WELCOME TO THE TOUR KID
|Part of my job is to check in with Lawrence and Jack at intermission, to see if any adjustments are necessary for the second half of the program. I'm standing at the lip of the stage, amid the crush of autograph-seekers, attempting to get Jack's attention, when I feel a sharp stabbing pain in my kidneys. I turn around to find a very small, very frail blue-haired woman in a wheelchair holding her program and pointing a wicked-looking cane in my direction. I now know the cause of the stabbing pains to my kidneys.
"Sonny, I've been waiting years to get Lawrence Welk's autograph, and you are in my way!"
"Sorry ma'am," I reply, gesturing toward her program. "I'm with the show. Would you like me to get that to Lawrence for him to sign?"
"No I would not!" she snaps back. "What I would like is for you to get out of my way!" And with that I smile and step aside, making a mental note to always go around backstage to approach Jack and Lawrence from now on. During intermission Barney Liddell tells me that the bags have arrived, and will be in the rooms when we get back to the hotel.
Tuesday, 8:30am, - Vancouver, British Columbia
I'm sitting in my hotel room, completely dressed, waiting for the coffee shop to open downstairs. Because the chase plane is slower than the Viscount, it is decided that we should give the Beechcraft a head start. Jack and Barney's mantra for the trip is "Bags at 5:30, bodies at 7:00," meaning that we will put our bags outside our doors for Barney to collect at 5:30am., and we will catch the bus for the airport an hour and a half later. So here I sit. I click on the TV. It's the farm report. I make a note to buy some paperback books in the next city.
Wednesday, 6:00 pm, - Toronto, Ontario
Back from the arena to my room to get ready for the next show. Still no bags. By now I'm also packing a change of underwear in my camera bag as well. This turns out to be a good thing, as my shampoo bottle has leaked. There is no damage to my camera, but my underwear is full of shampoo and so is my brand-new paperback copy of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. Both now smell like strawberries. I rinse out my underwear and try to wipe down my book.
Wednesday, 8:30pm, - Toronto, Ontario
We're a half-hour into the show in front of 25,000 at the Canadian National Exposition and something is terribly wrong. For some reason, Lawrence has changed the show order. I don't know who is on next until I hear him announce their name from the stage, so I have no idea where to cue the spotlights or what color gel the lights should use. I tell the operators just to "go white," and cluster part of them stage right, and part of them stage left, hoping to catch someone as they enter.
Apparently Jack Imel is having the same problem backstage, because performers are coming onto the stage dressed for different numbers. Singer Tom Netherton has on his black tux jacket with tails and the yellow slacks he wears in the chorus number, and I can see the cast onstage, with women dressed as flappers singing and dancing with men dressed as cowboys. It's all so surreal, and I'm relieved when intermission arrives. Oddly enough, no one in the audience seems to have noticed.
I find Jack onstage going through a set of 3 X 5 cards. "These are Lawrence's cue cards," he tells me. "He dropped them backstage a few minutes after the show started, and when he picked them up, whatever card was on top was the act he announced next."
He crosses over to Lawrence, who signing autographs, and slips the cards back into his vest pocket. Lawrence acknowledges, smiling to Jack, who crosses back to me.
"But aren't the cards numbered in show order?" I ask.
"Of course they are," Jack replies, and breaks into a big grin. "Welcome to the tour, kid!"
Thursday, 9:00am, - Somewhere in the air above the Midwest US
I'm hungry, I want breakfast, and I'm staring at a shrimp cocktail. At least I think it's a shrimp cocktail. There's a plastic glass in front of me with a couple of naked shrimp hanging off the side, and something resembling a mix of guacamole and cocktail sauce in the bottom. I've been up since 5:30, when the bags went out the door. The hotel coffee shop didn't open until 7:00, when we had to be on the bus. So I was hoping to eat on the plane, but if what's sitting on my tray table is any indication, my hopes are fading fast.
The flight attendant who came with the crew of our chartered Viscount has been shopping for us nightly, in order to provide us with fresh food en route each day. The only trouble is, she's serving stuff like shrimp cocktail for breakfast. Right now, I'd kill for some coffee and a Danish, or a bagel, doughnuts, or even a bowl of cold cereal.
I hear similar rumblings from the musicians behind me. Discontent and unrest are growing. We're almost a week into the tour, and our bags have yet to arrive when we do.
And now they expect us to eat shrimp for breakfast! I'm pretty sure there is some mention of this in the Geneva Convention. I pull out my book, but the pages are still stuck together and it smells like strawberries, which makes me even hungrier. I put it back in my camera bag and try to sleep, perchance to dream of Krispy Kreme...
Thursday, 10;00pm, - Madison, Wisconsin
The show is going smoothly, and we reach the part of the program when Lawrence invites people up on stage to attempt the polka with dancers Bobby Burgess and Cissy King. It's a very popular part of the show, and completely unscripted.
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