I have a friend who is in a band. Her band is playing at a local(ish) venue on a Friday night. You put two and two together, and you have what seems like it would be a very normal evening out.
But you know, it's always the little things.
(I will now break this post into several chapters, as it's quite lengthy. But! Pictures! With my busted-ass, non-focused camera! Yay!)
It wasn't until Friday came around that I bothered to look up exactly where this "local venue" was. So when I did, I noticed two things. First, that the venue was a "space center."
I started to sort of wonder if the venue might be a bit odd, since, you know, I don't get to planetariums (planetaria?) often. But before I got very far down the wary-of-planetaria path, I got distracted by the second key thing: the event was being sponsored by a local brewery.
Suddenly I was no longer wary. I figured hey, cool – I'll bet this place will be all dark and high-tech and hip and have cool lighting and interesting clientele who like to drink and listen to live music in a unique kind of way. Kind of like a rave for grown-ups. I should wear black.
2. Alien Abduction
By the time Friday night rolled around and we – and by "we" I mean me, Ish, MakeOutKate, and Russ – were ready to go, it had started raining really hard (because San Francisco refuses to believe it is actually SPRING now and we don't need to be poured on anymore thank you), which was very concerning. And before you start making fun of me for being all typically Californian and whiney about inclement weather that is merely rain, may I remind you that I grew up in the Northeast where we KNOW from inclement weather, and also rain is not just rain when it is accompanied by dense fog, especially when you discover that your cool, hip venue is located atop what is, essentially, a mountain.
Meaning that when we got off the exit and started climbing our way toward the space center, we happened to notice that Kate's car was um, basically pointed skyward. And while this terrified me, because probably there were steep, treacherous cliffs to either side of the road, I could not actually see the cliffs because the higher we got, the less we could see anything. No city lights. No streetlights. No headlights from other cars.
Just us, with about 5 ft. of visibility – enough to see the reflectors in the middle of the VERY windy road, trees beside us (surely lining the treacherous cliffs) and, well, right – the wall of fog.
And so when we managed to get to what appeared to be a lighted building showing signs (however faint) of human life, we were tremendously relieved. For about a minute.
Because then we got out of the car and started walking towards the building. That looked like a fortress.
In the pouring rain.
With much fog.
And no sound.
And eerie, greenish outdoor lighting.
And for what? To see an 80s cover band?
Suddenly it all seemed very suspicious and we came to the only logical conclusion: we were going to die. Clearly, the clever space aliens had successfully lured us to their lair under the guise of "sponsored by a brewery" for purposes of experimentation.* We were all done for.
Of course, once we got inside, we were forced to abandon the alien theory (which was, admittedly, slightly disappointing – we realized if they had merely experimented on us and not actually killed us, it would have made for awesome blog fodder). But no matter, the evening was plenty surreal without the help of extra-terrestrials.
*yes, there was also the guise of "live music" – we thusly concluded that the band was ALSO in on this ruse and that our friend, the lead singer, was clearly an alien in disguise.
3. Getting Through Customs
We arrived and went through quite a long "purchase tickets here" process:
Ticketer: What sort of tickets would you like?
Ish: Um, two adults.
Ticketer: For what?
Ish: We're here to see the band.
Ticketer: But which exhibits are you here to see?
Ish: We just want to see the band.
Ticketer: We don't sell tickets for the band.
Ish: Okay, then do we just go over to where the band is?
Ticketer: No, you need to buy tickets.
Ish: For what?
Ticketer: For the exhibits.
Ish: Which exhibits?
Ticketer: Any of them. Do you want to see the laser show?
Ish: No, we just want to see the band.
Ticketer: Okay, hold on.
[Ticketer confers with two other people behind the ticket counter who are very busy reading a book.]
Ticketer: It will be $15.
Ticketer: I'm also going to need to see some ID. From both of you.
10 minutes and $30 later, Ish and I were finally allowed to pass through the front and instructed to "go down the hall" towards the music. We were given two exhibit tickets, three drink tickets a piece, and a paper Entrance Bracelet.
To walk about 25 feet.
