With a twist of the wrist, I shut off the engine and silenced the Man in Black. As silence flled the interior, I sat stock-still behind the wheel, not really wanting to move. When the windshield refused to turn into a magic looking glass, I let out one last heavy sigh and rolled out of Unit Four. Around back, I popped the tailgate and ran through a systems check ingrained in my DNA. Camera. Batteries. Disc. Tripod. Microphone. Light. After draping myself in the tools of the trade, I scowled at the heavy microphone stand that was mocking me from the jumbled cargo hold. Giving it a heave, I grabbed a stack of cardboard signs and flipped through them. 'What was your BEST Valentine's Day Gift?' the first one asked. I rolled my eyes and read through the rest, my lips moving in silent dictation. 'Of all the dorky assignments...' I thought as I tucked the cards under one arm and picked up the mic stand with my only free hand. Once I achieved the proper ballast, I trudged toward the Mall's front entrance. Overhead, a few bored parking lot seagulls made lazy circles, oblivious to my pain.
Inside, Center Court was fairly packed for a Tuesday morning. The crowd of shoppers, mostly women with strollers, bags and the occasional atittude didn't notice me as I made a beeline for the escalator. Those who noticed the logo on my low-slung camera did do a double-take, but only to look past the loaded-down roadie for that regionally familiar face. When their cursory search came up empty, they went back to their search for lunch break bargains. That was fine by me, as I was on the property to bag some sound, not any win fans. Grumpy and encumbered, I schlepped toward the promised relief of the mechanical staircase in the distance. When I finally reached the bottom step, I rested the mic stand's heavy round base on it and shifted my weight under the load. Up ahead, two heavily perfumed ladies stopped their conversation long enough to stare at the camera-leper. Behind me, a group of teenagers boarded the moving steps and began to giggle. Unmasked derision aside, I was beginning to feel better about the whole silly endeavor.
By the time the predicatable ride dispensed me on the Food Court level, I was bristling with determination. Scanning the assembled masses, I looked past the requisite Chik-Fil-A crowd and studied the traffic patterns. A few furtive glances later, I determiened the best place to set up shop was where I stood - right by the escalators. Avoiding the uncomfortable stares of a four-top table full of workmen, I busied myself with deploying my gear. First, I extended the microphone stand to chest-high altitude, sank the hand mic into its cuff and squatted beside my camera for a series of ritualistic flip-switching. Once all recording systems were go, I began the methodical process of tripod leg extension. As I pulled the sectioned legs to a man-sized height, I glanced down at the cardboard signs scribbled in red, I drifted back in time to the summer of 1991.
When Perry Farrell brought his inaugural Lollapalooza tour to Raleigh-wood, I was one of the thousands of would-be degenerates in attendance. But I didn't go alone. Instead, I traveled to the all-day music festival with Sam and Mar, a wonderfully Bohemian young couple known more for their odd-ball artistic abilities than their sound judgement. Along with the beer and blankets, Sam and Mar brought with them a large stash of what can only be described as hippie necklaces. Crafted from beads, hemp-rope and discount crystals, the counter-culture jewelry was always a big hit with those still raging at the machine. Sam and Mar had been up for days twisting the hideous neckwear into creation and together they harbored secret dreams of unloading them at the concert for twenty bucks a pop. Trouble was, neither knew much about sales. Thus, the crowd of nose-ring posers and tye-dye zombies ignored us as we set up shop between the Rock the Vote tent and body art display. Having quickly grown bored with our lack of retail success, I did something that day I'd never done before: I worked the crowd like a carnival barker. In a voice I didn't know I had, I challenged every subversive teenager that passed by our booth to stop and tell me how they could live withOUT one of these intensely mystical necklaces. My first sell came after I spotted a young girl in an orange hippie dress and matching orange mohawk.
"You there, sister!" I bellowed as I grabbed an orange necklace from the display,"that's quite the ensemble, but ya know - NO outfit's complete without one of these..."
To my utter shock. she seemed flattered at the sartorial attention and immediately bought the necklace I'd chosen at random. This, of course, only bolstered my confidence and I browbeat the crowd until they couldn't ignore me. Soon unwashed hands thrust twenty dollar bills in our direction, thanks mostly to my newfound ability to bullshit at will. Within an hour, Sam and Mar ran out of merchandise and we retreated from the tent to the open lawn, where we enjoyed Nine Inch Nails with overpriced beers and a few other hastily procured favorites. By the time Jane's Addiction took the stage, my spontaneous salesmanship was all but forgotten...
Until that very moment at the Food Court, when I spotted a rather hefty lady in a red sweater adorned in hearts and matching hair-bow about to step off the escalator.
"You there, Madam!" I bellowed as I reached over and hit the record button, "that's quite the ensemble, the kind of outfit that tells me you know a thing or two about affairs of ther heart! Step over here and tell my camera what your WORST Valentine's Day gift was, would ya?"
She did. Others followed and forty five minutes later I was back in Unit Four, singing along to 'Ring of Fire' and chewing my own Chik-Fil-A. Who says photogs can't sell?