Preamable: Posting science-fiction on the Internet isn't as lucrative as it may seem, so I'm obliged to supplement my income in order to get by – it is in this capacity that the following story is told.
Note: Proper nouns have been scrambled for the pseudo-privacy of all entities.
(The non-fiction enstorifies beneath the fold.)
I LOVE FLANDERS
by Cheeseburger Brown
I flew economy class to America, switching planes in Delta City for a run serving the wide-open western state of Jefferson. I was bound for the capital city of Flanders to do my day-job for an audience of some twenty thousand souls.
I had a window seat. Down below the glowing spiderweb of interconnected east coast density slowly drained away to the sparser and straighter grids of the west. Man was interrupted by mountain. The darkness below was almost Canadian.
From this waste glimmered the lights of Flanders, peeking between occluding peaks until a great valley of scintillating human settlement came into view. The plane keened as it descended. The steward had to scold a passenger who had only pretended to fully power down her mobile device. She protested she'd wanted to take pictures. He invoked the authority of an acronym.
So she missed the image of the full moon skiing along the surface of the lake shining out of an ink void beside the city, which was pretty cool optically speaking. I took pictures with my brain.
We bumped down. Everyone turned their phones back on. Default notification sounds echoed through the cabin, punctuated by non-default sounds from the dedicated individualists. Ting, ting! Bloop! Chee-chowp!
"This is your captain speaking, folks, and let me be the first to welcome you to Flanders, Jefferson!"
Friendly gate staff. Friendly taxi-wranglers. Friendly cab driver. It wasn't long before I figured out that I was in the friendliest place on the continent. Because I do a lot of business in Toronto this took me off-guard at first. But it was nice. They all made me smile.
My hotel room was a corner room so I had a wide view of the seemingly abandoned downtown core. It was as sterile as a set and perfectly rectilinear like plastic Playmobil. A toy city.
I watched American television with wide eyes while unwrapping a package of snacks I'd brought along, enjoying Gouda and Triscuits in the flickering light of utterly earnest Dada histrionics. What was real and what wasn't was not apparent to me. On the news channel was either a manic game of political piñata or a high-brow comedy sketch show. I'd have to flip a coin to hazard a guess.
Time zones were F'ing with my S so I tranqed out with sleeping pills. The mini-bar ticked and sighed.
I made tea in the coffee machine with tea bags from my packed snacks. America is very confused about tea so I've learned to come prepared. I dressed suitable for client interaction: black shined shoes, tight green slacks, a vest and black velvet jacket. I debated my tie and decided I was too likely to feel nervous and therefore overly confined, and so tossed the tie aside and opted for my shirt unbuttoned just shy of disco insouciance. Irrational feelings of suffocation aside the vest practically begged it, anyway.
It was six thirty on a Monday morning but the city looked exactly the same as the night before: dark and quiet as a tomb. I craned my head to take in the banners strung along the main square, our graphics blowing gently in the mountain breeze. I rounded the corner to the sports stadium where I'd be working, the giant LED panels outside running loops of my animations flashing into the empty streets.
Inside the stadium was bedlam.
The staging load-in was running many hours behind schedule. The staging techs and grips and light hangers and forklift drivers had been on their feet for days. In an event of such complexity snags during setup are not uncommon. What was unusual was the sound of it.
Staging crews tend to speak colourfully. Very colourfully. Colourfully such as to make sailors blush.
Now as I'm sure you're aware the city of Flanders is home to a young and ambitious new Abrahamic religion. Fully one third the citizenry is an adherent to the faith, with the rest of the city populace huddling just outside the sphere of its warm glow. As such, all crew had been warned that our paying client -- as faithful themselves as the founders of Flanders -- would tolerate no potty-mouth on site.
It was painful entertainment to watch the overworked staging crew struggling to contain their filth. "Get that -- gosh-darn -- forklift moving this instant, you -- um, son-of-a-gun!"
Pirates in Sunday school. Awesome.
Inside the concrete corridors of the stadium's lower annals I followed the thick bundles of black cabling snaking along the polished floor until they converged at the mouth of a door with a hand-labelled sign in the handwriting of my business partner, Irish. VIDEOVILLE. I stepped over loose cables and around cable bundles and ducked under hanging cables and came up inside a dark Batcave cut by banks of glowing computer displays and blinking lights. People were rushing around trying hard not to swear. In the middle of it all at a cable-encrusted desk of MacBook Pros was Irish.
