Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The U2 hot cocoa story

I worked the ticket on sale yesterday morning for the U2 concert that will be taking place at Raymond James Stadium in October. The ground that place stands on is home to a lot of emotional ghosts for me that get stirred up every time I walk on it, but the sense of nostalgia was heightened because I was there the last time U2 played a concert in Tampa's football stadium. Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear for this 100% true story...

It was 1987 and the world was a very different place, just like it is now. Eddie Murphy was the king of Hollywood and Micheal Jackson was already a punchline, just not an R or X rated one yet. I myself was a mere boy at the time, obsessed with baseball, the music of Prince and his erstwhile associates and completely infatuated with pretty (and by "pretty", I mean "all") girls, I was a completely different individual than the man you know now (shaddup).

I was working in concessions at the old Tampa Stadium (since demolished), the stadium that ESPN's Chris Berman refers to as "The Big Sombrero". We didn't host that many concerts, but when we did, they were really big deals. At the time, U2 was touring in support of their album "The Joshua Tree" and there wasn't a bigger act in the world. The stadium held about 65,000 for a concert (74,000 for football) so it was a logical fit. The date was December 5th and the forecast called for chilly weather. Our manager had the idea to sell hot cocoa, an item we normally didn't serve, since it was usually very warm at Buccaneers games and other events. We had ordered several cases of powdered mix, added hot water and poured it into giant insulated servers in the stadium warehouse. As the servers were being loaded on to trucks for distribution into the concession stands shortly before the gates opened, one of the women who worked in the office came out and said she wanted some. She poured herself a cup, took one sip and immediately spit it out. That's when we realized we had been sent baking chocolate, extremely bitter, nasty stuff when not used correctly (such as adding hot water and drinking it), by mistake. The manager was not the kind of guy who was easily deterred by setbacks like that, so he stuffed a wad of cash in my hand, told me to take one of the trucks and go to the nearby Pace (a warehouse club, that has since merged with Sam's) to buy all the hot cocoa mix I could get my hands on...just make sure it's the right stuff.
I was tearing through that place like a madman, grabbing every canister they had. The gates were going to be opening within minutes and I had to hurry back. My purchase filled the entire bed of that truck.
Tampa Stadium only had four access gates for patrons and by the time I got back, they were all jam-packed with people waiting to get in. Solid walls of people between me and where I needed to be. Here's a picture that kind of illustrates the situation:


Remember, we were expecting over 60,000 fans. That's an average of 15,000 at each gate, most of whom were there, ready to go in as soon as the gates opened. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to drive through that by myself. I saw two guys wandering around with two fingers in the air, the universal concert symbol for "we need two tickets". I called them over and said, "I can't get you tickets for seats, but I can definitely get you inside the stadium...if you can just help me navigate through this crowd. Deal?" They agreed and jumped in the back of the truck, waving their arms and yelling as we inched (and I mean inched) our way through a crowd of cold, and now angry (because some asshole was actually trying to drive a friggin' truck through them), U2 fans. The truck was kicked and hit and jostled but we eventually got through. And then went through the exact same routine at the next gate we had to get past.

We finally pulled into the service entry and I got out and saw that at least a quarter of what I had bought was missing. Before I could say, "What the...", one of the guys who had helped me said, "Dude, we had to buy some people off or they would have flipped you over." All things considered, I appreciated their judgment and bartering ability. My manager wasn't mad either, fully comprehending the situation and pleased that I'd gotten back in time to salvage the great hot cocoa project. But for the rest of the night, we were all treated to the sight of fans walking around the concourse carrying their own free canisters of hot cocoa mix.

Here's a clip from that very show...

4 comments:

Ruprecht said...

All kinds of awesome, this .....

Lynda said...

OMG, my boyfriend (at the time, no longer, thank god) went to this concert and came home with a big can of hot cocoa mix!! He said he got it at the concert and I didn't believe him. We got in a huge fight over it, one of many we had. This was one of the few times he told me the truth about something and I'm just now finding out!!! I should probably call him and apologize. Naahhh!!

JPFDeuce said...

Clark, it's stories like this where I wish you were syndicated more broadly. One of a kind tales of Tampa.

Why, it's Clark! said...

I think wheels are starting to turn in that direction, Johnny Fonts.