Saturday, June 23, 2007

The title of this post, which is too long for the Title field Blogger provides for me, is:


A guy came into the store early yesterday morning to do some work on our phone lines. He did his thing while I minded my business doing mine. Somewhere around mid-morning I found myself in the back receiving area doing some things, when he came back to tell me he was finished. As he walked out the back door he asked Luca, our receiving manager, if he was going to see REO Speegwagon. Luca chuckled and said he hadn't planned on it. I asked about the conversation, Luca told me what the guy had asked, then I walked right into a story that had to be told.

To support their 1988 Greatest Hits album, REO Speedwagon toured the country, which brought them to the heart of East Texas culture, Tyler's Oil Palace. Being pretty much the coolest 13 year old around, I went with my mom, who I forced to sit up in the bleachers while I hung down in the crowd of my thousand or so closest white-trash friends. At the end I bought my REO t-shirt, along with the Greatest Hits album (cassette tape.) My part in ensuring the Speedwagon kept pushin' for a few more years was done.

So I finished the story with my rendition of some of REO's best songs, which lingered on my tongue for the rest of the day. The thought of actually attending the concert never crossed my mind. Friday is the night I do Happy Hour with my friends, and my assumption has always been that concerts by overage rock stars are probably too expensive, with high insurance premiums due to broken hips and such.

Britt, Josh, and I met up at the Elite. After saying hello to another table of UBC'ers, we found our places at the bar and began the requisite "how was your week" talk. We're kind of like an evangelical accountability group in reverse. Extra points are given for being a badass, of which we are all aspiring to be, although we fall short on most days.

Somewhere along the way I mentioned the REO Speedwagon part of my day. A waitress immediately popped out of nowhere and asked if we were going to the concert. After hearing we weren't, she said she could get us tickets if we wanted. Her manager had two tickets but he wasn't able to go because he had to work. After a few more drinks, some price negotiation, and an on-the-spot loan from Jen A., a UBC'er and waitress at the Elite, we decided that Britt and I would take it on the run and head out to Zack and Jim's Hog Creek Ice House for a night of rock and roll.

The venue is several miles outside of town on Hwy. 6. There's a clear distinction between Waco-Urban and Central Texas-Rural as soon as you pass the lake. Once we saw it coming around the bend, Britt and I understood immediately that the night was going to be a good one.

Surrounded by a dirt parking lot, the Ice House is nothing more than a huge hollowed-out barn that opens up in the back to a pasture covered with manure smelling compost. About seventy yards from the building is the actual stage area. As we walked into the gates, we began to see that this is would be a pretension-free zone. Overwhelmingly white, yet as diverse as possible in every other way imaginable, everyone seemed to be genuinely happy, as if the entire crowd consisted of all their long lost cousins (which may not be too far from the actual truth of it all.)

After waiting in line at the bar to purchase our beer for the evening, we found our place at the place where the back of the building opens up into the back of the field. Everyone else closer to the stage, the ones who had probably been there before, had brought their lawn chairs. We stood through a couple of opening bands, trying our best to pace ourselves with the cans of Bud and Coors Lite we had just purchased.

Somewhere along the way we both got the urge for a cigarette, which was weird, since I haven't smoked anything in years. But the peer pressure was strong, so after a couple of beers I walked up to a lady who had been smoking and asked if I could purchase a couple from her for a buck. She said she was a real estate agent, gave me her card, and told me she'd give me two cigarettes if I would contact her if I ever needed to buy or sell a house. We had a short conversation about how I am actually looking to purchase a house and how I frequently visit her company's website looking for a good deal. After that was out of the way, I returned to Britt with the cancer-sticks I landed.

I can see where people get hooked on smoking. It was quite a release, and also, perhaps, a metaphor for for the evening. I take in things daily that will slowly kill me, from conflict to self absorbed sin, and, occasionally, at appropriate intervals, have the opportunity to stand back and exhale, getting rid of the toxins. What remains will eventually take me, but for now, I release what I can and enjoy the comfort of it leaving me.

Fully standing on the line between buzzed and drunk, I sung my lungs out when REO took the stage. During the in-between times I thought about how I always try to value the monotony of daily life, but sometimes it is at the expense of trusting God to do extravagant things in my life. I can never seem to find that balance. But eventually those thoughts were brought back to the sweet sounds of a blue collar army singing the songs of a washed up rock band from the midwest, who released their greatest hits almost twenty years ago.

The highlight of the evening wasn't when the crowd got mooned from a drunk guy in his fifties dancing on a picnic table, but when Britt and I noticed Zack from the Zack and Jim show roaming the crowd. Sometimes I try to listen to their show, but their lack of humor (after an excess of effort) just doesn't appeal to me. They tell stupid jokes and follow it with an obvious recorded laugh track. It's certifiably bad. Britt and I conspired to get a free beer out of him. When he came toward us, I lied and let him know how much I loved his show. He had clearly been drinking since probably before his morning show ended. He asked if we were having a good time and asking why we weren't drinking. We said we would need him to buy us a beer if we were going to drink. He was game and we followed him to the bar, as he stumbled through the crowd and made some sexually explicit jokes about a couple of the girls around. He got our drinks, hi fived us, then we returned to finish watching the rest of the show.

As the night came to a close I thought about my life, about how, in a town where most of my friends tend to leave, I am constantly trying to keep people close by. And I saw these people here with me, listening to REO, all after hard weeks of work and school and the basic schedules of life, and thought about how this is what we all hope for. It was slightly more sloppy than a church picnic, yet I've rarely seen believers gather with as much passion for being close than this.

You could say a group of REO loving Central Texans were missionaries of grace to me.

(there are at least three references to REO songs in this post. bragging right to anyone who is a big enough fan to locate them, without using wikipedia, itunes, or google.)

(and for your enjoyment, here is REO circa 1985...)

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