Tex was a Clark driver for the first several years of trucking the Met Opera Spring Tour. Large and loud. He always entered the stagehand’s room with ‘Relax yo’all, old Tex is in the theater!’ He dressed the part…Stetson, boots, giant belt buckle. Some of the hands bought his shtick.
I thought it overdone. His wardrobe was too much and his accent too thick. He reminded me of a owner/’actor’ on those TV ads for used car lots.
This particular time he got in the room before the opera started. We were going to throw out the scenery of the first act at first intermission and Tex would take it to storage in New York. He grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down, carrying on with his usual palaver. But when one of the truck loaders came in and motioned to Steve, the Met’s Head Carpenter, to come outside, Tex stopped talking and started fidgeting.
Steve came back in the room and you could see he was mad. ‘What is that goddamn stink in your trailer?’ he asked, standing over Tex. ‘It smells like s**t!’
Tex made an effort to stand but Steve pushed him back. ‘You were sandbagging with the truck, weren’t you?’
‘Well, Steve.’I had three free days and an empty truck…’
‘So what did you do, rent it out for a Portable Potty?
‘Ah, Steve,’ Tex argued, ‘I’d never do such a thing. I just helped out an old boy who needed help getting a few pigs to the stockyards.’
‘Pigs! Pigs!,’ Steve screamed. They heard him backstage but the orchestra was playing the Overture and nobody on stage or in the house heard the yelling.
‘Come on, Steve, old son,’ Tex said in a low voice. ‘There wasn’t but a couple dozen or so and they weren’t no big old fat-backs. They were prime bacon. Hardly more than piglets.’
Steve slapped the Stetson off the head of Tex. ‘Just little piggies! You should have put diapers on them then. If I could I’d call for a different rig, but it’s too late now. When I get back to the Met Warehouse I’m going to smell that set and if it smells the least bit like pig s**t, Clark is going to get a bill for a new set.’
‘Ah, old son,’ Tex argued, ‘It’ll be aired out by the time the load is in. I pressured washed the inside of the trailer twice. What you smell…
‘What I smell, old son…of a,’ Steve stopped and told Tex to go in the truck.
We loaded it and only two of the loaders had to come out for air. The other two lived in So. St. Paul where most of the city carried the smell from the stockyards where Tex had delivered those little piggies.
The next spring tour nobody dared ask Steve if the set still stunk when he checked it out in the warehouse. And we never saw Tex driving for Clark again. Although some years later one of hands said he was positive that was Tex driving the roadie bus for ZZ Top.
Back in the day, before cell phones, truckers had to rely on land lines and CB radio within their range. We were at coffee in the stagehands’ room at the Orpheum when a trucker came in and asked to use the phone. ‘Long distance to my office. I’ll reverse the charges,’ he explained.
‘Got the call to go to Milwaukee and get this truck to Minneapolis Orpheum. The regular driver took sick and by the time I got there, the other trucks were loaded and long gone. Headed out on my own. Now I’m told by crew upstairs, this truck doesn’t belong here. Probably some other theater in town.’
I told him that I was the union BA and I knew this was the only show in town that day…but maybe in St. Paul.
We got his side of the conversation as he explained to the office…and then he shouted, ‘Indianapolis!!! I thought they said, Minneapolis!!!’
He slammed the phone down, drank the coffee we offered him, and stomped off to his truck.
Overheard two truckers talking while we were loading their trucks.
‘How long is it going to take to get to Winnipeg?’
“Well the book says 474 miles. Good highways… so depending on how long we get held up in customs, should be there in 7 or 8 hours. We’ll make the call on time and won’t even have to cheat with the second log book.”
‘There you go now; but you forget once you hit Canada, they don’t have miles anymore. They got kilometers. And kilometers are bigger than miles. So it’s going to take us longer.’ He gave the other driver a smug smile.
The second driver just shook his head….
Skippy was innocent in creating this fiasco but Skippy was the one who got the brunt of the hurt.
Skippy was Head Carpenter of one of three Sesame Street Live companies touring .He also drove one of the trucks. Earlier he had wrapped up the tour and had put the set to sleep in the warehouse. After several months without a day off, he had ten days of doing nothing before he would have to start working the production of his next tour.
Before going home, he detoured and picked up a couple movies at Block Busters. (Two of my favorite Judy Garland and Mickey Rooneys) He had one loaded to go and the popcorn was just starting to pop, when the phone rang. Rather than burn the popcorn, he gave a middle finger salute to the annoyance and let the message go to Voice Mail.
‘Skippy! Skippy!’ It was Vince Egan, the owner of Sesame Street Live shows. ‘
When Vince speaks, people listen. (I grabbed the phone and listened to Vince’s orders. Oh, I could smell the popcorn burning.)
‘The actor that plays Oscar the Grouch on the #3 show tour dislocated his shoulder. He also drives the second truck. It’s his left should so he could still sit in the trash can and work Oscar, (Darn! I always wanted to play Oscar. I know I would be a good one.); but you have to fly out and get the truck to the next stop, Atlanta. The office has your plane ticket waiting for you. Get to the airport fast .Hey keep a record of what you spend and remember, it’s my dime you’re riding. ’
Skippy called for a cab, threw the burnt popcorn out the windows for the birds, grabbed his to-go bag, and went outside to wait for the cab.
(I had no idea where I was flying to. I hoped it wasn’t too far from Atlanta. And when I looked at the ticket and saw I was on my way to Charleston, West Virginia, I hoped the town was still open when I got there.)
When the red eye landed at 2 A.M., there was one cab at the airport. Skippy woke up the cabbie and told him to go to the arena or theater where Sesame Street Live was playing.
(He argued, said there was no TV show in town. I tried to explain to him it was a live show and he said he knew all about it. His kids watched it when they were little; but there still ain’t no TV show in town.)
Skippy had the cabbie drive all around to where a show like Sesame Street could have played…if it had been in town.
(Nothing. I hated to admit it to cabbie, but he was right. I asked if there was a McDonalds open but he said they closed hours ago. I asked about a motel, but he said the only ones he knew would be open this time of night, rented by the hour. We settled on going back to the airport and hoped there was some vending machines still open. I gave the driver a big tip…after all it was Vince’s dime.)
Vince did not like to be woken that time of night. When he finished his tirade and calmed down enough to listen, he hit the roof again when Skippy told him he could not find the truck anyplace in Charleston, West Virginia.
‘West Virginia! West Virginia! What the hell are you doing there? You should be in Charleston, South Carolina.! And he continued to rant.
(Oh, I hated that. Like it was my fault. I finallty got a word in edgewise and reminded him I only flew to the wrong Charleston because that’s where the ticket was for. And he lowered his voice when I explained that I was watching the expenses on his dime by not going to a motel but sleeping at the airport instead. Didn’t bother to mention, I heard the motel didn’t change sheets very often.)
The cabbie in the next Charleston knew exactly where the truck would be. The head carpenter had made the merchandise peddler drive the second set truck to make sure the show got up in time, and the truck Skippy picked up was the merch truck which didn’t have to be in Atlanta until the next day.
(First thing before I got in the truck, I got the cabbie to take me to the best steakhouse in the city. After all I wqs riding on Vince’s dime.),