Friday, September 8, 2017

Flipping at the Chicken Box

A few weeks ago the FGW and I were offered free tickets to the Tom Petty concert in Baltimore. Just one problem . . . the concert was on a Sunday night which means we would be violating the FGR's strict rule that nothing fun shall be attempted on the Sunday before a work day due to the historically low success rate of such endeavors along with the emotional and physical tab that must be paid on Monday morning. I'm pretty sure that any former NFL season ticket holder turned semi-responsible employed parent has a similar rule in effect. If not, they should.

Slow down there Tom. Half the
crowd is on heart medication.
However, the event was local, the tickets were free and the couple making the offer was one of the few with whom we seem to be compatible (and by "we" I of course mean "I" . . . then again, this couple could be faking it for the FGW's sake which I would not rule-out completely). Also, it was Tom Petty for chrissakes. It's not like I was going to start pummeling beers and whip-out my Rush concert air guitar. Biggest risk was that I'd pull a throat muscle trying to hold the note on Free Fallin' or crack my head after dozing-off during Mary Jane's Last Dance. (I would describe my level of affinity for Tom Petty as "I like him fine").   

So we hooked-up for a bite about six blocks from the arena because Baltimore is thirty years late to the idea of putting restaurants in close proximity to large venues that draw crowds of people looking to eat and drink.* After dinner, we trekked to the show and then split-up because our seats were not together (like I said, faking it).  

The concert was in Baltimore's state of the art Royal Farms Arena which is sponsored by a regional convenience store chain renowned for its fried chicken along with its ability to procreate new locations like it's a nymphomaniac rabbit. (I fully expect to wake-up and find a Royal Farms in my backyard one day which would have its pros and cons). The Chicken Box as we affectionately call it opened in 1962 and then was renovated in 1986, apparently by a company that specialized in building missile silos and Eastern European prisons

The ultra-modern features of the Chicken Box include seats that are definitely from the pre-supersized era and an almost featureless concrete concourse. The only "amenities" are a series of holes cut-out of the concrete from which they sell hot dogs, popcorn, beer, soda and water. What they lack in food variety, however, they make-up for in being understaffed. But don't worry, you'll never have to wait for a beer because the vendors are camped-out in random corners near the stairs and bathrooms carnival barking prices like there's going to be room for negotiation. ("Tell me good sir, what distinguishes your $9 Bud Light from the one that gentleman is peddling five feet away?"). Like I said, state of the art.

One of the other defining characteristics of the Chicken Box is that it was built with absolutely no regard for personal safety or the fact that much of its clientele would be inebriated (trust me that we are now nearing the vicinity of the point of this story). The steps are barely big enough to accommodate a size-9 foot and there are almost no railings. Also, as was the custom when building arenas in the 60's and 70's, the upper levels rise at what seem to be an 87 degree angle so you often feel the sensation that gravity is going to pull you backwards onto the court, ice rink or Wiggles concert mosh pit as the case may be.** So that is the setting for our story. 

We found our seats in the 200 level with a nice view of the stage, however, it was a middle of the row situation which definitely does not satisfy FGR rule number one in every single aspect of life: ALWAYS HAVE AN ACCESSIBLE ESCAPE ROUTE. Furthermore, once we sat down it became apparent that the dudes on either side of us had flabby arms and personal space issues, especially the one next to the FGW who smelled like he'd bathed in in leftover Chinese food and buffalo sauce. Our effort to reach the middle seats caused much discontent as it interrupted him absolutely going to town on a tray of fries and chicken tenders like he'd just stalked and killed it himself and was trying to finish it before the rest of the pack showed-up looking for sharesies. 

Once we were wedged into our malodorous cockpit, we were treated to an opening act of Peter Wolf (formerly of the J. Geils Band) which was a combination of songs from his failed solo career and incoherent pleas to the crowd to come together as one peaceful agent of change to save the world. It was an ambitious effort considering he was trying to inspire a bunch of mostly 50-60 year old white people who, judging by their willingness to unleash what appeared to be dance moves while wearing 80's era denim, clearly had very few fucks left to give in this life. After about fifteen minutes of that sideshow and the smell of Buffalo Springfield's body odor, we decided to spend the rest of the opening act re-evaluating our position so we made a move to Cell Block D of the concourse to regroup. 

"Hey check-out this seat. Looks
like something burned right
through it. That's peculiar." 
After a couple of seat relocations, we wound-up at the top of the arena with a great view of the stage and a row all to ourselves. It took us about five seconds to discover why, however, as that's when we felt the gale blowing out of the HVAC system to our left along with the intermittent drip of something that was surely more toxic than antifreeze and reminiscent of Alien. So we made one more move to our final destination in the upper corner. Decent view, elbow room and most importantly, two easily accessible escape routes. I was in concert heaven. And that was before I looked to my right.

The spectacle was unfolding one row in front of us and about five seats over. That's where a woman who I would describe as "sturdy" was sitting on the lap of a man in a forward facing position and by that I mean she was facing forward towards him. Her routine was alternating sloppy softcore porn interactions with her beau and throwing her head back with arms in the air celebrating the unbridled joy that only comes with dry humping on a metal stadium seat to the sounds of whatever music they were piping between the two acts. Suffice it to say, the romantic poetry major in me was moved.