"How do you diddly-do, neighbourino?"
He introduced me to the nearest operators -- a scrum of Mikes and Daves and Steves, affable silhouettes all. "I've got a computer for you," Irish told me. "You're in the Oberklasse Club. Come on, I'll take you. But first let's go for a smoke. Do you have any smokes?"
"No, man. I don't smoke anymore."
"This is a show. You've got to smoke on shows."
"Even in Flanders?"
He nodded seriously.
There's always staging crew smoking out back, wherever "out back" is defined to be. Irish knew where it was. He'd already been on site for a day before I arrived. So while we stood out by the trash incinerator we inhaled carcinogens and he brought me up to speed on the various situations unfolding. "Holy shit," I said. "The scale of this thing is staggering!"
Irish looked around frantically. "Dude!"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Right. Okay. No swearing. No problem."
"It's just that they're everywhere, eh? The whole place is literally crawling with client."
"Gosh-darn Santa Claus panopticon."
We slid my computer boxes along the polished floor of the ring-shaped service corridor, dodging staging crew and dancers in rehearsal sweats until we arrived at the Oberklasse Club, a corporate-sponsored private leisure den for certain privileged ticket-holders during the sports season. Mood lighting, wood panelling, comfy chairs, private bar, giant plasma screens every few feet around the periphery. "This is where I'm going to work?"
Irish nodded. "Not bad, eh? Have you met the boys from Delta?"
"Only in teleconference."
"Let me introduce you."
We shook a lot of hands. More Mikes and Daves, some Johns and Roberts. Men don't have very many names. The exception was the tall, shy-eyed African fellow called Cambridge. I asked if that was his real name and he said it was. (Later, it would be his great relief to speak French with me. That's not a euphemism. He just really missed speaking French.)
I would be sharing the Oberklasse Club with four other crews, including a lighting previsualization guru and three video teams dedicated to compiling events as they happened for showing at later sessions of the conference. My responsibility would be to take what they made and integrate it visually with the media I'd already produced to give a distinct feel to each stage of the show. If their stuff was going on my Jumbotron, it had to look like it belonged there.
The editors and videographers from Delta were sweethearts, asking after the nature of my work and my purpose on site in gentlemanly southern drawls. The positively Canadian levels of politeness made me feel right at home. "I'm glue," I explained; "I'm here to make everything that rolls gel together with the show design."
The aerial team took me to see their drone.
"Basically it's a commercial octocopter design we've customized for our own stabilizing rig. We've got our Red camera in there now. Operator puts on these goggles and sees what the drone sees. This here's the controls, and he ops by feel when he's goggled."
"Jiminy Cricket! Does it have AI-targeted particle weapons for taking out enemy combatants?"
"We're still working on that."
Irish helped me set up a workstation for myself before somebody said something alarming to him on his headset and he was obliged to run back to his Batcave. I was grateful that Irish had made sure they had a stylus and tablet for me, because I'm a complete baby about using a computer mouse (I didn't spend decades learning fine motor control with my fingers only to have it tossed aside for the sake of a middle click button and tennis elbow). Also I was grateful for the wonders of cloud-based subscription software because my world filled itself into the strange rental computer in a very smooth way. Applications, plugins, preferences: poof! I'd also brought assets and projects on a rugged portable hard drive named after a camel, because the hard drive had two humps.
I set to work integrating eleventh hour changes. Rehearsals would start the next morning.
When my machine was busy deeply considering the list of things I'd asked it about I strolled around the room and asked after people's worlds. The lighting previsualization guru was particularly proud of his toys and happy to explain them. The three wall-sized displays on his side of the room were dedicated to real-time animated renderings of the show's hundreds of lighting fixtures. This would allow the lighting director to have his wishes for the show entirely pre-programmed before the staging crew had even finished hanging the actual lighting rigs. The finished programming would walk to the master lighting console on an SD card.
I was suitably impressed. He flew me around different parts of the show, from business sessions to concert, and zoomed into some of the more complex lighting rigs to demonstrate how each articulated LED cluster was operated.
