March of the Penguins: How Not to Stage an Event

Let me tell you about the night my love for Stephen King almost cost me my toes.

Those piggies were completely numb by 5:40 p.m. last night. My husband and I had been standing outdoors in freezing temperatures for almost two hours, shuffling along in a slow-moving line that wrapped around a former mega-church. Why? We had landed tickets to a rare live appearance by Stephen King in our own hometown!

Stephen King tickets

In my (formerly) hot little hand

The event was hosted by Watermark Books, Wichita’s only independent bookstore. Since the store wasn’t nearly large enough for an event this popular, it was staged off-site at Wichita State University’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex. Ticketholders were notified that the first 1,700 at the door would receive wristbands for auditorium seating, and the rest would be granted seats in overflow rooms with Mr. King on a big screen.

Watch him on TV? No way. We wanted to see him in the flesh. Wristbanding started at 4:00. We were on it.

My husband dropped me off so I could get a place in line and he could park. Turns out the line was virtually a circle around the 75,000-square-foot building (check the footprint of this beast). The end nearly touched the beginning when we got in it, and soon it snaked into the parking lot. To the Canada geese honking overhead in the gunmetal gray sky, we must have looked like a large capital Q. But we were giddy and game. Stephen King, fer the love! What’s a little chill?

Stephen King line

A meeting of the lines

At 4:00 a cheer went up from the front of the line. Wristbands ahoy! Everyone grinned: this is it! The line inched forward. Any time now!

I wrapped my scarf around my head and pulled up the lapels of my  wool coat. The soles of my boots weren’t super thick, so I stood on the grass next to the sidewalk for marginal improvement. We joked about offering a dollar a minute to people still parking their cars, just to sit inside and warm up a bit. A woman just a little ahead of us left the line briefly, then returned with a blanket — for her companion in a wheelchair.

Stephen King appearance

Freezing, but still in good spirits.

But as 4:30 ticked by, then 5:00, we were barely halfway through our journey to the front door. At 5:15 I lost feeling in my last toe. The fun was replaced by grim determination.

The moment we realized they were still wristbanding ticketholders, our spirits were lifted — it wasn’t too late! But there were still hundreds of people in line behind us. And then we realized why it was taking so long: security. Three security guards were assigned to the task of affixing wristbands, three more inspected coats and bags, and then a few more wielded handheld metal detectors. It was a tedious process that had to be repeated more than 2,000 times.

Stephen King appearance

Target acquired!

As we found seats in the blessedly warm auditorium, my husband and I reflected on our two-hour odyssey. Once I was no longer in survival mode, I realized, to borrow a favorite phrase from the Man of the Hour: “This is bullshit.”

We weren’t in line to GET tickets. This wasn’t some Black Friday promotion. We had ALREADY BOUGHT TICKETS, for $30 and change, and yet we were forced to wait in freezing twilight to be granted entry one by one. Why? Because Watermark had chosen a venue without assigned seating. Because they opted to offer the overflow option so more tickets could be sold — and yes, more fans could be served. But that also set us up for this absurd March of the Penguins as paying customers were banded one at a time. It was a ridiculous and unnecessary step that slowed everything to a trickle. We are literary fans, for crying out loud. The average age of the crowd, and this is just a guess, was probably 40. This wasn’t going to be another Altamont.

Watermark’s staff lacked the foresight to see that this was a recipe, if not for disaster, then for deep discontent and loss of good will. Once the adrenaline rush of “we made it!” wore off among the frozen chosen, we realized just how poorly this whole thing was planned.

Shortly after he took the stage, Mr. King himself acknowledged what we’d gone through. “Don’t blame me, I was just hanging out backstage,” he said with a grin. And we didn’t hold it against him. Because he spent the next hour casting a spell of story, love of the craft, and excellent profanity. I have a whole other post queued up about that, because it was magical.

Stephen King

Stephen King takes the stage. The crowd goes wild.

But even as he said this, there were still ticketholders queueing up for little green bracelets. The event was delayed 22 minutes, so I assumed that everyone made it inside, but friends later reported this wasn’t the case. There were also empty seats in the upper decks of the main auditorium even as fans were redirected to overflow.

With a paid ticket, fans also got a hardback copy of King’s new book, Revival. King left a few signed copies in the stacks that were distributed as we left. But even this was poorly managed. As a friend of a friend posted on Facebook, “The woman from Watermark was delusional to boot. ‘We’ve got a great system for everyone to get their books and get out of here orderly.’ I was in an overflow room with a couple hundred people, and they all just flooded the door where there was a single person handing out books.”

Stephen King book table

Yep, looks orderly to me.

Stephen King Revival

Flying off the shelves

Wichita isn’t blessed with many great performance venues, but I have to believe there were better options than this. The real point is: even if it had been a perfect 72-degree sunny day, paid ticketholders shouldn’t be expected to wait outside for hours.

My friend Brian Johnson, himself a horror writer, noted quite a few different state license plates in the parking lot. As he said, the King appearance was a huge regional draw. It was an opportunity to show our little city in the best light, and it was squandered. Tickets to this event sold out in a day. That should have Watermark’s first clue that more crowd control was needed. Instead, they took advantage of the devotion of King’s fans to do whatever it took to spend an hour basking in his glow. (At least some didn’t — Wichita Eagle reporter Deb Gruver tweeted that some people left before King even took the stage. Gruver herself was ticked at the rude treatment she received from WSU staffers once inside.)

