Through sheer will, I survived the Science Festival.
It was an overly long week and everything that went wrong (or could have possibly gone wrong – even imaginary things) was placed upon me for blame whether I had anything to do with it or not, but the event itself, from a public perspective, seemed to go over well. And by God, I made it through, and got everything needed done. I even met Carrot Top along the way:
Actually, let me rephrase that: It was the third time I’ve “met” Carrot Top. Once at a grocery store, a handful of times on CSI Las Vegas, and now at the Science Festival. Everyone has that one celebrity they run into all the time. Carrot Top, it seems, is mine.
But with the Festival over, HR realized that I had worked an obscene amount of hours over the last three weeks, and forced me to take time off. There was even a celebratory dinner at the end for the “Founding Core Team” involved with the process. Being one of them, I was invited to the event where congratulatory plaques were handed out to everyone… but me. They forgot about me, which was pretty evident by the “Oh shit” look on their faces as they got to my end of the table. I did end up getting one… months later.
But I made good use of my time off. The Sahara was shutting down, so I wanted to see the old girl off as it closed its doors.
I had already planned to see the Sahara off when it closed. With it being the last of my “original trip” memories, the ones that made the most impact from that first time I visited Vegas in 2002, I wanted… I had to see it off, despite the fact that I’ve never been good at good-byes.
So I went, and walked those halls one last time. As that last hour and a half passed, slot machines began to go dim, lights began to turn off, and chains began to appear on the various doors. I wanted to see the room where the Beatles stayed one last time, but the power to the elevators were gone. I watched employees say their good-byes, and I watched the place began to close one piece at a time.
In the last 30 minutes of the place being open, I stepped up to the bar to have one last drink with the place. The line was long as people commiserated around the bar. By the time I got to the bar, they were no longer able to sell alcohol, so they gave me a beer for free. As I drank, one of the employees stopped me. “I’ve seen you walking around and and taking pictures. I want you to have these, but don’t tell anyone that you have them.” He slipped something into my hand. I stepped aside for a moment and looked at what he gave me. They were casino roulette chips that the dealers used, and they looked a little older than the current chips. I smiled to myself, and put the chips back in my pocket.
The minutes ticked down, I toasted the old place, and then it was time to go. As I began to leave, the same employee stopped me. “Here’s an extra cold one for the road”, he grinned, handing me another beer, unopened for later.
Shortly after, I was booked for the first time on the Billboard Music Awards. “Award Show Season” kicks off in Vegas during the summertime, and this was my first round of shows.
The show was a little different for me, as despite doing this line of work for a few years, the atmosphere seemed really tense and people seemed unfamiliar with my skills. It made some moments a little awkward, but I still had fun.
I was standing in for Ken Jeong, who was later having to do a Flavor Flav impression, which, when I walked on stage, I think I shocked more than a few people as a crazy, skinny white guy doing his best crazy, skinny black guy. Despite being Ken’s stand-in, they called me up to co-host with him during rehearsals. He was probably one of the easiest people I’ve ever had to work with. It was like we were “Soulmates of Crazy”.
We clicked instantly, and played effortlessly off of each other. We ad-libbed and one upped, made crazier faces and goofier gestures, did Elvis pose-offs, and a dueling banjo combo. And I realized in just letting go, that the laughter wasn’t just directed at him, it was at me too. “Hey Ken”, one of the producers called out to him. “You’ve going to have to go a really good Flavor Flav to beat this guy”, so I ended up telling him what I had done so he could work with it, and we riffed off of each other non-stop. During the dueling banjos, I was supposed to compete against him, and while I couldn’t play a banjo to save my life, I dropped to the floor and shredded on the banjo like a 1980′s Van Halen. Even Ken looked at me in shock and laughed with the rest of the crowd. And our audience loved it.
At the end of the stint, when I stepped off of the stage, Ken called out: “Let’s give it up for Guy! Or a Guy. Whatever you want to call him.” And the crowd applauded me and told me that Ken and I should form an act together, and I was chosen for this bit because after the Flav thing, they had a feeling that I should be able to keep up with him.
Production ended up calling me “Flav” for the rest of the run-through. I even got to meet Cee-Lo Green during one bit as he introduced himself to me.