At that point I was pretty relieved when my own machine chimed for attention. "Gotta go."
"Each of the OpenGL stacks has over sixteen gigs of addressable V-RAM, so, obviously, that's a lot of facets we can pipe through the volume shader system without dropping frames."
"Thank you very much."
Free pretzels and Twizzlers. Free coffee and Coca-cola. At noon we were invited by mass-text to find our way to the crew catering room. Signing in with the barcode on one's badge provided unfettered access to a short buffet whose offerings can only be described as having the right price.
Afternoon ground into evening, and evening to night. Eventually Irish and I were walking back to our hotel through the immaculate and empty downtown streets. We saddled up to the hotel bar and asked if we had to join a club or retreat to a secret area to have a drink, but it turned out the state laws had recently been liberalized so the horror stories we'd heard about access to alcohol were now only partly true rather than wholly so.
I have never enjoyed a pint so much in my life. I leaned back my head and poured the stuff down my face hole as if it were ambrosia. I advanced my glass toward the bartender. "Hit me again please," I said. Irish pushed forward his own empty glass, steam still curling off the dramatically denuded sides. "Encore," he nodded.
"Gosh," said the bartender.
In the bar we met a popular radio personality who would be supplying what we would usually call the Voice of God, the disembodied and authoritative speaker who made directions to the general house about coffee breaks and fire exits and so on. "I'm the V.o.G.," he said in a rich, textured baritone as he shook my hand. His eyes widened. "I mean, V.o.H., V.o.H.!"
Irish furrowed his brow. "What's the aitch stand for?"
"Voice of House," he explained. "We're in Jefferson. I'm not supposed to piss off The Lord by profaning His name. I keep forgetting."
"Damn persnickety Lord," mumbled Irish. I punched him in the arm. "Dude!"
The pre-dawn found me again walking the desolate streets with a coffee-boiled tea in my hand. Irish had trouble sleeping and so had gone in ahead of me by an hour. I was also nervous, but I'd half-tranqed myself down and so enjoyed a blissful six hours of brain static devoid of significant messaging.
The traffic lights in Flanders are all geared to assume maximum patience and obedience from the faithful, and while in Flanders I opted to do as the Flanderlings did and so found myself waiting by the side of empty roads for long stretches while the signals slowly cycled.
Once, when I did try to venture out against the signal, I was caught gently by the arm. "Careful there neighbour, the light is still red," said a friendly man in a friendly way.
"Oh, indeed, thank you very much," I conceded.
I flashed my badge at stadium security and proceeded down to the loading docks. I said hello to all the Mikes and Daves and Steves in cable-choked Videoville before ambling around the polished concrete corridor to the Oberklasse Club. We were an hour out from rehearsals and everyone was scrambling to get their worlds in order before the first cue was called. With great relief I confirmed that my machine's overnight session of deep thought had yielded the desired fruits, and made sure all my updated files were fed to the right projection systems via the appropriate primate intermediaries.
On that day the loquacious lighting previsualizer was joined by lighting operations talent flown in from afar. I hesitate to name their precise national origin only because -- while able and gifted in their realms of professional expertise -- these fellows did not distinguish themselves in terms of courtesy or tact. In a room full of southern gentlemen and Canadian propriety their bellicose, uncouth manners ran against the grain and their inability to curb their gutter mouths risked a report from client. When one of the previz consoles suffered a hard crash they were heard to bellow anatomical unpleasantness in careless unison, making everybody cringe.
"Will those guys shut up if we let them drink?"
"We can't let them drink!"
"They keep asking."
"We can't let them drink!"
"Jeezum Crow. Can they be fed after midnight?"
"Yes, but you really don't want to know what they eat."
Lunch was somehow less describable than the day before. An impressive achievement, really. Rumours of the runs were making the rounds, all narrators pointing the finger at the crew food. But still I foraged. I found one of those tree-grown fruit apples, and figured that was probably pretty safe.
Enjoying my apple I wandered into the main production office to say halloo! to our hosts, the organizers of this insane event, a fleet of well-oiled and highly efficient southern belles from Delta. "Halloo!" The triumvirate pushed aside their headsets in order to each hug me in a startling whirlwind of blonde perfume. "I know you're busy, I just wanted to say hi in person for once."
