Monday, January 30, 2012

Grand Finale's Reunion: January 27, 2012

On Halloween 2011, Tallahassee's Official Party Boat and I won the costume contest at the Salter Mitchell Halloween Party and Chili Cook-off, and Julie Blankenship won the chili contest, which allowed her to select the charity of her choice to which the party's proceeds would be donated. Had she not been shilling for the tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri, where she was born, I am sure she would have won anyway. Her chili was really good, and she personally brought it to me in my costume, so she won my vote.

Six weeks later at work on December 12, I entered my first-ever chili contest and won.

A few weeks after Halloween, I joined Julie's "I miss Grand Finales" Facebook group, and began reading about people wishing for a Grand Finale's reunion. Grand Finale existed as a popular two-story oyster bar with live entertainment through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, on Florida's Highway 90, Tallahassee's Tennessee Street, "The Strip". Julie waited tables there. The Grand Finale was the place to be on Thursday nights, when drinks were Four-for-One, and the bands played on into Friday mornings. I played with the Engines there in 1990.

By December, Julie was spearheading serious plans for the Grand Finale's Reunion, and soliciting its period owners, employees, bands and patrons to come back to town for a benefit fund raiser for the Joplin, Missouri tornado victims. I had had such a good time at the chili cook-off and costume contest Julie had invited me to on Halloween, that I wanted to do something in return. I contacted Julie and told her I would be happy to help out with the reunion in whatever way I could.

I created the Facebook event page for the Grand Finale's Reunion and posted the event to the WCTV community calendar.

At the party, I worked at the door between 7 pm and midnight Friday night collecting the $10 per person donation, and payment for orders of Cam's and Bobby's gumbo and pulled pork sandwiches. We also sold reunion posters, band CDs and Cam's hot sauce. Jose and Carla worked the bars on either side of the door. Julie's daughters Grace and Ava worked with me, writing food tickets and dinosaur-stamping hands. The wooden-backed T-Rex stamp was the most popular, especially among the adults.

I don't remember how many years it has been since I worked the door of a club, but I have since been to plenty around Halloween every year. I always seem to proffer the wrong arm for an armband or hand stamp, and it's never the same one among establishments. I suppose it is to deter payers to one club easily getting into another. When the question arose among us as to which hand to stamp, I chose one. We did that for an hour, until a guest protested, and then Grace said, "I'm just going to stamp whichever hand they give us."

When Ava wasn't stamping hands, she was taking photos of the arriving attendees.

We turned no one away, even though a couple of people told us they weren't doing well enough financially to pay the entire $10 donation.

This was as close as I have come to working in the hospitality industry since my last pizza delivery in 1993, a favor to Peter when one of his drivers had car trouble and was running late.

I had the opportunity to meet everyone who came in. I saw old friends and acquaintances whom I hadn't seen in more than twenty years, and some I had thought I would never see again. I saw Chris and Lisa, two people who worked with me at different times at Mr. G's pizza more than thirty years ago. I saw Heidi's former roommate Connie. They had both attended my refrigerator-burning birthday party in 1988. It was good to see J.B, we hung out for a while at the sound board, right next to me.

I surprised myself by remembering the names of people I hadn't seen since the 1980s, just like I had seen them yesterday, and had to apologetically ask others for their names. Many remembered my cat Dave and recent Halloweens, and we talked of old and new times. 

Peter and I went on stage and I announced that Peter had given me Dave the Cat, and we were auctioning off one of my new, never worn Catman t-shirts for Joplin. We hammed it up as auctioneers and sold it for $20.

Julie gave me two more shirts to auction, each actual Grand Finale t-shirts, which I auctioned off after sets by the Casual T's and Blue Monday Jam, which played to the biggest crowd. The second and final Grand Finale shirt auctioned of the evening fetched more than the combined auctions of the first two shirts did.

I estimate we had at least 400 guests and performers at the party, so it was a big success, and I am sure we all raised a lot of money for Joplin, Missouri.

It was an evening of a lifetime, one of the better parties I have attended, a singularity. It was a happy crowd, as we knew we were all coming together to do some good for others. I have attended a lot of reunions, and this was a reunion. Time stopped for those several magical hours, as we experienced the emotions and memories of not-so-long-ago after all. I know I felt twenty years younger.

When I told Dorian on Sunday where I had been Friday night, she said, "Did you see the Casual T's?"

"Did I SEE them?!" I asked. "I PLAYED with them!"