Sunday, April 28, 2013

amateur hour

It was nearly forty years coming. Since I discovered them on a late night showing of Don Kirshner's Rock Concert in 1974, I have been a devoted fan of Sparks.

"Sparks?," you say, "I've never heard of them!"

Whaddaya mean you've never heard of them? Their career spans five decades. They've released twenty-three genre-defying albums. Sure, they haven't had a charting single in the United States since 1984, but they are ridiculously popular in Europe, where they regularly tour. However, for the first time in years, Sparks performed a handful of dates in the United States — including a stop right here in Philadelphia. When the tour was announced, my son (a local Philadelphia DJ and fellow Sparks fan) immediately called to tell me tickets were secured. I honestly anticipated the two us comprising the entire audience.

The night of the Sparks show finally came. I hopped on the train and by 7:20, I was at Philadelphia's stately old Trocadero, a former vaudeville theater turned strip joint turned concert facility, at the corner of 10th and Arch Streets. My son, who was taking care of some obligations at the radio station, would be meeting me a little after 8. So, I took my place on a patch of sidewalk out of the way of the pedestrians. The venue doors were already open and, to my surprise, a steady flow of patrons was entering and I observed a fascinating ritual.

Two security guards, only identified by gray work shirts with "TROC" emblazoned on their backs, stood on the sidewalk separated from the foot ttraffic by several large metal barriers chained together to create a sort-of cattle chute for concert-goers. The male security dude was a big, imposing guy — dorky with a Moe Howard haircut — but, at over 6 feet tall, still imposing. His female counterpart ('cause he can't very well frisk the ladies!) was equally fearsome — friendly, but fearsome, somewhat like Stockard Channing. As each happy ticket-holder approached, the dude smiled broadly and offered a loud "Welcome!," followed immediately by "Arms up, please. Gotta give ya a quick check." When a couple approached, he directed, "Ladies to the left. Guys straight ahead." Then, he began his duty. With open palms, he rapidly patted the sides of every male torso with investigative precision, squeezing bulging pockets with the gentle, but firm, dexterity of a urologist administering a testicular examination. He stopped here and there to question the cloth-covered outline of an unfamiliar concealed object. "What's this?," he'd ask, "Keys or something?" Then, when satisfied with the explanation, he'd pat the gentleman on the shoulder and send him on his way with an "Enjoy the show!" and a concerned "Watch yer step goin' in."

If a search took a little longer, say if the patron had a bag or backpack, the dude made small talk. "How you doin' tonight? Gonna be a good show. Got any markers, food or drinks in here? Can't come in with those." He'd continue his cheery little chit-chat as he swiped his ungloved hands just inches from total strangers' crotches.

At one point, the security dude had to turn away an apparently intoxicated gentleman. As the drunk yelled and slurred his displeasure at being denied admission, the dude stood his ground, staring straight ahead with arms folded defiantly across his barrel chest and politely repeated, "I told you, sir, I am not letting you in."

For nearly forty-five minutes, I was captivated. It was both entertaining and a commentary on the human species. And all I could think was: what does this guy put on his tax return as "occupation"?

Around ten after eight, my son sauntered up Arch Street and extended my admission ticket to me. Now, it was our turn to be searched for concert contraband. The dude, who obviously saw me taking in the entire entrance process, nodded to me as I assumed the "about to be searched" position.

"Y'know," I said to him, "I'm not sure that I even want to go in."

He looked at me with a puzzled expression.

"This whole procedure was so entertaining that I don't know if any concert can top it.," I explained.

The dude laughed and told me to watch my step going in.

Oh... and Sparks were good.

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