"It's so good to meet you! I feel you I know you so that's a funny thing to say. Oh my Gosh -- how's your world?"
"It's good, it's fine, it's perfect. Yours?"
"On fire!" grins the principal belle. "But I'll beat it into shape. How's your hotel? We can change your room if you hate it."
"Are you kidding? You've got a million things to do. The hotel's fine. Everything's fine. There's free licorice. Who could complain?"
"I love you Canadians. You're so easy going."
"I'm completely abrasive and unreasonable. I can't imagine what you're used to."
"Can I ask you something?"
"Only if you draw me conspiratorially close. Or is that considered sexual harassment in this state?"
"How come you don't have a Canadian accent?"
"Um. Don't I?"
"Irish has a Canadian accent."
"Oh. Well, he probably spent a lot of time outdoors as a boy, playing hockey and milking trees or whatever. He's from the country. I grew up in the city -- I guess we watched more TV."
Come tea time I volunteered to do a store run for all of the Mikes and Daves and Steves down in Videoville who, owing to the ongoing day-long rehearsal, were obliged to stay at their stations at all times whereas my work was now mostly in the can (with the remainder in queue for processing). Among other items I'd been charged with discovering the legendary source of cigarettes which proved a fairly hard nut to crack as the city seemed to exist and go on existing without the benefit of convenience stores (what we might call "smoke shops" in Ontario). I walked around gawking to take in this new view of the city in daylight, impressed to discover the dual east and west backdrops of mountain faces peeking between buildings. Who knew?
A bearded man approached me in the street. "Can you spare a dollar?" he asked.
Having learned from my recent trips to America I'd taken to keeping a supply of one dollar bills in my hip pocket for just such occasions. "Can you help me find a store that sells tobacco cigarettes?" I asked. He agreed. I gave him a dollar.
With the bearded fellow's help I struck gold at a small market. The staff were super friendly until I asked for tobacco. They studied my driver's license with rigour. "This is foreign," the shopkeep told me darkly.
"There's a good reason for that: I'm foreign."
"You don't have any proper U.S. documents?"
"I'm afraid not. But I'm definitely old enough. See this sparkly part of my scalp? This is where the grey hair would be if I didn't have such a conservative hair-style."
He returned his dubious gaze to the card I'd handed him, now squinting over the details with a frown. Finally he offered it back. "Alright, I guess," he agreed, reluctantly accepting my business.
"Thank you very much."
I got lost trying to get back to the stadium but a small squirt of expensive roaming data set me straight again. As I strode down the slanted roadway to the loading docks the security girl leaned out of her booth. "Did you manage to find everything you needed?"
"Yes I did, thanks kindly."
I passed out drinks and chips and smokes as if I were Santa. Mikes and Daves and Steves of all stripes were delighted and grateful not to have to rely on the offerings of crew catering for dinner. Making change with American money is a pain, though, because every denomination is the exact same grey-green forest fungus colour.
In the small hours of the night Irish and I trudged back to the hotel through empty streets. "I'm beat," I said. "Sleep wants me tonight."
"You're thirsty though, eh?" he asked hopefully.
I nodded. "Ja. Sure. I'm good for one quick pint."
I couldn't face another turn at the crew catering trough so I pre-ordered a room service breakfast for the crack of dawn. A fawning latino boy brought in a steaming tray at precisely the right hour. The gratuity was built into the bill, French style, so there was no place to indicate a tip for the lad, which I'd come to understand as an important American custom. "How am I supposed to tip you?"
"It's included gratuity, sir. No need to tip. We share it from a pool."
"That's outrageous. How am I supposed to feel American now? May I ask your name?"
"Is that your real name?"
"My name's Riccardo."
"Have a dollar, Riccardo."
"Thank you sir. But it's not necessary, it's included. I'm not supposed to take."
"Well, it isn't a very big tip, admittedly, so it won't be a very big lie when you don't tell anyone."
Upon arriving at the stadium I found my overnight items completed, and thus my responsibilities officially covered. From that point forward my job would be to help others integrate their work with mine, an effort that wouldn't start in earnest until the conference officially began the next day. So I spent the morning eating Twizzlers and chatting with people.
