Chalk It Up To The Ghosts: finding my way back to the big gig

I’ve discovered throughout a forty-year career that sometimes the best path is to take on the big stuff and postpone thoughts of a so-called simpler time. This lesson did not come easy to me – I have experienced both sides and am naturally drawn to the simple.

Such was the case when I worked for a northern California-based loudspeaker manufacturer and got it in my head to visit the island of Bimini. I was traveling throughout Florida with my friend and co-worker who we will call “Rick.” I prefer to leave his real name out as he still works for this company and I’m sure remains a person of interest with regard to my old expense reports.

We were making the rounds in the Miami area with dealer and contractor visits. A series of meetings, lunches and dinners discussing some fairly heavy projects. I can always tell a heavy project when I’m handed a hard hat on a site visit.

It’s at this point in the story that I should mention my growing dissatisfaction with the job and line of work. I felt I was losing the music and at the time had no solution. I had a taste for something different and no idea where to go to satisfy it. And that’s when I spied the Chalk’s Airline billboard. “Daily Flights to Bimini.” It wasn’t too hard to pull rank and tell Rick that we were going to a tropical island for the next couple of days. He was up to the task and used to my shenanigans. The next thing we knew we were on a commercial seaplane taxiing out of Miami harbor.

If you ever get the chance to fly on a seaplane, do it. With Chalks, given their long history, the experience is amped up. Just prior to takeoff headphones drop from the ceiling. Actually they sort of crash down – these were old heavy headphones. Expecting the usual flight safety recording, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in The Head” playing rather loudly.

After the short flight we cleared customs and checked into the historic Compleat Angler Hotel. This tiny hotel burned down in 2006 but in its day had played host to many interesting characters. Ernest Hemingway was a frequent guest and, according to lore, wrote much of To Have And Have Not there. Jimmy Buffett also hung out there and found inspiration. Old photos lined the walls of the bar with images of spirits and days gone by. I loved it.

A couple rum drinks later Rick either chickened out or wizened up and decided to catch a flight back to the mainland. So I was left alone with the ghosts and a very empty bar. It was raining hard outside and with no town nearby to walk around, I sat in the hotel’s reading room and took it all in.

It took all of twelve hours before I got thinking big again. This nagging voice in my head was telling me to set up a meeting with an organization, in this case the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), who we had been courting for a large sale. I’m sitting in a room where Hemingway wrote greatness thinking, “The wrestling event is essentially in the round. How will we place the subs? The broadcast portion is huge – how does that fit in? Where is the next show?”

The next morning, I flew back to Miami, regrouped, and within ten days or so found myself at the Spectrum arena in Philadelphia witnessing the spectacle that is professional wrestling. Earlier in the day I watched as the sound crew placed microphones under the wrestling “ring” and tested them. Want to know how they test mic placement at a wrestling event? They get a guy and literally throw him down on the mat and listen to the “thump” over the PA. They are able to get three or four shots at this until the “thrower” is too tired to toss. I loved it.

My take away from this experience is that, for me, all in all bigger is better. The large gigs can seem dull, at least in initial stages. Countless planning meetings, specifications, drawings, bids, etc. But there is a lot at stake – the excitement does build – and I want to be part of that. And at the end of the day, when it comes to live sound, fifteen thousand screaming wrestling fans in Philadelphia trumps an empty bar in Bimini.