At which point we arrived in front of a second ticketer, sitting at podium outside a curtained-off area. Thankfully, we'd found P and so we knew that yes, the band is located inside the curtained area (not hard to guess, really, since the band was not behind sound-proof walls) and also the beer. However, before being allowed to enter the area, the second ticketer had to check our tickets, our bracelets, AND our IDs (with much, MUCH scrutiny, because you know, we LOOK like underage kids who would try to SNEAK into a SPACE CENTER to get beer). He reluctantly decided we were of age. And then gave us a hand stamp.
For the record, I do not need as much paperwork to fly across the country.
4. Sponsored By The Beer Nazi
FINALLY we passed through the curtains and discovered that the cordoned-off area was actually the space center's café. And here's what we saw:
- At the front of the area was the band.
- To one side, there were tables and chairs set up for people to sit and watch the band.
- Along the other side were vending machines, in case you might want some pre-packaged food like chili or vending-machine cheeseburgers (Mmmm! Yum! Must be what the astronauts eat!)
- There was space in front of the band to dance.
- There were LOTS of lights shining on the band and the "dance floor."
- All the overhead lights were on in the café as well.
- Behind the café were a few staffers, who were not actually providing any café drinks or food. Though in front of the café, every so often, plates of pizza squares (a la elementary school cafeterias) would appear. And then disappear immediately after as people were hungry and the pizza squares were good and free.
- A Beer Table.
Now, where I come from, the existence of a Beer Table could make up for just about anything else, such as too much lighting or fear of alien abduction or the uncomfortable-ness of watching Awkward Groping Couple (below).
Alas, 'twas not to be.
We entered the room and waved to Lisa (who was already performing) and got in line for beer. Whereupon we discovered what happens when a planetarium serves beer for the first time.
It orders enough for a roomful of people. Who don't drink.
Atop the Beer Table was one small ice tub, filled with about 10 Coronas. Beside the tub, there was a paper sign that said, "sponsored by the such-and-such brewery."
At which point we realize that "sponsored" means something different to the brewery than it does to us.
- To us, "sponsored" by a brewery evokes images of hordes of people, languishing in the Joy that is bottomless plastic cups of microbrew.
- To them, "sponsored" means "we will give you enough beer to last 15 minutes."
Apparently the planetarium people ran out of beer so quickly that they had to send some volunteers to go get a couple cases at the local grocery store. And when they returned with what was quite clearly STILL not enough for the 30 or so people in attendance, they decided to ration it.
Meaning that one drink ticket got you exactly 1/3 of a small plastic cup of beer. And the woman left in charge of pouring that 1/3 cup was not – NOT – going to give you a single ounce more than that.
[pretend there is a photo of the Beer Nazi here. there is not because it was seriously too damn fuzzy.]
5. Please Stop Doing That
Once we got our cup of beer and got ourselves situated, we were fascinated to discover the sorts of people who venture out in alien-abduction weather to spend their Friday nights at a planetarium with an 80s band and no beer.
Besides us, I mean.
The answer? Well, Whinger summed it up nicely over on her blog. Basically it was us, another table of us-like people who were likewise there for the band (and likewise chagrined at the beer situation); parents and their kids; an inexplicable group of Bears (by which, as Whinger points out, I mean big, gay men) all with shaved heads and tuft-y beards and leather jackets; people related to various members of the band; and couples who dance.
Now. About that last part? Couples who dance?
There are two kinds of Acceptable Couples Who Dance, and then at least one kind of Unacceptable Couples Who Dance.
Acceptable Couple A: both members know how to dance and look good doing it.
We saw at least one young couple (probably in their 20s) out on the floor having a great time, being silly but definitely knowing a few key steps. Later in the evening we saw a couple (probably in their 50s) who just whooped it up like they were teenagers. They had some serious skills, and looked like they were having a ball.
Acceptable Couple B: the couple that does not, really, know how to dance and does not, really, look good trying – but has a great time anyway!
This would be me and Ish. I believe our dance floor antics are acceptable because we are in on the joke, you know? We don't care that we look like awkward middle-schoolers (in fact, we tried to emulate them more than once), because we are in a brightly-lit planetarium having an awesomely hysterical time! Yay! (Please get off my toes.)
Unacceptable Couple: neither member knows how to dance and neither member is aware of that fact.
