The New Job – Night 1
With my Madison Square Garden badge in place, polo shirt neatly tucked into slacks, comfortable black sneakers on my feet, I handed out bottles of bubbles at the Michael Bublé concert. Yes, you read that right. It was “Bubbles for Bublé” night at the Garden and I was doing the dispensing.
Why? Well from mid-July to mid-August, I was a Guest Experience Representative (GER) at Madison Square Garden. This was, I thought, a way to supplement my income while doing something fun. Working part-time for the Garden, helping fans at the shows, with easy transport from the LIRR to my Long Island home, it seemed like a nice fit. I went in with all good intentions, hoping their schedule met my availability. It was a gamble, but for as long as it lasted, I would be a part of the Great MSG organization. Oh, and just at the time I was hired, two of my favorite performers — John Mayer and Barbra Streisand — would be heading to MSG, too. How sweet it is!
My duties were simply put: do everything in my power to make sure that the thousands of fans — typically around 17,000 – have the best experience possible. I saw the online job posting, filled out the application, was contacted for an interview, filled out forms, and a few days later received an acceptance email with instructions for the upcoming training. At the Legends lounge on one of the Garden’s upper levels, all new hires were introduced to the Garden’s history, its sporting teams, its management, with explanation on how to assist guests, and especially how to handle the unruly ones. I was scheduled for seven nights of training, the first of which was a Michael Bublé show, then John Mayer, and after that, Barbra. Four more before the month was out, including Billy Joel.
I arrived at the GER roll call at 6:30 p.m. for my first night of training at the Bublé concert. I’d already had a busy couple of hours before roll call due to first night obstacles: an unactivated ID badge requiring me to visit the office that does the manual clock-in; then lots of missed turns as I picked up my uniform and internal cell phone (to call for backup in the event of a situation or spillage). With no more locker rooms (the Garden doesn’t have enough for all workers on some nights) I squished my street clothes and shoes into my backpack and strapped it to my shoulder as I followed the line of other GERs to our meeting place.
The supervisor greeted all the GERs, briefly explained how the night would run including Bublé’s start time, intermission, and expected endtime. But before I was handed my assignment, he said, “MJ, you have to put away the backpack,” and I was escorted to one of the security rooms where my bag could sit safely. I removed my valuables, and slipped them into my slim pocket, and followed him to my first post.
I was paired with two other newbie-GERs and brought to the floor of the arena to hand out small bottles of bubbles to the early arrivals in the front row seats. It’s tradition, the trainer explained, that when Michael Bublé takes the stage, the audience blows bubbles. I was handed a box of mini-bubble bottles and handed them out until I was empty. I could do this job, I thought.
After about an hour of that, we were brought up to the Garden’s Seventh Avenue doors to lead the incoming guests to the proper security line: to the left for backpacks and large bags, to the center for small bags. No pointing allowed, says the Garden, as it’s rude, but rather we were to hold our hands Vanna White-style. By show time, only the stragglers were coming through the doors, and I was given a half hour break. With a stop in the employee cafeteria for a bite and general employee conversation, I was back with my trainer to relieve another worker for their break. My final task was to wipe down the returned cell phones dropped off by exiting workers. I was mentally and physically exhausted by the time I retrieved my backpack, changed back into street clothes, ran for the LIRR and finally got home at 1 a.m.
On this night, I was a good newbie, didn’t stretch the boundaries of my badge, or try to sneak peeks at the performer. However, that would change the next night, and the next.
Night 2 – John Mayer
Since John Mayer had played the night before, some of the GERs knew the run down of the show: start half an hour late, intermission at 9:30, end time at 10:30. “You will be at the north con,” said my supervisor, which is MSG talk for “north side, concierge,” located in a tight corner of the main lobby where the will-call suite tickets were distributed. This is an enviable post as workers get to sit for the night. I was placed with two other GERs who’d done this job before. We were busy pre-show time with a consistent stream of guests asking for their tickets, and if we didn’t have them, we’d call around to the other will-call stations. In between, I watched the hordes of fans entering 15 minutes AFTER the show was scheduled to begin. Who are these people? Certainly not John Mayer fans, I thought, and growled at the late comers who came up to get their suite tickets. Then, a half hour or so before the show was scheduled to end, groups of people were already leaving, and again I thought, “ugh, who are these people?” But then I remembered that a half hour before every show’s end, the Garden suspends liquor and beer sales. My GER partner confirmed it. People leave when the concessions close down.