King’s fans, Watermark’s loyal customers, and guests of the WSU campus deserved better than this misery.

Luck

Luck

A free-spirited friend of mine posted today that she scattered birdseed in her front yard. She’d heard it’s an old Scandinavian custom to bring good fortune in the new year.

My online feeds are full today of recipes for black-eyed peas, but I keep scrolling. I’ve tried the mealy things once or twice and never liked them. That’s one more no-thank-you bite than my kids have to take.

If I were a bigger believer in luck, I might try to force down a couple of medicinal bites — spiritual insurance against bad luck in the new year, perhaps? But I don’t believe in luck at all. Maybe because I lived in Las Vegas too long.

I believe in chance and in the law of averages. I believe a little bit in fate, but not pre-destination. I believe in choices and responsibility. And that sometimes things don’t go your way even when you do everything right.

This is a hard concept for adults. Even more so for my 10-year-old son. Lately he feels he has no luck at all. Playing games with him has always been difficult, because he cannot stand to lose. He gets down on himself. Blames his luck.

Last night, it was bowling. His little sister was ahead in points by the fifth frame, and he just shut down. Pouted and grumped and gave up. Today it was a family round of Hullabaloo, which is a game for kids half his age. The prize? Doing a funky dance. When a few short rounds went by and he hadn’t yet won the right to make a fool of himself, the pout returned.

I don’t react well when it happens. It frustrates me that he seems to feel entitled to a win. I don’t get to win all the time — why should you? At least I’m smart enough not to say this out loud. Instead, I try to stay calm and remind him to be a good sport. I had hoped by now he would have learned to lose graciously. I’m still waiting.

And he’s my first, so my expectations are probably way out of whack. Countless times I have asked myself, as his mother, “What’s normal?” We learned a long time ago that normal doesn’t enter into the picture for us most of the time — if normal means “like everyone else.”

My son has ADHD. He’s old enough now that he realizes this makes him different. And that he doesn’t like it. ADHD is both his boogeyman and his excuse. When you’re 10, you want to be normal. You think everyone else is, except you. When you’ve been diagnosed, prescribed, and treated for something that makes you different, there’s no denying you are not normal.

We talk about gifts. We talk about how everyone has a different toolbox. We talk about why it’s good we’re not all the same.

We talk a lot.

But I can’t talk him into feeling better about himself — any more than I’ve ever been able to do this for myself.

Hopefully his dad and I can show him over time that there are plenty others like him who have overcome the obstacles of ADHD and even discovered its good qualities. Like my friend Missy, who uses her endless energy to lead fitness classes, customize and sell cute little hats, raise four kids — and laugh about her ADHD. I wish I had a quarter of what keeps her on the go.

My son’s not in a place to grasp this just now, because he feels having ADHD was just his bad luck. I’ll admit that sometimes I do too. Or I wonder what would have happened if I’d eaten my black-eyed peas, scattered more birdseed in the yard, carried a rabbit’s foot, rubbed the Buddha’s belly, and knocked on more wood.

I wouldn’t trade the son God gave me for anyone. I can’t wait to see who he’ll be when he’s 20, 35, 60. No one else will be like him. And for that, I count myself lucky.

 

Getting to Know Me: a Kansas Women Bloggers Link-Up

Getting to Know You Link Party with the Kansas Women Bloggers

 

As the editor of Kansas Women Bloggers, I decided I wanted to learn more about our 100+ members, and share a little more about myself. So I took a page from our sisters at Texas Women Bloggers and cooked up this Getting to Know You link-up! Here are my answers:

If you make money with your blog, how do you do it?

I never have, and I am totally impressed by people who do. I wonder how you maintain a balance between content and promotions when you do giveaways and reviews. I’m a former journalist, so I’m still a stickler for that editorial integrity!

How do you increase your blog readership?

Obviously, participation in Kansas Women Bloggers helps! I’ve also enjoyed another weekly blog challenge called Yeah Write, which awards editors’ picks and crowd favorites each week. But that’s just a cherry on top. The real prize is the response you get from all the other bloggers.

If you are from Kansas, have you ever lived elsewhere?

Oh yes. Texas, Colorado (met the husband), Arizona (married the husband), and Las Vegas (had the first baby). We moved back here in 2005. Well, it was back for me; the husband is not a native.

If someone were to hand you $10,000 (no strings attached), what would you do with it?

(Just for fun we’re going to pretend I have no debt to pay off, because that’s the real-life answer, but it’s boring.) I would use $2,000 of it to help a homeless family with children get back on their feet. I would use the rest to build a bedroom and bathroom in my basement and furnish it with vintage pieces. Then I would use it as my office/getaway.

Who was the first blogger you ever really followed?

Had to be Rants from Mommyland, which was actually two bloggers then but is now one. It was the first safe place I found to laugh with other moms about the craziest shizz of parenting, especially on the days I was a lot closer to crying. The best thing about them, though, was their heart. We all gotta vent sometimes, but if it doesn’t come back around to love, it just sounds mean and selfish.

What’s your favorite pair of shoes?

Now in heavy rotation are my tall brown boots in a riding style. I love these freakin’ things. Low heel because I’m getting old, but they still do the most awesome job of dressing up my otherwise plain outfits. Boot season is the best. So, OK, save a couple hundred from my $10K windfall for one or two more pairs.

It’s nice to be important.

But it’s more important to be nice.

Path of many flowers

When I finally send them off into the world, I hope they see it as beautifully as this.

Blog on the way