One of the last days, I largely had to stand in for… Justin Bieber. They let in some public (probably contest winners of some sort) into the arena as we did the final run through, which is basically running the show as normal to as what will be televised tonight. But let me tell you the pure comedy value I enjoyed when Justin Bieber’s name was announced, the chorus of screaming girls, and the awkward confused/disappointed contorted face die-down when they realized that I wasn’t him. But some still lost their mind anyway that I was merely standing in for him, and lost their minds at me anyway. I was having trouble going through some monologues today as they kept calling me “Justin” no matter who I stood in for, and finally, I just played into it, which made them even crazier. It was actually pretty amusing.
But the day very nearly ended with a last second “Oh crap” moment. I had to do an announcement, then immediately go backstage to present an award as another musical group. Seeing the stage on TV, it was a huge black curtain. Backstage, it was a sea of black with no discernible openings, and no hint as to what area is what. The last time I made it through, I made it through with minor difficulty. This time, they changed it up, and made it more difficult. My odyssey went into three acts during the course of one song, set to the live performance of Pitbull/Ne-Yo’s “Give Me Everything”.
The first attempt nearly thrust me onstage right next to Ne-Yo. I managed to register this before I threw the curtain back and stepped out.
The second attempt threw me into the holding area of Ken Jeong. He seemed surprised as I did to be in his area. “What are you doing here”, snapped a production assistant. The song was halfway over, and I was starting to freak out. If I didn’t make it to my mark, it would be bad. Really, really bad. “I need to get to center stage now”, I snapped back. “I can’t find my way through this damn maze.” “Go left” he said, pointing, and I was gone.
The third attempt, I was across from where I needed to be. I started to walk across, but caught myself. The huge projection screen was to my left, and walking past it would have generated a huge silhouette of me on stage. That wouldn’t have gone well. The song was nearly over. I was out of time.
“Just… damn it”, I said, as I threw myself to the floor, and belly crawled past the screen to the other side. I stuck my head out, and surprised a group of people who probably did not expect to see a head materialize at their knees. “Excuse me, I have to get to stage”, I said, pushing past people as quickly as I could. As I was doing this, I realized I was pushing away the Far East Movement, and slowed in comprehension, only to realize I was standing face to face with Snoop Dogg.
“Oh. Hi”, I said. He nodded what’s up, and I slid past him quietly hissing for the attention of the production manager to let him know I was here just in time. As he ignored me, I looked for the rest of the group that was to join me on stage, and then at the line-up to see who I was standing in for….
Snoop Dogg and the Far East Movement.
So I stood there, in the middle of a group of Snoop and the Movement, realizing that my mad dash to get where I was was completely unnecessary, and no one told me. I slunk back into the maze, and eventually returned to my chair. After standing in for U2 (that went alright), I could sit back and watch the rest of the show.
I ended my time off watching the fourth Pirates movie. It was bittersweet, knowing that I hadn’t been cast, but it also evoked a lot of wonderful memories that came with the experience.
But it was back to the Museum, and tours. And the groups were… interesting to say the least. One group of boys I had to break up because they were fondling the taxidermed bear’s nethers. Another one got a little too smart with me and refused to listen, and I wasn’t going to have that.
“My feet are hurting”, he kept saying. “Well, give them a rest and sit down”, I said. “The talk won’t be that long, and I’ll give you plenty of time to explore.” “But I don’t want to”. he protested again.” “I’m sorry, but them’s the breaks. We can start when you sit down.” He looked at me, and promptly told me “No”.
At that point, the class got quiet, and that old phrase: “You could hear a pin drop”? That was now. And somehow from within me, I ended up channeling my Dad’s “teacher” voice.
“Sit. Down”, I told the kid in short, measured tones. His attitude stopped, and he slunk quietly to the floor. He tried testing me again later by going into a room I told him not to, challenging me with his faulty logic of him reasoning that I had said the class could “go anywhere”. “Within this room”, I cut him off before he even started with me.
One of the last tasks of the month was an extremely intense eel encounter. One of the eels in our tanks had turned on and killed another eel, and it was a combination of trying to keep it from eating its dead partner, not get bitten ourselves (they had nasty dispositions, and massively sharp and infectious teeth), and do all this before a children’s tour group came in.
I may have been done with one of the craziest events of the year, but slowing down wasn’t going to be part of my daily routine.