We could not help but notice Unacceptable Couple, aka Awkward Groping Couple, as they were more than eager to tear up the dance floor. They looked to be in their 40s, and appeared to have wandered out of a Chadwick’s catalogue. Which is to say sort of preppy and very white and VERY stiff and completely, 100% without rhythm. Clapping on neither the down beat NOR the up beat. (And also? Clapping at all.) And trying dance moves. Like, actual moves and getting them very wrong.
But the worst of it wasn’t the bad dancing, it was the inappropriate nature of their dancing. Meaning, we discovered, that they weren’t just dancing, but trying to be sexy.
Sexy. In a brightly lit planetarium café.
Maybe that’s just how they appeared, you say? Maybe I’m being overly critical?
Yes, well. No.
About 20 minutes after we arrived (meaning relatively early in the night), one of this couple’s dance moves involved – rather unexpectedly to those nearby – the female half of the couple leaping up into the arms of the male half, and wrapping her legs around his waist. She then wrapped her arms around his head/neck, and they proceeded to “dance” like that for a few moments.
Let me say that again. LEAPING UP at the man and WRAPPING HER LEGS AROUND the guy and THEN DANCING.
Nothing in life really prepares you for the moment of social awkwardness that comes from being the girl standing next to such a bizarre display.
Um, I am in a curtained-off cafeteria inside a space center covered in fog on the top of a mountain somewhere in the Bay Area listening to my friend’s 80s cover band and drinking 1/3 of a Corona out of a plastic cup and standing next to one of the world’s most sexless couples who seem to want to suggest that they could, at any moment, just up and have sex right next to me.
I am going to go stand over there now.
And when the rhythmless, sexless couple DID retire to the dance floor sidelines, they proceeded to make out.
WHAT is going on there? we wondered. Were they on a date? Were they married and just happy to be out of the house? Were their kids running around and finally giving them a moment of peace? Were they REALLY drunk? Did they just not care what others thought? Or did they care and think they were giving us something of a hot, hot show?
The world may never know.
6. The Exhibits
Remember those exhibits we ended up paying for with our entrance fee since “just here to see the band” wasn’t an option? Well, before leaving for the evening, MakeOutKate asked that we actually USE some of our tickets’ powers to actually see something educational.
So on our way out, we decided to go look at the stars inside the planetarium.
With Kate leading the way, she, Ish and I walked into a very, very dark entrance and then stopped because we didn’t know what to do. It was pitch black.
“I’m scared,” Kate said.
“Let’s wait till our eyes adjust to the dark,” Ish suggested, so we all just stood there for a few moments. But no eye adjustments seemed to be happening.
”Let’s hold hands,” Kate said, as we tried to find each other, “and slowly walk in.”
It was somewhere around this point, as we began slowly walking forward, that Ish realized the reason his eyes weren’t adjusting to the light in the room was because he was standing directly in front of a black wall.
So we figured out we needed to go in a different direction, and slooooooooooowly inched our way through – well, we don’t know exactly. The entrance? A hallway? A room? – until it finally became obvious to all three of us that there were NO lights on because the exhibit was not open.
The solar system was not, in fact, on.
The three of us slinked (slunk?) our way right back out, slightly more adeptly than we ventured in since we were pleased to discover that, in the opposite direction, faint light seeping in from the space center hallway helps a whole lot.
In the end, Friday Night At The Space Center was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had, ever. Sure, it was completely filled with the strange and unexpected, but totally memorable! I got to hang out with my friends, hear Lisa’s band perform –
[Note: the band is REALLY, LIKE TOTALLY AWESOME. Here’s their website. Hire them for some event because EVERYONE loves the 80s and really, they are very good.]
- and drink 3 thirds of a beer ( = 1 whole beer for those of you who have trouble with The Math) IN A SPACE CENTER. With a strange (but friendly) (except for the scary beer Nazi and ID checkers) mix of people and free pizza.
As I mentioned, Whinger also posted about this evening (uh, and about a million times more succinctly), whereupon we discovered that one of her reader/commenters was actually at the space center! Just coincidentally. She didn't know we were us (why would she?), and we didn't know she was she (why would we?) but I find this endlessly amusing.
It is a small world -- er, solar system -- after all.