The Boss Is A Good Guy
On a Friday morning at the tail-end of February, with just over a week to go until the first of two Auckland concerts by ‘The Boss’, I read a tweet. The tweet was a link to a charity auction on TradeMe, ‘NZ’s #1 auction and classifieds site’. The auction was for two tickets with backstage passes to Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes concert, with proceeds going to the Auckland City Mission. That was a nice thing for Bruce to do. As the tweet had suggested, The Boss is indeed a ‘good f**cking guy’. I would have less than a week to organise myself if I won the auction. It was fine though because I wasn’t going going to win. Right, that’s enough thinking. Let’s do this thing. It’ll be fun. I clicked on ‘Place bid’, which registered as instantly as my regret. I tried to be light and nonchalant about it. I won’t win but if I do, it’ll be fun. Within a couple of hours, someone who likes Bruce Springsteen just about as much as I love preppy teen boy bands, said that she had bought a ticket but didn’t want to go. I could have the ticket. That clinched it. I was going to win the bloody auction, of that I had no doubt.
I spent my weekend promoting the auction to others in the hope that they might bid. My heart rate had increased to a rapid and heavy thud. I was hoping like anything that someone else would bid on the tickets and yet at the same time the thought of an adventure, having been stuck at home recovering from another infection, was kind of exciting. I don’t tend to seek adventure or fun. I’m just not that sort of person. I don’t like the feeling of excitement much; it’s too close to anxiety. By Monday I was so stressed my mind was attempting transcendental escape.
I had to face the fact that by around lunchtime I would win the auction. I bid on the auction before I asked any questions at all about it, including the most important: Will the concert and backstage venue be wheelchair accessible? I posted this question within minutes of bidding. The auction finished and of course, I won. I didn’t have an answer on accessibility but a lovely man at the City Mission was trying to find out on my behalf. The day after I won the auction, I opened an email saying that backstage was going to be wheelchair accessible and that there would be a platform in the GA area of the stadium for wheelchairs. Good, so I guess I’m going to Bruce. That’s exciting. Shit.
Sometimes Even The Best Laid Plans…
I spent the following days in sheer panic trying to organise transport to Auckland, transport around Auckland, a wheelchair accessible place to stay and someone to go to the concert with. After a few false starts and one very long panic attack, I decided to take a friend up on his offer to stay. I promised him a ticket and backstage pass, ostensibly for his troubles but so I also had someone to go to the concert with who I knew would appreciate the experience. I gave up hope of anybody driving me to Auckland in exchange for a ticket and booked return flights. It wasn’t at all how I hoped things might go but everything had worked out. I was so relieved I collapsed onto my bed and had a long nap – for two days. I was starting to feel ill. I almost hoped I might be too sick to go. It was all getting a bit much.
With everything sorted, I had time to relax and start to feel good about going. It worked. I never act impulsively and this proved that even someone in my situation could be spontaneous. I was enjoying letting myself get a bit excited. As well as the concert, the number of people who wanted to meet up while I was in Auckland meant that I was going to have a busy weekend. For a person who spends so much time on her own, I was almost more excited about that than the concert. The level of enthusiasm from people that I was going to be in Auckland was flattering. I met with two people. The rest of the time I spent on my own. It’s lucky I’m used to being alone, though there’s something about being in a strange city that induces a particularly acute kind of loneliness.
At the beginning of Autumn on a clear, fine morning, I flew out of Napier. I played Flappy Bird, which a whole lot of people uncertain of the meaning of the concept would probably say was ‘meta’. I looked out the window down onto clouds that really did look like cotton wool. I talked to the air hostess about playing Flappy Bird. I drank my tea and ate my breakfast bar, which gave me the feeling I was face down in a desert. Upon landing, I waited for everyone else to disembark – I had no choice. An airport staff member took me to the baggage claim area and I waited… and waited… and waited. I turned my cell phone back on. There was one unread txt. Due to circumstances beyond anybody’s control my accommodation, transport and concert companion all fell through when I opened that txt. Never put all your eggs in one basket, they say. I’m so pleased nobody was around to say that to me then because I would have had to show them where they could put their eggs. All of them. Oh, and my bag was also lost for about an hour, too. Not a great start.
After meeting a friend briefly and recalibrating from ‘excited’ back to ‘stressed’, I sought temporary distraction. Though I wasn’t hungry, I needed sustenance in preparation for what I knew might be a very long day of sorting shit out. I’ve never been able to resist market food so I headed toward a small stand advertising homemade hotdogs and ordered a hotdog with cheese. It looked lovely and fresh and tasted like leftovers assembled by somebody who doesn’t really know what to do with leftovers.