Finally it was my break and to see some of the show. I knew from the Bublé concert that the floor seats could be accessed from one of the lounges. Security guard after security guard checked my badge with their little flashlight and waved me on. And there I was, standing alongside the first row, trying to be inconspicuous, and just when I took out my cell phone to take pictures a security supervisor walked over, saw my badge and said, “You can’t be here.” So, a bit flustered, I backed down the aisle, into the lounge, and listened to John Mayer’s guitar as I made a slow walk back to my trainer.
By 10:30 pm, the GERs were dismissed and I, back at the north con, bid goodnight to my fellow GERs. While they stayed to chat, I felt confident I’d find my way back up to the fourth floor to change and hand in my cell phone. The pathway I chose, however, was in direct conflict with the hordes of people heading down the escalators, so, not wanting to be the salmon swimming upstream, I went through an employee door and found myself completely lost in some subterranean Garden area where the stage was being dismantled and brought out to the waiting vans. As I avoided being run over, listening for the “beep, beep, beep” of trucks in reverse, I spotted a security guard who led me through the bowels of the arena, where I got to see the guy carrying of all things: John Mayer’s rolled up stage rug. Finally, to the lockers, then to clock out, exit the employees-only doors, catch the LIRR, and home by 1 a.m. I knew this part of the GER experience — the post-midnight home arrivals — would be my downfall.
Night 3 – Barbra
As I dressed for my GER job that night, August 3rd, at the most famous arena in the world, I caught myself in the moment. It was 5:45 p.m., and I was in the bathroom stall of the ladies’ locker room. I had the routine down, more familiar with getting around the massive back alleys of the Garden. Alas, no locker again, but I could deal with it. Leaving the locker room, I was a well-dressed GER: black comfy sneakers, slacks, polo shirt tucked in, name badge clipped onto the shirt, and MSG ID badge hanging from the lanyard: I was ready for my big night, but alas, because of these late, late nights, getting home at 1 a.m., it’d be my final performance.
Headed to roll call, I had my fingers crossed that I’d have a good post with the potential of seeing some of the show. With another trainer beside me, we headed to the “mags” — MSG-speak for the magnetic screening machines which x-ray the ticket holders’ bags. If anyone had something that had to be checked, i.e. point and shoot cameras (Barbra banned them), reusable water bottles, and in two cases, a pair of scissors and a multi-purpose folded knife, we’d confiscate them, label them, and bring them to security. Most guests were understanding of the policy, but some were furious that they couldn’t bring in their camera or bottle of ice tea, and needed multiple assurances that security wouldn’t drop them, lose them, or take them home.
When the crowds slowed down and it was evident that the masses had entered, we went on break. By this time, it was 8:15 p.m., and I was told I had a half hour. I got a quick bite in the cafeteria and headed up to one of the higher sections to find an inconspicuous spot to see the show. (Mind you, I risked being fired on the spot if discovered, and was ready to accept my punishment, always remaining conscious that I not get a trainer into trouble on my account.)
Striking gold, I found my spot. Barbra stood in the bright lights of the stage, wearing a long black robe. She sipped from a mug, her stage tea. Her entire monologue and song lyrics were projected onto a wall high above the crowds, and I figured it was either to keep her on point if she had a moment of stage fright or because of her perfectionism. But, she was relaxed, made jokes, introduced the Clintons and other local politicians in the audience, and made a few snipes at Trump.
Being careful not to get anyone in trouble, I was stealth. If guests came by, I moved quickly. If I remained quiet and unobtrusive, it’d be fine. It was a delightful experience, albeit up in the nosebleed areas, but in that half-hour I was amused at being paid while watching Barbra– my favorite of favorites — and it was divine.
But back to work I go. My next task was to roam the concourse to make sure the exiting guests were directed to elevators or bathrooms, or were kept moving so the building could empty out. I was positioned at one of the ladies rooms, where a line developed almost instantly. I could chat with some of the Barbra fans and gush about her talent.
Once the guests were gone, we were dismissed. The time? 10:45 p.m. Back to lockers to change, but this time, I took my time. I wanted to savor this moment. I exited the Garden’s employee exit into the humid night, the streets packed with tourists, the homeless, the city wanderers, and those leaving the concert. I had an hour to kill and headed down 33rd Street, towards Seventh Avenue, passed the supersized moving vans that would move Barbra to her next show.
I felt as if I was initiated into a secret society, and given a peek into how the most famous arena in the world puts on a show. As a long time concert-goer, and Garden guest, I walked past these GER workers without ever saying a “hello.” Now, with new respect for them and their jobs, I will greet them on my next visit. I invite you to do the same. But, don’t take up too much of their time. They’ve got jobs to do!
Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff