Chapter 3

The view from SRO was worse than advertised. I’m barely five-four sopping wet (I know, Mr. Knudsen, I’m mixing my metaphors) and not only is the entire world taller than I am (including my family), they were all standing in front of me (some wearing hats), blocking my line of sight. Elbowing my way through the throng was out of the question; I simply didn’t have enough elbows. But if I bobbed and weaved just so, I could sort of make out some of the band members in between the forest of bodies, looking all shadowy and mysterious. The lanky lead guitar player, I knew, could only be front man and lead singer Rob Lazarus. The rest of the band could have been extras from central casting for all I could tell.

I fished out my reporter’s spiral notebook and jotted down two words for future reference: “This blows.” At least the sound system worked flawlessly. I could distinguish every note and nuance, definitely helpful for knitting my review into the feature story. These guys were accomplished musicians, better live than on their recordings, with a loose precision that comes from thousands of practice hours and hundreds of gigs in venues that make the Royal look like the Hollywood Bowl. In a word (or five), they made it look easy.

After their set, but before the first encore, I fought through the horde in an effort to make my way backstage. Feeling like a salmon swimming upstream, I eventually managed to arrive at the front of the theater, only to be stopped by a security guard the approximate size of a brick wall.

“Sorry,” he said in a monotone voice. “No visitors.”

Not to be deterred, I said in my most officious tone, “I’m Anna Christiansen, reporter from the Gazette, here to interview Rob Lazarus. He’s expecting me.”

“Sorry,” he repeated. “No visitors.” What was this guy, a robot? I felt little beads of sweat pop out on my forehead.

Up until now, I’ve found that a camera and clipboard will gain you access almost anywhere. On the other hand, “anywhere” in my experience meant city council meetings and store ribbon cuttings.

I tried a half-hearted “let me talk to your supervisor,” but knew the answer before the words left my mouth.

It’s hard to think clearly when panic starts bubbling up like boiling water. I gulped three deep breaths to tamp it down, forcing myself to focus. Options. What were my options? I could slink into work first thing in the morning and explain to Mr. K that a big bully with a three word vocabulary had blocked my (career) path. That would be tantamount to kissing my job and my future goodbye. The thought made me want to throw up.

Or I could stand right here and wait for the band to leave or until they closed down the theater, whichever came first. That’s assuming they didn’t slip out the back.

Or . . . the back! Of course. They’d have a limo or something waiting to whisk them away to their hotel or the bus station (Finlandia was too small for an airport). Eyeing the emergency exit sign, the illumination fighting valiantly to break through a haze of smoke, I decided to make my play. I’d wait them out in the alley behind the building. That wasn’t as gutsy a move as you might think. With our almost non-existent crime rate, my only risk was getting hit up for spare change by Mrs. Potter, Scandia’s lone homeless person. If the band didn’t leave via the rear exit I’d be screwed, especially because the door would lock behind me. But at least I had a plan. Better to go down swinging.

The night air was chillier than I had anticipated; a fine mist clung close to the ground and I cursed myself for forgetting my sweater. Folding my arms around my body, I leaned against a surprisingly clean dumpster, keeping my eyes on the scarred metal door. So this was what real reporting was all about; hanging out in a back alley waiting to conduct an interview with a band that might already be long gone (something my journalism professor failed to mention).

The seconds dripped by in slow motion. I glanced at my watch, shivered and settled in for what could be a long, fruitless night. At what point would I give up and crawl home, defeated? That sounded like a decision best made through the filter of judgment and experience. Unfortunately, I possessed neither.

I’m sure I drifted in and out of an uneasy sleep, because the sound of far-away laughter startled me into semi-awareness. Briefly disoriented to find I had slumped into a sitting position, I struggled to my feet just as the door creaked open to reveal the Dickweeds in all their glory, lugging instrument cases and chattering away. I had guessed right! Maybe I had the instincts of a reporter after all.

“Where the hell is the bus?” one of them asked. “I’m gonna kill Felix.” “Hope he remembered to make the motel reservations,” said another.

“I’m so damned beat I could sleep right here,” a third chimed in. “Wouldn’t be the first time, that’s for sure.” With that, he looked right at me and said, “For you either, huh miss?” He reached in his pocket and extracted a single dollar bill.

Ignoring the flush of embarrassment already sweeping across my face, I stammered, “Yes . . . I mean no . . . I mean, I wasn’t sleeping, not exactly . . . more like dozing. Uh . . .” I stopped to see all five band members staring at me like I was some exotic monkey at the zoo. Too late to do anything now but solider on with my well-rehearsed elevator speech. “I’m Anna Christiansen, reporter from the Gazette, here to interview Rob Lazarus.”

The one I took for Lazarus said “Looks like they don’t pay reporters much around here, living in the alley and all.”

The flush deepened. “I don’t live here. In the alley, I mean. I have a proper apartment, thank you very much. And my salary is none of your . . .”

The sound of an ancient school bus squeezing into view, its yellow paint oxidized to a sick reddish brown by years of neglect, stopped me in mid-sentE