I have decided with my all-knowing and wonderful editors (Janet Green) gentil prodding to post a few short stories from my days as a stage technician.
For over 20 years I did things like stage management, audio engineering, lighting design and programming and more.
This is the first story I wrote in that series, keep in mind, everything you read here is 100% true!
Several years ago I found myself working a sound gig in a small town in eastern Mississippi. Like many rural towns in America, the city came into existence mainly to support a large factory. Started I’m guessing maybe in the late fifties or early sixties, the company was built to produce a fairly new technology and product. In the more rural areas of the country, especially in the years following World War II good jobs where few and far between so I’m sure the building of the plant was a pretty big deal when it happened.
Jobs at the plant are some of the best paying in the whole area so I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was not unusual to find two and sometimes three generations of a family working here. Maybe mom is in payroll, dad in one of the work shops, grandpa is a mechanic and dad Jr. just got hired!
The gig me and my fellow AV commandos were hired to do was a yearly company meeting for management and all employees.
Once a year, the owners and management throw out all the stops and bring in entertainment, give out rewards for things like “employee of the year” and put on a huge picnic dinner for the employees and their families.
Of course there’s always lots of backslapping, handshaking and general “wow we’re great” kinda speeches interlaced with the requisite “we couldn’t have done it without you guys” comments for the employees benefit. All in all, its a good time.
The company makes something called pressed-wood products.
So whats a pressed-wood product?
Think ikea or less expensive Walmart furniture that have labels like ”some assembly required”.
My crew and I were there to set up and operate the big sound system, stage lighting, video and other technical requirements for both the entertainment and all the fore-mentioned ata-boy speeches to keep the troops happy and in to work on time.
Now, I’ll admit I have done sound and other production work in some very unique places over my career. For instance the top of Stone Mountain in Ga. for the release of a Peregrine falcon. A gig inside an Amtrak rail car and during an election year I even did a political gig in a candy cane factory in south Georgia! Walking into the place was like walking into a giant Vicks inhaler! Someone new to the place actually had to let themselves acclimate to the smell for a minute or two the first few times you were in the building!
So setting up a sound system in a big factory wasn’t all that new except for one little detail… having to wear a hardhat, safety glasses and ear protection at all times while in the building!
Imagine trying to equalize a sound system while wearing ear plugs… When you see that stage tech standing at a stage microphone saying “check, check, one two”, that’s what they’re doing.
Our employer for this job generously supplied the crew with a liaison person who more or less kept us out of trouble and injuries while working around equipment and machines that were often the size of a house or small building!
Perky… very perky, thats our liaison. For her, this was I guess a time to shine and show the bosses what she could do and she WAS really great, just perky… VERY perky.
One afternoon after most of our work was done, this nice young lady took me and a couple of the other guys on a guided tour of the factory areas we hadn’t seen as yet. It was fun walking down the huge rows of massive equipment, with her yelling, but still managing to stay perky, over the roar of all these machines explaining what each one did. It was obvious she was proud of her job and the company she worked for.
As we got to the end of one of the machine lines, we were confronted with a huge open top tank. It looked a lot like one of those above-ground swimming pools you see in peoples backyards. Only this was 4 or 5 times bigger and filled nearly to the top with a thick, slimy, grayish-brown liquid, with chunks… So of course I ask what the heck is THAT !?
Oh! We call it “Wood-chip Slurry”.
By the sound of her answer enhanced by even MORE perky-ness I guessed I had unknowingly stumbled upon another subject of company pride. She went on to explain that the “Wood-chip Slurry” was a by-product of the plants process to make wood-chip products and that until just a few years ago they were required to dispose of it at a cost to the company.
With a huge beaming smile she said all that changed and now they had found a way to not only dispose of the slurry but to actually make a profit from it! They pumped it into railroad tank cars and sold it to companies all across the country.
I bet you’re thinking what I was, “Who would buy that and WHY”?
So of course I asked. I almost wish I hadn’t…
I was told that their largest buyers were food companies who bought it to use as a ”filler” for things like weight loss product “milkshakes”.
I read a lot more food labels these days.