9. We Don't Need No Stinking Badges
I do not without danger walk these streets.
——Twelfth Night, III.iii
Thanks, dear reader, for sticking with me thus far. We'll board the plane after I ponder a couple of e-mails from E.
In the first, she asked for digital photos of me and Sarah for security badges. I cheerfully obliged. I like badges and backstage passes, and I think I still have the last one I was issued—from a gig at a coffeehouse in Walker, Minnesota, where the pass was fun to have but definitely not necessary.
At the Olympics, however, I figured a badge would be essential equipment. Everyone was concerned about security. E. had also asked us for next-of-kin contact information, in case anything went wrong. News media were speculating about a repeat of the 1972 terrorist incident in Munich. Already in 2004, a Greek terrorist group had detonated a bomb in front of an Athens police station 100 days before the opening ceremonies (although these terrorists politely notified local newspapers first). Despite the promise of tight security, several friends warned me to stay home. Athens, they said, would be too dangerous.
But I was determined not to let fear rule my decisions. I figured, out of millions of people in the city, why would terrorists come after me? I sent up a few prayers to God for protection, and took comfort in the promise of security badges.
No doubt some eminent psychologist has written a dissertation on people who fear improbable, remote dangers while overlooking the clear and present dangers that lie right in their path. If not, it'd be a good idea. A title like The Triskaidekaphobic Snowboarder might sell a million copies. Or try something simpler: The Athens Syndrome.
My fears about terrorism, you see, proved groundless. The kindest person I met in Athens was an Iraqi. The real danger came not from terrorists but from some of the people I traveled with. And no security badge was going to protect me from them.
Still, a badge might have come in handy if there had been anything like real, bona fide security at our performances. But there wasn't. Hence no need for the badges. Which might explain why we never got them.
E.'s next e-mail was mostly travel advice, some of it rather naive-sounding—especially the claim that any guitar case up to 45 inches long could be treated as carry-on baggage. From experience, I knew this wasn't true unless the CEO of Northwest Airlines had personally intervened. I didn't worry, though, because I had already ordered my gig bags. I've never had trouble carrying my instruments on a plane, but they're a lot shorter than 45 inches. I figured the guitarists in the band would know that E. was blowing smoke—so they'd bring some kind of flight case and leave any unnecessary guitars at home, right?
We met at SeaTac airport Wednesday morning, August 18, 2004, at 6 a.m. It was three days after one of the biggest holidays in Greece: the Feast of the Dormition, known to Roman Catholics as the Feast of the Assumption. Before the trip was over I would have to feast on a lot of assumptions, both mine and other people's. But I digress.
Loudmouth's three vocalists had brought guitars. So had Desiree, one of the vocalists from U4ic, and so, for some unfathomable reason, had Ken, who wasn't even traveling as a musician. We had five guitars and a bass—all in ordinary cases, and all with owners expecting to carry them on. The gentleman at the ticket counter insisted that all instruments be gathered in one spot to be tagged and checked as baggage. And he turned rather surly when E. yelled at him.
The guitars (except Ken's, which someone took home) were checked, and survived the trip, although some of the cases got pretty well chewed up. The surly gentleman agreed that my gig bags wouldn't protect my instruments in the cargo hold. He grudgingly let me carry them on. If he hadn't, I'd have gone home, and I wouldn't be writing this.
I mentioned Desiree, one of the U4ic vocalists. She was 18. The second vocalist was Hannah, 14, and Barbie was the third vocalist. Sarah and I talked to them and learned that
- Hannah and Desiree had not recorded for U4ic, and they had never met before coming to the airport.
- U4ic had no other members. They would perform in Athens with members of Loudmouth backing them up.
I also learned that Holly was bringing along Logan, her 7-month-old son. Apparently Q. had offered to provide childcare and a crib for him. And no one would break a promise to a mother and her baby, would he?
I don't want to shock you, gentle reader, but once again we had a new drummer. I hadn't seen him at the gig or any of the rehearsals. His name was Ben Dally, he had a graduate degree in psychology, and he was moving from Chicago to Tacoma. I barely had time to digest this news before we left for our gate to board the plane. Our new drummer was on a later flight. The cellist and percussionist were not traveling with us; Justin, the keyboardist, would arrive in Athens after a week or so. For the moment we were down to six members.
E. gave everyone a booklet which contained names and descriptions of our Greek sponsors, lyrics and chords for several worship songs, and the closest thing to a concert itinerary we would receive for the trip. It wasn't much of an itinerary—the dates were in one part of the booklet; the venues were in another part; there were no times or addresses. And, E. told us, we should disregard the concert information in the booklet, because all of it was subject to change. I suppose that if I hadn't been so preoccupied with protecting my instruments and meeting new people, I might have taken the time to be shocked at the revelation that our itinerary wasn't nailed down. But at the time, the booklet went into my backpack and E.'s words went over my head.
Of our flight itself, little need be said. We flew to Athens by way of Detroit and Amsterdam, met Q. at the airport, and traveled by bus to the Ethniki Amyna station, by Metro train to Thissio Square, and on foot to our headquarters, Athens Christian Center. It was now early evening on Thursday, August 19.
Here endeth the preamble to my tale. Up to this point I'd kept any misgivings to myself and done nothing to oppose Q., nor anything I could possibly be ashamed of. From here on out, things get a little more complicated.