Americans sure do move around a lot! In contrast to Canadians most Americans I spoke with did not work in the region where they'd been born. It seems they are, as a culture, fearless followers of new opportunities, no matter where they may appear.
I had a smoke near the incinerator with a man with remarkable hair. "Can I ask you about your hair?" I asked as I walked over. "It's remarkable!"
He was a staging tech who'd been working all night and all day, his long black hair strikingly cut by a shaft of pure white. He was happy to share his story. The white hair was because of three teenage daughters, he said, and the bags under his eyes were because he'd been a third of the way into driving across the country when he'd been called back to help with the delayed staging setup. Like all of the Americans I met he was gregarious and candid; not an educated man but a dear one. He told me every state he'd lived in and what he thought of them, indulging in a second cigarette so he could finish.
In the afternoon the drone team returned with cards full of sweeping aerial shots that needed motion stabilization and colour correction. I discussed the finer points of fake lens flares with a bearded Deltan with doe-like eyes who approached the subject with a poet's sensitivity, opining without pretension about the optic qualities of the eye versus a lens and the nature of visual narrative.
A very tall Deltan showed me pictures of oil paintings on his telephone, sharing with me his agonizing back and forth self-debate about which of this artist's works he should actually purchase. Like the bearded doe, his heart seemed to bleed live for the sake of the subject. Passionate without being phoney – very refreshing!
Just then one of the Johns or Roberts or Williams or whatever rushed into the Oberklasse Club. "Client just did an internal reveal of the incentives destination for 2014 – and now they want a 5K video about it to run in tomorrow morning's general session!"
"Where's the trip?"
"Tajikistan. They wanted a unique destination. Mother-flipping goat-doodling Tajikistan."
To explain: Had the client decided they'd like to send all their people to Mexico in 2014 it would still be a fairly tall order to summon an IMAX-scale video about the place out of the thin air – stock photography and high-definition video of Mexico is easy to find, and we had all night to composite it together. Australia would've been fine. France, Italy, Spain, Razkavia – no problem. But Tajikistan certainly was the road less travelled. And less photographed.
The Johns and Roberts or Williams turned to me. "Well, I guess y'all are at bat, Canada."
And so I set to invent a reasonable facsimile of Tajikistan, and to generate a thrilling way to frame it. My meat-based environment melted away as I fell into my usual trance, pixel-mining for gold and indifferent to all else…
I dreamt of pealing bells. Persistent pealing bells. Really persistent. I wondered if I were in Paris on a Sunday, then remembered I was Flanders on a Thursday. Show day.
Holy smokes! I sat up straight in bed.
After my late night session of miracle-milking I'd overslept. Sunlight was squeaking in between the double-layered hotel curtains, poking me in the brain electrically. My telephone was ringing away to itself, offering to snooze the alarm if I should so desire. I leapt out of bed and cast about for my all black show clothes while jamming a tea bag up the coffee machine's maw.
Groggily I stumbled into the road. I blinked against the light, my ears feeling clogged and ringy. Something in the air felt -- different. But it was hard to put a finger on until I rounded the next corner…
I was confronted by a sea of humanity.
Asians! Asians! A golybillion Asians! Wonderful, splendorific Asians of every kind and creed! There were Asians crowding every sidewalk, laughing and talking and photographing one another with their telephones and tablets, wandering out into the road and being gently turned back by police wearing white gloves. There were Asians in flowing silks and slutty tights, Asians in business suits or in futuristic tracksuits. They spilled across the intersections like a liquid in oblivious defiance of all posted signage and traffic lights. It was like Akira.
The air was a bright choir of Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Filipino, Bahasa Malaysia, Narnian and Laotian punctuated by Apple and Android shutter-snap sound effects. Occasional flecks of white people could be seen toss't up by the spume, their round eyes wide and panicked as they worked to extricate themselves from the roiling Oriental meta-thing.
The police blew whistles, gesturing to conduct the flow out of all the hotels to accumulate in an enthusiastic pool outside the stadium's main bank of doors.
I squoze through the crowd carefully but decisively. "Pardon me, excuse me, pardon me." It was a novel experience for me to be able to see over everyone's heads, simplifying in-crowd navigation. Tallness is keen.
