Finlandia is a city of 12,000 or so residents situated halfway between Charlevoix and Traverse City on the shores of Lake Michigan in the northern part of the state. We’re not Yoopers, as residents of the Upper Peninsula are often called, but we share a similar dialect and sensibility. Visitors sometimes make fun of our town because they think we’re named after an amusement park, but the name was ours first.
I’ve lived here my whole life, which is why I don’t pay much attention to my surroundings as I travel from point A to point B. (In a town this size, that’s about all the points we have.) This proved especially true tonight as I steered my Ford Focus toward the Royal Theater on Main Street and my first plum reporting assignment.
I squeezed into a really tight spot that may or may not have been a parking space just around the block from the theater and headed toward the Royal, camera bag slung low over my shoulder (I was doing double-duty as the photographer). The Royal is an historic white brick three-story structure patterned after a Renaissance Danish castle, replete with domes and turrets and a little Dutch-style windmill in front that looks completely out of place. It was built in 1927 when Finlandia’s fishing industry was booming, survived the Depression, made a comeback after the war, enjoyed its heyday in the 50s and 60s, closed for repairs in 1974 and never reopened until three years ago. That’s when a smattering of Federal stimulus money trickled our way and put our dormant construction industry back to work, at least temporarily.
Since then, the Royal has been home to performers as diverse as Garrison Keillor, the Fab Faux, the Missoula Children’s Theater (an itinerant troupe that sets up shop once a year, holds auditions for the school kids and puts on a full-fledged musical production in five days), local old-time favorite Mitch Ryder, the Fly Fishing Film Tour, and a host of political types running for office. And, of course, tonight’s headliners, the Dickweeds. We don’t normally attract up-and-coming bands like this, and I was determined to find out why they chose to grace our stage at all.
Assuming I could get in. To my dismay, the line stretched all the way to the end of the block. Because Mr. Knudsen said my ticket would be waiting at Will Call, and because the Royal didn’t technically have a separate Will Call window, I had to wait with the rest of the patrons. I looked around for a familiar face but didn’t see one, an oddity in a town our size. What I did notice was I seemed to be the oldest person present. Apparently I was pushing the upper limit of the Dickweed demographic.
After a half hour, I finally found myself at the box office window, where a moon-faced girl with a bored expression took way too long inspecting my ID before saying, “You’re not on the list.”
I felt my stomach lurch. “Th-th-that’s impossible,” I said. “Please check again. It’s important.” She gave the paper a quick once-over. “Sorry, no Anna Christansen. Next!”
The kid behind me began to nudge me out of the way. “Wait! I’ll pay. How much?”
“$22.50. Will that be cash or debit?”
Hands shaking, I fumbled through my purse, extracting a ten, a five, three ones and some assorted change that just didn’t add up. And my debit card was nowhere to be seen.
“Next!” the girl said again. I wanted to reach through the window and punch her in her chipmunk cheeks.
“Come on lady, move,” said the kid behind me who was now slouching next to me. I wanted to give him a punch, too. “Okay, okay, do you have SRO tickets?” Desperate now, picturing my whole journalistic career going down in flames.
“Standing room only.” I crossed my fingers and prayed.
“Well, we do, way in the back. On the balcony. But you won’t be able to see anything.” “I don’t care. How much?”
I pushed the change her way. A nickel fell on the sidewalk and the kid stooped to pick it up and hand it to me. Maybe he wasn’t getting a punch after all.
The girl continued, “But you have to sign this waiver. No refunds under any circumstances.”
She thrust the form in my direction and I dashed off a hasty scrawl that might have said “Screw you” if anyone could read it. Clutching my ticket like a precious stone, I entered the ornate lobby and headed toward the stairway leading to the balcony. Already I
could hear the sounds of the opening number, a mid-tempo tune called “Who Gives a Bleep?” Which turned out to be a very good question indeed.