I can’t tell you how to get from my home to the homes of any of my family or to any of the schools I attended. It’s one of the weird and wonderful effects that hydrocephalus has had on my brain. However long I live in an area, I can’t hope to get around what should be the most familiar of places without getting lost. The visual world doesn’t make a lot of sense to me at all. That said, I managed to get around Auckland efficiently enough. I didn’t get lost once. I’m also prone to anxiety and I didn’t have a panic attack the whole time I was away. I was nervous and stressed but I think anybody would have been. I can only reason that I had too much to deal with to break down and I was the only person I could rely on, so I needed to be ok.
I spent much of Saturday alternatively finding places to charge my cellphone with a broken charger, tweeting desperately for help on Twitter, and searching frantically for somewhere to stay. I had tried in vain to find paid accommodation before I left, so I knew I was probably going to continue to be out of luck. I found one hostel online that had a couple of dormitory beds vacant. The hostel wasn’t far from where I sat so I decided to go straight there. There was a high step at the hostel entrance. It was only one though and there would probably be another entrance. I tried to negotiate this one step. I glanced at the man at reception, hoping he might come to help me. He stood waving his arms above his shaking head. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so emphatically rejected.
My only hope now was to find someone through social media who might take pity on me and my stupid, impulsive, click-happy index finger. I had visions of being homeless for the night. Then something wonderful happened: I had a few different Tweeps at once offer help and one that seemed too good to be true. My saviour had a fully wheelchair accessible house and a car to take me straight to the stadium. All of my problems went away and were replaced with a euphoric exhaustion. I said thank you a lot. It was all I could do. There was just no way to express that level of gratitude and relief. I was on my way to check in with The Boss.
As I neared the box office, I realised the instructions for ticket pickup were in my bag, which was safely nestled in the front seat of the car that had just dropped me off. I thought perhaps I had left my proof of ID back in the car as well. I dropped a shaky hand into my handbag, rummaged inefficiently for a bit and withdrew a couple of cards. I headed slowly towards the box office. I knew I was in the vicinity of where I needed to be; that would have to be enough.
At home, when I printed off the directions, I felt like James Bond. It was all very clandestine and involved awaiting further instruction. I tried my luck and went up to a person at the box office, explaining my situation as best I could. I handed over my photo ID and was given a white envelope with instructions on how to get backstage, tickets and two stickers, which would give unlimited access to the ‘E-Street Lounge’. I have no idea how the staff at the box office recognised me in the photo. Though it was taken just a couple of years previous, my face had to have aged at least 10 years in the days since I had won the auction. Taking a deep breath, I slapped the large green sticker that guaranteed backstage access onto my jersey and read the directions over and over until the words made some useful sense.
The lounge was easy to find, though I was a little confused when I got there. Backstage actually amounted to what we plebs might call a corporate lounge overlooking the stadium. I made my way through to a second room to the bar. I don’t drink much at all anymore but I figured I had earned it. I’ve never paid so much for a beer, which seemed fair because I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a beverage so much in all my life either. Looking around, there were only a few people scattered throughout a sparsely populated room. I found a space close to the bar where I could look out over the crowd. The stadium was filling up fast. There was no promise that a backstage pass would guarantee a meeting with any of the musicians performing that night, so as I viewed the tiny people rapidly increasing in population, I had accepted that I might not meet The Boss or anyone else that evening – sort of.
A dim glass and steel cabinet just off to the side of the bar drew my eye. It housed some of the most distressed looking hotdog shaped specimens you could ever hope to lay eyes on. The buns looked harassed, wrinkled and desperate, the frankfurters were a dull brown and the whole sorry affair was topped with cheese that had previously melted and was now properly congealed. The sight of these hotdogs pleased me very much. I take a perverse pleasure in institutional food. Perhaps it’s all the time I’ve spent in hospitals, though I think that’s only part of it. I remember fondly the same hotdogs were sold at my primary school canteen before such delicacies began to be treated with the same horror and sense of urgency as a baby around an open bag of rat poison. I would have happily consumed one of these institutional hotdogs if it weren’t for the fact that I had wolfed down a generic pie from a clone cafe just before the concert and was completely satiated.
