One of the reasons I stopped working concerts was because I couldn’t stand dealing with the increasingly rude and disrespectful public. With fifteen years of experience with people, I could truly compare the behavior of people when I began in the 80s to that in the 90s, and it was not a pretty picture. I’m not exaggerating or stereotyping — people’s behavior became increasingly confrontational and rude.
I noticed it first as an usher when I would ask to see someone’s ticket and they would either push past me, as if I wasn’t there, or say, “No.” What? I’m doing my job…keeping order and keeping people from going where they don’t belong. I would try to tell people they could dance at their seats, but not in the aisles because it was against fire laws, and they just did what they wanted.
It got progressively worse as we were often instructed due to a particular performer’s quirks to hold people at the top of the aisle while a song was going on. (We even had one performer who would not let people eat at their seats because she couldn’t stand to watch people eat while she was singing.) Some singers found it distracting to have people moving around when they were performing. People could be seated between songs. This was particularly true doing symphony performances. (Heck, I even had to hold up the governor of Massachusetts one time because he was late and showed up during the first song.) But, again they started to push past me. I was not allowed to touch the patrons, so I was taught to keep getting in front of them in order to stop them without laying my hands on them. I remember one WOMAN in particular who said to me, “No, I’m going.” I stepped in front of her and said, “No, you’re not.” She literally pushed me backwards down the aisle and I almost fell. It ended with my having to motion for security to come over. Absolutely ridiculous and unnecessary. After a while, seeing the shows was not worth the abuse and neither was the extra money I was paid. I found myself becoming angry and rude — like them.
Last week I had another encounter with public rudeness. My husband came home from early shopping at BJ’s Wholesale Club and told me Terry Francona (the Red Sox ex-manager) was going to be signing copies of his book in a couple of hours. He said there were some people in line already, but not that many. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, grateful to the man who broke the “curse of the Bambino,” this was an irresistible opportunity! I threw on my clothes and jumped in the car for the ½ hour drive, aware that by the time I got there it would be 1 ½ hours after my husband had been there, and nervous about what the line might be like by the time I arrived.
I walked in, and there was a table at the front of the store with stacks of his book and a sign explaining the “rules”: you had to be a member of the wholesale club (ok); no personal autographs (bummer); no posed pictures (second bummer); the book must be, or have been purchased at the wholesale club – a book could not be brought in that was purchased elsewhere (ok…I will buy the book after the signing). I picked up a book and was instructed by many people along the way to head to aisle 9.
When I got there, I was the first person in line in that aisle. I began to ask questions of the BJs employee standing there: How many people are guaranteed to get a signature? How far back am I really? She said, “Everyone with a wrist band is guaranteed to get a signature…do you have a wrist band?”
I got concerned, “No…how or where do I get one?” She turned to another BJs employee, “Do you think they are out of wristbands?”
“No,” he said, “I think they’re still giving them out.”
She turned back to me. “Didn’t anyone say anything to you when you came in or when you bought the book?”
I started to feel panicky, “I didn’t buy the book yet…I was going to buy it afterward.” (My commentary here is that as an editor, I would have understood this if they had simply inserted the word “prior to” in their rules…as in, “the book must be purchased at BJs, prior to getting in line for the autograph”)
“No, you have to buy it before you get in line,” she explained kindly. “I’ll hold your place in line.”
During our conversation a middle-aged woman with teenagers had got in line behind me. At this point in the conversation she butt in rudely, “Oh no, you won’t! That’s not fair!!”
I turned to her and said, “But nobody told me, and I’m alone…”
“Too bad!” she said. “My son…”
I didn’t want to hear what she was going to say next because I could feel the concert malaise kicking in. I wanted to slug her. I looked into the eyes of the sympathetic BJs employee, and saw who I used to be when I started working concerts, poor woman. She began addressing the Rude Lady, “Well then, can I save a place behind you?” and I ran off to buy the book. I was shaking and swearing under my breath.
After going through the self-service line, I asked someone where to get the wrist band. I told the women there what had just transpired with the Rude Woman. I made sure to praise the compassionate BJs employee in my story. On my way back I saw some other people at the table with the books trying to decide whether they wanted to do it. I yelled, “Let me advise you…buy the book first!” and hurried off.
When I got back to the aisle 9, I stepped into line where the BJs employee was holding my place. There were about 8 people in line after that point. I thanked her profusely, and very loudly said to the rude woman, “You should be ashamed of yourself for how rude you were!” She, of course, ignored me. The woman behind me looked uncomfortable; I of course, appeared to be the crazy one.
I made a suggestion to the BJs employee that there should be someone standing at the table letting people know what to do. The rude woman piped up, “There IS someone there.” I didn’t turn around, just said, “There wasn’t when I was there, or when I just passed by there and told other people what to do.”
I explained what happened earlier to the woman behind me (although I could tell she really wanted no part of it), and then tried to strike up a pleasant conversation with her and the next woman in line about Francona and the Red Sox. Soon I calmed down and we began to laugh and the time until Francona arrived flew by. This is something I have to make up my mind to do after I have an encounter with a difficult person: try to be extra nice to the next people I meet so I’m not passing along the agitation and rudeness. It’s a battle not to become just like them; they are like the Borg in Star Trek.
The rest of the process was fairly uneventful; BJs handled it well. The autographing started early and the line moved quickly. There was a BJs employee standing by the table taking pictures for people; I handed her my camera and moved along. The interaction with Tito lasted only seconds. I asked if I could shake his hand, he said, “sure” and complied. To my disappointment, I checked the picture taken by the BJs employee after I was through the line, and I was not in the picture! Oh well…