I was relieved to reach the loading docks but unrelieved again once I saw that the circular corridor I'd been using all week to get around the stadium was clogged like a Tokyo subway.
When I finally managed to fight my way to the Oberklasse Club I was sweaty and disgruntled. "This is madness! How are we supposed to get around?"
"Carry an empty box. If people won't move, they get boxed."
I looked at the pile of metal-cornered equipment crates stacked by the door. The world's most unwieldy hall-passes. "Roger."
I tidied myself up in the Oberklasse Club's private washroom, employing my toilette of choice in such occasions, a wrapped pre-moistened towelette from a chicken wings franchise. The cologne of kings. I exited refreshened just in time.
Client strode into the room flanked by two sets of stormtroopers.
A handler took aside my Deltan pimp. "He wants to see Tajikistan." The Deltan turned to me and I nodded. "It will come up on this screen, sir," I said as I hit the space bar, nodding up at a plasma on the wall.
I summoned mental static: Fiddle-dee-doo, fiddle-dee-dee, thinking of nothing…
It turned out fine. Client was enthused. Hands were shaken. The faithful always look you right in the eye with a gentle probe, like Scientologists fishing for thetans. It tickled so I smiled. Client cleared the room and the stormtroopers closed the double-doors behind them. The Deltans asked to see the video again, and they wanted to say things about it but the things they said were very nice which I protested, explaining that I was more comfortable accepting abusive critique than compliments. It's not that my video was so amazing or anything, it's just that American levels of effusiveness can be overwhelming. They are a zealous race.
We all watched the programme feed on the plasmas as it was digitized live through the African's machines. Wave after wave of screaming Asians were brought on stage to receive awards while they videoed themselves with their telephones. Currently the interior of the stadium was a lurid green.
"What do the colours mean?" asked the bearded doe.
"It's a level of sales achievement," I supplied. "This is the Oz Level. It means you have fifteen people selling under you. So I went with an emerald theme. See the crystals on the zipper lights?"
"So this thing is basically a giant pyramid scheme?"
Cambridge shook his head. "No, it's a pyramid opportunity," he corrected and then smiled, bright white teeth cutting his ebony face.
"Oh crud, did I offend you? Are you with the company, man?"
"No," laughed Cambridge. "But all of us are here hired now to do our respective things, so if that's not an opportunity I don't know what is. They pay their bills, so to me it's not a scheme or a scam, no matter how crazy it all seems."
The very tall Deltan took off his hat and whistled. "Amen, brother."
"That's a great hat," I told him.
He smiled and told me its story.
As the day passed more and more people took refuge in the Oberklasse Club when the main production office and Videoville became too stressful to work in. I made room beside me at my table for a group of lawyers who were struggling with a Japanese translator to make sure everything the Japanese people had said in the interview footage was kosher.
One of the southern belles had come, too, to sit down and have a bit of a cry. A Robert or a William comforted her, and I did not eavesdrop so I never found out what the matter was. But when she heard the Japanese translator becoming flustered and confused by the lawyers she stood up and came right over and straightened the situation out with a fluid recitation of crisp Japanese. They thanked her profusely.
"No rest for the wicked," she lilted and swept out, pressing her headset into her coif.
"I couldn't have called that," said someone.
"That was amazing! How the heck does Belle know Japanese?"
"In Oz people aren't always what they seem."
As the recognition event progressed the circular corridor emptied. After checking in on Irish I bumped into a minor rock star who wanted to know if there was a lost and found, because he'd lost his jacket during the pre-dawn sound-check. "I hadn't had my coffee," he explained.
"That's terrible. I bet it was a nice jacket."
"It's from Lithuania."
"Somebody must know more about this than me. I don't know anything. Let's see who we can find. Ooh, her - she looks important. She has a stadium badge. Let's ask her!"
In the end we were not successful but the minor rock star was very gracious about the whole thing. He did not, however, offer to give me a dollar.
Long after the last cue of the day Cambridge and I sat in the Oberklasse Club speaking French while we waited for the video selects he'd selected from the programme feed to copy over to my machine. When everything was in place I gave my machine a list of things to think about overnight and trudged out to find Irish. He was the last one in Videoville. He was reluctant to leave. "There's still stuff I have to get in order for tomorrow's afternoon session," he said.
