I haven’t written much about what’s happening this July. On my birthday, in fact. We’re having a little gathering.
When I say we’re, I mean a varied group of people, scattered across the country, who knew each other once. A reunion, in other words, in a specific, kind of spontaneous, and all-in way. We were talking a year ago and this idea came up, and here we are.
I’ve written many times about Black Bart’s Steakhouse in Flagstaff, and how it ended up as ground zero for my marriage and my kids and really, the rest of my life. It was just a restaurant on the east side of town (with an RV park attached) that served good steaks and had musicians as wait staff, taking their turns on stage singing standards, ballads, musical comedy, etc., most of them taken from the music department of nearby Northern Arizona University.
Beginning in the late 1970s, the owners began producing a summer theater show with singing, dancing, dumb sketches, dumber jokes. You get it; it was entertainment for tourists, not far removed from what you’d find at Disneyland and its fellows, or maybe a cruise ship. Certainly in terms of talent, if not material (I liked the material, but it was deliberately aligned with the ambience of the restaurant, very turn-of-the-century or Wild West).
After returning to college following adventures in show business in L.A., I needed a job and so auditioned. It wasn’t a perfect fit (there was dancing) but musical theater wasn’t unknown to me. I could sing and I was used to performing.
I was not used to waiting on tables. I never got used to it.
But the rest was fun. My first summer was in 1982, and I think of it as a happy time in my life. After a couple of weeks of rehearsal, and once production began, it was an easy gig. Show up around 4pm, grab some free food, prep the restaurant, and wait for customers. Serve them, make conversation, and then at a certain time head backstage to get ready for a two-hour extravaganza of song and dance.
My girlfriend got a job as a cocktail waitress (no singing necessary) and costume designer (one of her skills), and it was an easy, relaxing summer in northern Arizona, with plenty of free time to enjoy the mountain life.
The eight cast members worked together a lot, of course, and we became generally friends, the group we partied with after work with a few others from the restaurant. One of the cast members became my wife, but that took a few months, well after the season ended.
In 1983, then, we did it again, with some of the same people and this time, two of us as an actual couple. In the middle of the summer, Julie and I got married on the outskirts of Sedona, surrounded by cast members.
I don’t remember what gave us the jumpstart, but last spring some of us began discussing having a reunion. It would have been 35 years last year, a nice number to gather around, but the timing was already cutting it close, so we decided to wait a year. Dates were discussed and settled, and we’ve spent the past 12 months reminding each other and making reservations.
It probably wouldn’t have happened without Facebook around, so credit where it’s due. With weekly reminders (something I did, as I ended up managing this, not a good fit but what it is), we were able to get some traction on planning and no one seems to be left out. We’ll have at least one, maybe two members from the 1982 show (one has died, and the other was from another city and only stayed that one summer, so screw him) as well as the eight of us from 1983.
To speak to the significance of that summer—not only did Julie and I get married, but one of the other cast members married the head cook of the restaurant (an engineering student who became a de facto member), and another married his long-time girlfriend who also worked there as a piano player. We’ve got a single woman and a single man, a spouse who has to miss because of his high-school reunion, and the wife of one of the guys coming along to be overwhelmed, I guess.
Also, our director and her daughter (who was around 10 years old at the time, a constant presence and a pleasure, and who now lives about an hour or so south of me) are coming, as well as our drummer (who may have been in high school at the time, or maybe a freshman; young, anyway) and his significant other.
Add in the people from other years and we’re looking at close to 20, and as remarkable as that is we’re going to pull it off.
I’m curious about reunions in the age of Facebook, honestly. We’ve already caught up plenty, seen pictures and know details. This is about meeting in the flesh, touching and hugging and hanging out once again, trying to remember names and probably a few downing beta blockers and antihypertensives along with their cocktails.
This is a huge summer for us, what with the trip to Scotland coming up right after this Arizona adventure, and I’m not sure which will stand out when all is sung and done.
Some of these people I haven’t seen in over 30 years, though, and that’s what I’m most interested in. There will be a lot of years and youth to wallow in, and today I’m in the mood to wallow. I assume I still will be come July.