Saturday, June 09, 2007

Little Shop could have meant Little Shipment of Horrors

Little Shop could have meant
Little Shipment of Horrors

By Sue Riddler

The opening line of Little Shop of Horrors talks about a September day when unsuspected perils face the main characters of the play. Little did I know how self-fulfilling that prophecy would be!

Last September, as members of Flood Stage Productions were making final arrangements for this season, I was asked if I would go on a road trip to pick up the puppet “Audrey II”. Sure, I thought. How big can a puppet be? And with the image of Oscar the Grouch firmly in my mind, I agreed to go. And drive.

Now, there is a little background to this proposal. Ever since I stunned the Missouri State Trooper who administered the parallel parking test by making a perfect 3-point parking maneuver with a 1978 Ford LTD wagon, I have enjoyed surprising people with a woman competently behind the wheel of a large vehicle.

I was happy to get behind the wheel of a 10-foot box truck from Mary Rents in order to move tents, tables and chairs for the Civil War Living History Weekend. I have cheerfully done the same to move scenery and props for Flood Stage, winding down alleys, between buildings and overhangs… including efficiently and safely moving in reverse.

But as the details of this particular move started to come in, it became evident that this task was growing… literally.

The artist with an approved version of Audrey II was in Springfield. Thankfully, the city in Illinois. Nothing against the Lake, but a two-hour drive was far more appealing than four or five.

Then came the news that Audrey II was really four puppets. Hmm, I thought. That was probably too big for the Jeep. I have enough trouble getting four teenagers in there, so four Oscars seemed to push my view of spacial displacement.

No problem, I’ll just drive a truck.

By Christmas, we knew that the puppets would be in a crate. But in May, that crate had dimensions: 5 feet tall, 6 feet wide and 7 feet deep. And it weighed 900 pounds. Yep. Nine Hundred Pounds. Oscar the Grouch, even four of him, never added up to that much weight as far as I know.

I was going to learn a lot on this trip. First, when you are picking up a crate from a facility with a dock, your truck has to have a bed 48” from the ground. Second, if you are delivering to a site that does not have a dock, you need a lift gate. Third, if you need a truck with a 48” bed and a lift gate, you will be renting a truck that is 24 feet long and 13 feet tall. Fourth, after about a dozen phone calls someone might tell you that in the St. Louis area, there is only one place that rents those.

It dawned on me during the Memorial Day Holiday, that this time the surprised look for finding a woman driver in a 24-foot long, 13-foot tall, diesel powered box truck might actually come from me!

So that Tuesday, I drew a deep breath, and climbed aboard.

I was pleasantly surprised to find automatic transmission (it’s been a while since I drove a stickshift, and that was on the column). Director Lori Gibson had courageously agreed to join me for this educational journey, so the company was good. Once we got used to the bounciness of the ride, and the different sounds of the engine, we were able to relax and talk during the trip.

I proudly and confidently merged, changed lanes, exited, and otherwise motored up I-55 and onto the lot of the storage company where Audrey II was waiting.

Dock 13. Of course. This means backing up. “Fine,” I thought. “I haven’t tried that yet, so this could be fun.” And just to make it interesting, Dock 13 is next to a retaining wall. I gritted my teeth into a smile… I didn’t want Lori to know I was nervous. I carefully and quite successfully put that truck right up to the dock. I was so proud of myself! Then a man from the facility leaned out the door and said “You need to move that over to the left about 6 inches!”

Is he kidding? Doesn’t he know that 30 seconds ago was the first time I had ever moved this truck in reverse? Obviously, this man had seen women truck drivers before, and he was not surprised. In fact, he had expectations.

So I gingerly moved the truck forward a bit and began a slow turn in reverse. The guy knew just where to stand so I could see his arm motions to guide the turn. I kept thinking as he waved me to “c’mon back” about a dozen times that I was going to hit the dock. And I did. And I was supposed to. (told you it was a learning experience). Docks have these bumpers so that when you have a 48” high bed, you can get thisclose to the warehouse floor.

In no time, 900 pounds of crated Audrey II was loaded and strapped into the truck. Inside my head, I was jumping and dancing for joy over my latest vehicular triumph. Homer Simpson’s cheering could not have been louder. Eat your heart out, Oscar the Grouch.

Then came suggestions on how to remove this behemoth without the benefit of a dock. It got very quiet around me, inside and out. Whether we unloaded from the 7 foot side of the box or the 6 foot side, one thing was clear… that 42 inch lift gate was not going to be enough help.

Conversation back to St. Charles was decidedly different than the chit-chat we experienced going to Springfield. How many men would be on hand to unload? What else could we work out? We’ve never moved a 900 pound crate before, much less in a controlled fall with a liftgate four feet from the ground.

So once at the High School, with all of our help assembled, measurements were taken, prayers were said, breath was held, and a plan was hatched.

It took all hands on deck to successfully unload the mighty Audrey II. We employed skills developed by the Egyptians in their building of pyramids, tactics used by the Romans in motivating the workers, and celebrated like Indians around a bonfire as the crate finally touched ground.

Suddenly, driving the truck was not nearly as impressive or satisfying as seeing these wonderful people work so hard.

It will do your heart good to know that no Audrey’s or actors were harmed in the creation of this production. But Audrey still has to go home…