"Bless your heart, that's what makes you great. But you need to sleep, too. Besideswhich aren't you getting thirsty?"
Irish let his hands drop from the keyboard. "Yeah. You're right, eh? I am getting thirsty."
It was too late to get a pint but we called room service and told them I had five guests in my room, so were able to get a pizza and six beers. "Where are your guests?" asked Riccardo when he came with the tray.
"They just stepped out," I said, "but they each left a few dollars here for you."
As I navigated through the morning crowd of Asians I saw an ominous black craft hovering overhead. Down below in one of the stadium gardens were the aerial guys. I sipped my tea and watched as the operator brought the drone in for a landing. A production assistant rushed over to retrieve the SD cards, hot to the touch from writing 5K files fast.
"This is awesome! You look awesome! You're a Borg!" I told the operator as he took off his goggles. "I mean, no sex appeal whatsoever but still -- awesome."
He laughed instead of looking offended. Certainly he didn't assimilate me.
Pyrotechnic fireballs, rows of synchronized dancers, an earth-harp strung through the stadium, live satellite feeds from Europe -- the morning session got started with a bang. I watched anxiously over Cambridge's shoulder as last night's efforts rolled on the Jumbotron and six flanking screens.
"N'oubliez pas de respirer," he prompted me.
"Oh, right," I said, nodding and resuming to breathe. "Thanks, man."
The roll went fine. Videographers rushing in from the ongoing session dropped data by my machine. Once subtitled in six languages the material would comprise my final contribution to the whole affair. I was only one crew catered lunch away from freedom.
I brought Irish a plate of terrible Mexican food and a Coke, then chewed on a Twizzler while leaning against a railing inside the stadium to watch my last videos roll. Soon the concluding business sessions would end and the stage would be reset for the major rock star who would finish the show, his identity still a secret from most of us (though no longer a secret that it was a secret since the name on his dressing room door had been put in quotation marks, letting everyone know that whoever it was who would be performing it wasn't going to be "Vanilla Ice").
When I got back to the Oberklasse Club the lighting guys, having determined that titling the major rock star's entrance meant I necessarily had to know who it really was, decided to lean into me to spill the beans. Luckily their marathon of anti-charima had worked its magic and I had no problem at all leaving them hanging. Wankers.
I broke down the workstation and put the pieces back in the boxes and stacked the boxes against the wall. I passed out business cards and collected the business cards of others. The Deltans went on being as suffocatingly complimentary and horrifyingly gracious as they had been all week, so I scrambled to get my stuff together and escape.
"Aren't you going to stick around to see the concert?"
"I have to be at the airport at four in the morning for an international flight. So I'm going to sacrifice tonight to make tomorrow tolerable."
"You're a wiser man than I, Cheeseburger."
Poor Irish was on duty for another four hours of show, but my role had ended. As my last act as an ambassador for North America I helped a Chinese boy with surreal orange hair find "out back" and even gave him an American cigarette. He protested that he had his own but accepted my courtesy. "Where are you from?" I asked.
"So sorry, no English."
"Can I talk to you about your hair? Your hair's amazing."
I walked back to the hotel as the sun set, smiling at the friendly passers-by. A guy asked me for a dollar and I gave him two.
I went to bed after supper and awoke at two in the morning. I ran three miles in the gym then had a bath. By the time I was done it was time to call a cab to the airport.
I locked myself out of my room while trying to get rid of a room service tray but Riccardo vouched for me at the front desk and so my pathetic non-ID carrying self was issued a new set of key-cards which I turned in when I checked out ten minutes later. I tried to give Riccardo a dollar but he wouldn't take it. What a friendly fellow. He called me "amigo" which I believe is Spanish for something.
My pocket chimed. It was Irish. He'd overslept was but was now frantically packing and would join me presently. He said he had good news.
In the taxi he explained. Our work had been appreciated, and he'd been emphatically told so. "That's great. Do you think we're going to get work out of any of these new contacts?"
He nodded. "We're already booked."
"Get home, get some sleep, kiss your kids. Then pack up again. Cheeseburger, we're going to Las Vegas."
But that's another story and shall be told another time.