an encore performance.

"Shut up you fucking Guinea!" He yelled at the kid who'd stuck up for me.

The 3 kids behind me start laughing. They're all standing up behind me now, and I can feel their adrenaline as the traincar seems to heat up. They start yelling back at Tuffy. Tuffy yells at them.

Then enter the final clown in this comedy of ignorance. This guy we'll call Shorty, because he was short, 5' 3" tops. He was also twisted and trashed beyond recognition. His eyes were like black dinnerplates they were so dilated. He stumbles into the fray from behind Tuffy.

At first, I think Shorty might be there to reason with Tuffy, help convince him to back down.

"This guy a friend of yours?" I ask Tuffy.

"He's my fucking cousin!"

Shorty's entrance drew the involvement of my female friend, whom I'd attended the game with. She could've taken out Shorty even if Shorty were sober. She towered over him, and now the fight was 5 against 1.5 (Shorty=0.5). And at least now I had a true and dependable ally I could fully rely on, instead of just 3 random guys.

But the stage on which this drama unfolded was becoming too cluttered with actors. And being the chauvinist that I am, I kept my friend in check. But keeping her safe from any ensuing circus wasn't my sole motivation. Ulteriorly, I wanted to keep myself safe. Had Shorty put his hands on her (or bumped headfirst into her crotch, really, he was short enough), or had Tuffy spat some insulting slur, then I would have snapped, and stuffed Shorty up Tuffy's ass.

I convinced my friend to let me handle things. She respected me enough to not knock Shorty's head off, but she stood her ground with me.


Drunk and disorderly mayhem, with the same friend. I grew ridiculous beer muscles (technically, grain alcohol muscles). And a friendly, joking insult in my direction riled a childish temper tantrum. An insult that came from a man that was about 400 pounds. The immature Junior Captain Ahab that I was back then, fueled by grain alcohol, tried picking a fight with this imposing man. My friend tried to restrain me, and I pushed her away, insulted by her offer of assistance. Thankfully the large man took pity on me and let me live.

But my friend, rightfully so, didn't respect me in that moment. And I didn't respect myself. I felt the need to prove myself to the world, to prove that I was a tough guy. I was a lot like Tuffy in those days, trying to get other people to beat the crap out of me so I could look at the wounds and say "I'm tough."

"I'd strike the Sun if it slighted me."
-Moby Dick


Now it's just getting worse and worse. 1 of me, 1 partner, 3 pissed off allies/strangers behind me, 2 pissed of assholes in front of me. One of them small, but due to drunkenness is utterly unpredictable. This was like the start of World War I here, with some Serbian guy killing some Austrian duke, which due to complex strings of alliances results in Germany and Turkey fighting Britain, France, and Russia, and 10 million people dying over essentially nothing.

But I'm still as calm as can be. Not a bead of sweat in this boiling cauldron of masculine aggression. Why? Because I was in control of the situation. I felt nothing but confidence in myself, and confidence in my ability to handle things in order to achieve MY desired outcome.

Three years ago, even two or one year ago, I would have been terrified to assume so much responsibility. I'd be shaking, my toes twitching, sweating like Ron Jeremy trapped in an elevator in July.

Shorty wobbles around, then bumps into my chest. I push him back, but not in a hard, shoving way. Tuffy tries to restrain him. He says to Shorty "Dude, we don't want to get arrested tonight."

One of the 3 kids behind me yells: "So what the fuck are you gonna do?"

Tuffy explodes: "I'M GONNA KILL ALL THREE OF YOU!"

Tuffy was such a mess of conflicting goals. He wanted to fight 3 people in front of 20 witnesses and also not get arrested. Meanwhile, I had my priorities aligned, focused, yet flexible. To quote Henry V: 'We would not seek a battle as we are, yet as we are, we say we will not shun it.'

Tuffy continued to make idle threats.

"If this faggot weren't standing in front of me, I'd kick all your asses."

I'm not a very physically strong man. I can't benchpress my own weight, not even close. I was no obstacle to this guy. He was using me as an excuse to not throwdown, yet still seem tough by threatening to throwdown. Yelling from behind an imaginary wall.


Shorty continued to drift around me, repeatedly being restrained by Tuffy.

We rolled through Haymarket and State with this absurd dance playing itself out. We got to Downtown Crossing, my stop, and me and my friend tried getting off the train.

Shorty purposely wobbled into my way. This time I shoved him with authority and anger.

He muttered "Who the fuck do you think you're pushing?"

"You!" I snapped back.

Tuffy now felt free to threaten me again. "Yeah, walk away, fag!"

"It's our goddamned stop!"

The doors closed, and that's when I heard an exchange of yells, then the muffled sounds of bodies being knocked around a subway car. I turned around and saw 5 guys all dressed in Bruins attire, throwing reckless haymakers.

For some reason, call it event staff instinct, I turned around, thinking I could breakup the fight. Then my brains returned to me, I realized I wasn't getting paid, and decided to continue downstairs to the Red Line platform.

The train didn't leave the station, the doors re-opened and somebody summoned the MBTA Police.

It was unreal. I recruited 3 disciples without even trying, who stuck up for me and my Soviet jersey. And once I left the traincar, and released my handle of the situation, it imploded in an instant. But while I was there, it was mine, all mine. My group of assholes, my new friends, my new tough guy enemy, my friend's new diminutive drunk pet named Shorty, my subway car, all mine.

Riding the Red Line back to Quincy, we talked with 2 guys who'd witnessed the drama on the previous train. When they asked what I first said to the guy, and I told them I'd said 'You got a problem,' one of them criticized me. "Don't say that man, that's how shit with assholes like that gets started."

I smugly leaned back in my seat, and said with a grin "Yeah, I wasn't too worried about that."

Since then I've realized that my confidence during The Incident didn't just come from within. If my friend weren't there, I may have still performed the same actions, still said "You Got a Problem?" still seen the big guy's bluffing posture, still restrained myself, still ended the night in my bed. But my heart would have been racing, my palms sweaty, my eyes darting, my lips quivering. I was calm in my performance because my friend had my back. I trust her enough to support me in any shitty situation, and trust her capability to do so. She's got good nerves.

And appreciating that trust is kind of new to me. I've started learning it at Gillette with my teammates. I'm able to stare down some drunk bozo that's 10 inches taller and 100 pounds heavier then me, then ask him for his ticket, because I know I'm not alone. This series has focused a great deal on my own personal growth, but I want to emphasize how much that growth has been helped by people like my teammates/friends.