The FGW suggested that I record some video of the scene which I rejected out of hand as being beneath us (said the guy who just wrote the words "dry humping"). On Lady Godiva's next reach for the stars, however, it became clear that this might get interesting as the aforementioned gravitational pull of the arena floor almost got her and she had to lunge back to the safety of her man's face. At this point I relented and pulled-out my phone to record the moment. But I was a few seconds too slow.

Now I have tried to describe what happened next at least a dozen times verbally but I think it is one of those moments that is impossible to adequately capture with words. (They really should have an expression for that like "I guess you had to be in the presence of the event to truly appreciate it" but maybe something more concise). Anyway, I'm going to take a shot in writing.

Can't say I didn't see that coming.
The star of intermission reared-back once again but this time she really sold out with her back arched and arms extended completely relying on her own booze addled equilibrium and the steadying grasp of her glassy-eyed partner. Big mistake. In the clearest example of a "tipping point" that I have ever seen, her center of gravity shifted upward causing her to do a backflip over the seat below which would have been painful enough, however, she didn't stop there. Somehow, and I may need a physicist to one day explain this, she gathered momentum and continued back flipping over three more rows of seats. It was a blur of hair and feet. And, when she ran out of seats, there were still concrete steps in her path which she deftly cleared with two more backflips before landing in a heap on the rock hard floor below. 

In all, I figure her head made solid contact with four metal seats, two concrete steps and whatever ultimately stopped her at the bottom and kept her from tumbling all the way into the harbor. People were horrified and immediately started screaming. I looked at the FGW and said, "she's dead" (which she obviously wasn't or I wouldn't be making light of it now . . . probably). After a few seconds there were signs of movement and a couple of fans rushed to her aid while another woman appeared to be berating her because she had been made collateral damage. The lesson as always . . . don't fuck with Baltimore women.

And then less than a minute later, Tom Petty hit the stage, the lights went up, the crowd roared and everyone forgot about the road kill lady at the bottom of the steps. But not me. I was still fascinated to see where this was going and how it would end. Also, the dude who served as the launching pad hadn't made moved yet. He was just leaning forward peering over the people in front of him trying to get a better look which almost confirmed my suspicion that these two didn't arrive together but instead met at the Pina Colada stand (sorry, failed to list that among the amenities). 

It took another couple of minutes for "professional" help to arrive on the scene and they did what any first responder would do in the case of a potential spinal injury, they propped her up against a wall. At this point, Prince Valiant finally stood-up, grabbed a couple of bags off the floor and ambled down the steps with the urgency of someone who was just summoned from a dentist's waiting room for a root canal. When he got to the bottom, you could tell from his body language that he wanted no direct connection established between himself and this debacle. Imagine a really stoned Seth Rogen getting out of his limo to check-out the pedestrian that his driver just flattened on Santa Monica Boulevard.

And then it ended in the most fitting way possible. Due to the crash site being in the upper level of an arena built way before the Americans with Disabilities Act became effective (1990 . . . damn right I'm a real lawyer), there was no ramp, no elevator and, as far as I could tell, no medical personnel. So how did they medivac this casualty out of there? Well one security guard grabbed her under the arms, another grabbed her legs and they dropped her in a wheelchair like a sack of grain. Then they wheeled her out of there with her man stumbling after them. It happened so fast that you would've thought the four of them had a plane to catch. And that was it. Or so we thought.

After shifting back and forth on our feet for an hour and a half (because it's physically, mentally and scientifically impossible to dance to Petty), the dude returned to his seat like he was just coming back from getting a corndog and another pina colada. I was dying to walk over and ask him how things turned-out but I was genuinely fearful that he would casually look at me and say, "oh, she didn't make it" and then it would've gotten awkward and who needs that? Instead, I'm just going to assume that she was ok and back working at NASA on Monday.   

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Footnote

* I kid Baltimore because I love. The fact is that our fair city can currently boast about having arguably the best football/baseball stadium combo in the country despite the fact that M&T Bank Stadium opened in 1998 and Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992 (holy shit). Both have held-up unbelievably well and Camden Yards will exist in roughly its current form for generations. If you want the true definition of lame when it comes to every aspect of a sports venue, you need only travel about forty-five minutes south to the pathetic ill-situated dump that is FedEx Field. Lost in the shit sandwich of Daniel Snyder's franchise ownership is the fact that he has now owned the Redskins for over eighteen years and they still play in one of the worst stadiums in the league while the team that they fancy as their competition plays in a palace that King Louis XIV would have described as "a little over the top." I could revel for pages on the clogged sewer pipe that the Redskins have become under Snyder's leadership but we'll have to save that for another day.

And God love Murray for being
drunker than me every time.
** In trying to figure-out how many times I've been to the Chicken Box, I came up with the following list of events in addition to a few indoor lacrosse and soccer games - it's quite eclectic (in reverse chronological order): Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, The Wiggles (3 times), Rush, Disney on Ice, The Harlem Globetrotters, the Black Eyed Peas and the Ringling Bros. & Barnum Bailey Circus. And as much of a shithole as the place is, I remember thoroughly enjoying every one of those experiences. Especially the Rush concert which devolved into a bizarre night spelunking the nether regions of downtown Baltimore that spawned the best 2,400 words I've ever written (I'm saving it for the book).