One for the Roadies Adam Matcho
There are two glasses of Fireball on the bar.
My coworker ordered them for the night ahead.
“It’s cold out there,” he says. “We may need it.”
In the Obituary Department, we sit, all day, and write death notices.
Tonight, in the Southside, we sit on barstools a block away from the Rex Theater. We need to get into a sold-out show.
Earlier, we met a group of four, two couples, and they all needed tickets.
Claimed they came as far as six states away.
“Really?” I said.
“Well, more like six counties,” one of the guys said.
They were as floored by the sellout as we were.
I remembered my coworker calling earlier that day.
“So I just called the Rex, and they’re sold out.”
“What?” I said. “How is Todd Snider sold out?”
I’d seen him at the Rex three years ago: there were maybe 70 people. Now the place was packed. Good for Todd Snider. Sucks for us.
We had friends who would be there too.
They were parents. They faced catastrophe daily. They preordered tickets.
The plan was made over beers. Our friends would inquire from the inside for leftover will call tickets. Ask about standing room.
My coworker and I would work our angle. Our angle was drink another beer, a shot of Fireball, and walk against the wind, into the Rex and demand sanctuary.
“You work for the paper,” our friend, the wife, had said. She has this way of talking that fills you with warm belief, like tomato soup. Like Fireball. “Just show them your IDs. Explain you are a media sponsor.”
I flashed my work ID. It said OBITS right across the middle.
“Well maybe you can put your thumb over that,” she said.
Working as a journalist is one thing. Writing obituaries is something else—no interviews, no bylines. It probably doesn’t get you into folk concerts either.
She finished her drink and stood beside her husband.
“There’s got to be a way for you to get in,” he said.
“If there’s anybody who can make it into that show, it’s you two,” she said.
* * * *
My coworker and I amble into the Rex and act like we know nothing about a sold-out Todd Snider show.
The air inside feels like a dank blanket. The walls, plastered with concert posters, tunnel us along to a girl in an usher’s outfit at the ticket booth.
“Do you guys have tickets?”
We offer a small, unified, “No.”
“Sorry. The show’s sold out,” the ticket booth girl offers with a practiced compassion.
“Is it really sold out?” my coworker says.
“There’s nothing you can do?” I say.
“No, guys. Sorry.”
Our friends inside had texted. They may sell standing room tickets later.
“What about the unclaimed will call tickets?” I say. “Will you sell those off later?”
It was something they’d decide, depending on the number of attendees.
“Probably around 9:30,” she says.
A shaved-head, bouncer-sized man creaks a barstool beside the ticket booth as he sits. Ink stamper in hand, he glances side-eyed at his coworker, the ticket booth girl, regarding me and my coworker.
“What are the chances of you selling those tickets?” I say. “Is this like a 50-50 thing?”
“Yeah. It’s 50-50,” the bald guy says, touches his goatee. “But it’s sold out now.”
His curtness was like a rabbit punch. The bartering was over. The girl in the ticket booth, who’d been patient with us, gives a pity-filled half-smile.
“I completely understand,” I say, nodding at her. “Thank you for your help. ”
* * * *
My coworker and I stand across the street from Todd Snider’s tour bus.
“Todd!” my coworker calls from cupped hands.
“We need tickets, Todd!” I echo and watch my breath disappear.
Todd does not respond.
The Carson Street traffic is infinite. It becomes white noise, an oscillating fan.
“Do you want to walk up that way?” my coworker says, pockets his hands, braced for the wind. “I think there’s a cool bar a little further down.”
Beneath the bar neons and saloon lighting, we walk not speaking of the grim reality we may not see this show.
The smell of food frying is like a landmine and almost staggers me. Bass from one of the clubs tremors the street and my stomach grumbles. I know I need food or booze soon.
“Here,” my coworker says, stops in front of Piper’s Pub.
The bar is full down the line, so my coworker and I post up at the very end. I have to shift a bit when the waitresses hustle past. They carry shot glasses of beer bottles and pitchers and boats of cheese and bacon fries.
Friendly with our drink orders, the bartender compliments my coworkers’ wallet. He doesn’t mind we scrunched in at the end of his bar.
“She said if anybody could make it, it’d be us,” I say. Wash it down with Belgian beer.