Bruce, the Imposter
Sitting backstage, not far from me, there was a man chatting casually with a couple of his friends. He reminded me of someone. I’ve never been good with faces. Since I was little, I’ve confused people with other people. I tend not to use names too much just in case. He wasn’t as handsome as I imagined. I’m sure this guy’s nose was bigger. His hair was slightly thicker, I thought. He seemed quite short but I’m not a good judge of height. Sitting down all the time tends to skew one’s perspective. It could be. No. Then I heard him speak. A Kiwi. I went back to my beer and wondered whether savouring it was the best way to extract the most value. I spoke to the bar staff who couldn’t have been lovelier. They were, frankly, by far and away the highlight of my backstage experience. They genuinely seemed to care when I told them the story of how things had gone quite badly wrong. They were kind and helpful and they made me feel better about being backstage on my own. I heard Bruce the imposter speak again. The room had filled up a little so I couldn’t hear him quite as well. His voice now sounded – American. Leave it alone. I was so tired I just wanted to go home.
Having written the contact details of where I was staying on an envelope, I turned my phone off when I got to the venue. It was at 18% charge when I got to the stadium and I was relieved to know that I could use it after the show, should the need arise. After my beer I thought I might turn on my phone again for a bit and check Twitter. It was on. My phone was on. No no no! How could I not have turned it off properly? I had watched as the screen went blank but now it was on and at 5% charge. I figured it still had enough juice for a quick phone call. I turned it off a second time. This time it turned itself right back on. I did this a few more times before my phone completely died along with my charger. By this stage, I was no longer registering things as good or bad. They were just things that were happening to me that I felt nothing about. I laid the dead phone to rest with the dead charger in my bag and decided to find out how I might get to where the tiny people on the other side of the glass were.
Tagged, Caged and Ready to Rock
No thanks at all should go to a backstage official who had a freak out on my behalf about how far it was that I had to travel to the GA area and how long it might take and how much of the concert I might miss and offered… no help. Having found my own way to the field of Mount Smart Stadium, I was guided the last few metres to the wheelchair access area on the field. It couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes to get to where I needed to be. I was there in plenty of time, the band weren’t even on the stage yet. That pissed me off because I had done enough worrying that day. I also breathed a sigh of relief.
I was at the bottom of a ramp in the middle of a field. With some very welcome help, I pushed myself to the top and was met with the funniest sight. I thought perhaps after the day I’d had, I might be hysterical. It still makes me laugh now so it must actually be funny to my sick and twisted mind. At the top of that ramp was a black platform surrounded by bars on all four sides and on that platform, wheelchairs. It was full of them. There were some other seats too, for ‘companions’. For the most part though it was wheelchairs, on a black platform, with rails around it. Surrounding us were the crowd whose heads came to shoulder height. It felt like I was in a zoo or a pre-show exhibition and I laughed out loud. I couldn’t hold it in.
Please don’t get me wrong, I was grateful for the platform. I had a great view which was unrestricted for, well, large chunks of the concert. What made it even funnier though was a woman, sitting in a chair in front of me, found it necessary to get up out of her chair and have a bit of a dance/flail every time Springsteen sang a more upbeat song. He has quite a few upbeat songs in his repertoire. I felt like asking her to sit down. I wanted to tell her that the entertainment was already on the stage in front of us, that she really didn’t need to provide us with a show. During those same songs, a man who was seated behind me stomped his foot hard onto the platform, almost to the beat. I felt like asking him to stop. I wanted to tell him that the reverberations from his enthusiastic stamping were going right through my already pain-stricken body. I said nothing. Then I laughed again. It was too funny.
I smiled and sang and whooped and enjoyed the concert even though I was exhausted and in near intolerable pain. I heard the next day he did a three hour set. I stayed for about two. It’s not that Bruce and his band weren’t good. He has a great and powerful voice. His band were brilliant. Everyone up on that stage was energised and ready to rock. The Boss puts on a fantastic show, but I was tired and sore.
I found a taxi stand with relative ease. It certainly helped that I left early enough to beat the crowd. There was a line of cars waiting along a long and thick grass verge. I awkwardly pushed myself to the first car, against the resistance of the grass. Without opening his passenger window, the man in the car looked at me and shook his head. This happened a couple of times before I struck a driver with his window down. He asked me where I was going. When I told him, he said he was booked. The next driver looked me in the eye and told me I looked like hard work. I think it must have been about 8 or 10 taxis later when a driver finally waived me over. I thanked him profusely. I shouldn’t have felt the need. He told me on the way that he had immigrated to New Zealand from China. I think he said he had been here around 15 years. His accent was still thick. He was mild mannered and polite. I felt safe with him.
I made it back to the place I was staying. I was shown around and had a chat with my perfect host. I realised, not for the first time, I was giving the quite wrong impression that I was having a terrible time. I wondered how many more times I could say thank you without becoming annoying. I reasoned I had probably reached that point. I fell into bed, exhausted, sore, relieved and slept.