“I know,” my coworker says. “This is important. We have to get into this show.”
“How do you like work so far?” I say. Although it seems he’s been there for years, he’s only been an obituary clerk for a month.
I forget this because of the way time passes—almost works against you—when you handle death’s indiscriminate touch.
“Fine,” he says. “I think I just need to keep doing it.”
“It can be a lot at first,” I say and remember my first month, all those years ago. “But once you get it, you get it.”
“We really don’t write them exactly,” he says and sips dark beer.
“No,” I say. “We structure them more than anything.”
We were there to ensure semicolons were applied properly. We nixed the Oxford comma. We made sure the faithful obituary readership knew Joey Klingensmith passed away and didn’t past away. That Rhonda Roman was formerly of Arnold and not formally from anywhere.
“It’s like every other job,” I say. “You get used to it. You just have to keep a sense of empathy.”
My coworker nods. He comes from retail.
If you come from retail, you can handle death. You can handle people, crazed with grief, when they want to yell at God but are on the phone with you.
“I guess it’s good to know we help people,” I say.
“But don’t you ever feel bad?” my coworker says. “I mean we’re getting a bonus this month because people died.”
He was right. The newspaper set revenue goals and we received bonuses if we make those goals.
“After a while, you don’t even think like that,” I say. “It’s just like scanning lava lamps or groceries. You move along to the next one until you’re done.”
The image is of me. Standing beside a cash register, dead bodies roll along a conveyor at a jerky pace. I scan each one’s forehead. There’s a ding. Next.
* * * *
“You guys leaving already?” the bartender says.
“Yeah,” I say. “We have to get into a sold-out show at the Rex.”
“So I’ll see you in five minutes then,” he laughs.
We laugh and say, “Yeah right.”
We say, “Fuck that. We’re getting in.”
* * * *
There’s a couple leaning against the Rex like people waiting for drugs. They are half the group we met earlier, the ones who lied about states and counties.
“They’re still not selling them,” the woman says.
Trying not to acknowledge a pang of heartbreak, I shiver a nod. “Well we’re about to go in there and see,” I say.
The ticket booth girl. The bouncer on the stool. They are eyeballing us as soon as we step inside.
Music and lights flood into the lobby from the adjacent room.
We ask about the standing room tickets.
“Sorry, guys,” the blond in the ticket booth says. “We are packed tonight.”
My coworker points and squints at the entrance to the main room, where we can hear Todd Snider’s raspy rhymes cut through the buzz of the crowd.
“I see a spot where we can stand right there,” he says.
The bouncer shifts his knees so he’s physically inserted himself into the conversation.
He takes a breath. He says, “The show’s sold out, fellas.”
“I’m really sorry,” the ticket booth girl says. “It’s a big crowd.”
“That’s fine,” I say and turn around. “You’re just doing your job.”
The couple we saw outside is gone, probably keeping warm in a bar.
I think of the six block walk back to my car. The Squirrel Hill Tunnels. The goatee of that bouncer. All of these things are prompting me to call it off.
“You know what,” my coworker says. “I think I’m drunk enough to go knock on that tour bus.”
We both stare at Todd Snider’s bus, curbed in front of the Rex’s backstage entrance.
I feel rejuvenated by my coworker’s optimism. He’s right: we are drunk enough.
The tour bus is locked.
My coworker taps the tinted glass. Nothing.
I knock, louder, on one of the windows, also tinted. Again, nothing.
Now we are both banging the bus like a bongo. We stop when a lanky guy in bummy clothes and beard walks around from the front of the tour bus.
“Can I help you guys?” he says.
We saw him walking in and out the back entrance earlier. He is a Todd Snider roadie.
“We’ve been trying to get into this show for an hour now,” my coworker says. There is desperation and humanity in his voice. We know this is the last chance.
“Aw, fuck,” he says. “You guys should have asked me earlier. I don’t know if I can do anything now.”
about now?” my coworker says. He understands obituaries, how you can die every
day, how there may never be another tour bus scene at a Todd Snider show again.
“Listen,” the roadie says. “Just wait on the sidewalk and I’ll be right back.”
“We’ll wait wherever you want us to,” my coworker says as the roadie rounds the theater’s corner.
“This has to work,” I say, roused by the prospect.
“Yep,” my coworker says and I can tell by his quick words and bouncy posture, that even through the beer and the cold and the Fireball and the sold-out show and the bouncer on his stool, he has this hopeful adrenaline raging inside too.
The roadie is back, stoic as before.
“You’re on the list,” he says.
We bombarded him in thank you’s and handshakes. He seems eager to move on to his next roadie duty, as if he simply checked something off his to-do list by getting us on the list rather than salvaging our entire night.
“What’s your name, man?” I say to the roadie before we rush away.
“Brian,” he says.
“Brian,” I say. “Thank you so much. If you die in Pittsburgh and need a good obituary, we’ve got you.”
Brian’s confused smirk makes me think how maybe we aren’t so different. He’s a roadie for Todd Snider; we are roadies for death.
“Thank god for roadies,” I say, walking into the Rex for the third time of the evening.
The same workers are there in the ticket booth, on the stool.
The girl asks if we are who we are and we say yes, we are.
“Sorry about the confusion earlier,” she says.
When the bouncer stamps the back of my hand upon entry, he tries to impale it.
* * * *
Todd Snider is onstage. Only him and his acoustic guitar. He is singing “If Tomorrow Never Comes”.
The room is filled with chairs and the standing fans are crowded around a bar in the back. Because we didn’t have to pay, I now have twenty more dollars to drink.
I snake up to the bar, the absolute corner, just like in Piper’s Pub. Good things like this don’t happen for me. My response for great news and terrible news is the same: indulge.
I find out what my coworker’s drinking because I am buying him one. I want to toast and hoot and sing along and stomp my boots on the floor.
Calling my name from the bend of the bar’s sharp corner are our friends. They have a spot at the bar where we can stand too.
The show is great. An acoustic double set where Todd is playing Muddy Waters and Jerry Jeff Walker covers. He takes song requests from the crowd like a man facing a firing squad.
“It’s been an excellent show,” our friend says. He is smiling and drinking and hands me a shot in a plastic cup.
I sniff and raise it and my friend says, “I like that you don’t even ask what it is.”
I take a guess at the liquor but my nose never worked too well anyway.
“It’s Jager,” he says.
I shoot it down and set the cup on the bar.
“I knew you guys would make it,” his wife says.
* * * *
My coworker wants to meet Todd Snider.
Our friends loved the show and have children at home, so they will see us later. I capture them both in one hug and drunkenly tell them I love them.
There’s a crowd around the corner, yelling at the tour bus. We put ourselves in the center and talk to a guy who said his girlfriend got kicked out of the show. He claimed Todd Snider owed him a t-shirt.
A silhouette emerges from the front of the bus. A shadow with its head tucked, hands wrist-deep in pockets. A current runs through the group until the Rex’s lighting reveals the person is not Todd Snider, but his roadie, Brian.
“Sorry guys,” Brian says, blank as a chalkboard, “Todd’s done for the night.”
Brian opens the backstage door to the Rex and disappears. The door does not slam. It gives me time to turn myself sideways and slide through the slowly collapsing space.
The Rex is full of empty folding chairs. There are three girls hanging around the stage. I see the bouncer and the ticket booth girl at the other end of the room.
The door opens and Brian is leaving, carrying instruments in black cases.
Fearing the bouncer will see me and charge like a hippopotamus, I follow Brian. Before I can open the door, it rips open again and there is my coworker. And Brian.
“Can we help you with something?” my coworker says.
“Sure,” Brian says, nods his head to the stage, to a pile of musician’s tools.
We are carrying two guitars, an amp and microphones.
Brian meets us in the middle of the street.
“You can take that over here,” he says and leads us around the tour bus, where we were knocking two hours ago. The storage section at the bottom of the tour bus is open and we pass Todd Snider’s instruments to Brian. He stashes them under the bus and thanks us.
“Thank you,” I say. “You’re the one who got us into the show earlier.”
Adam Matcho is an obituary writer. He is a former technical writer, novelty shop clerk, basketball coach and gas station attendant. His chapbook, Six Dollars an Hour: Confessions of a Gemini Writer, was published by Liquid Paper Press and his essay collection, The Novelty Essays, was published by WPA Press. When not writing death notices, Adam tries to write about life. He lives in a former craft shop with his wife, two sons, and too many animals.