Friday, April 29, 2011

LONE VOICE IN THE CROWD

One of my favorite movie scenes is in the Monty Python classic "The Life of Brian".  In this scene a multitude of followers have assembled outside of Brian's house waiting to hear from their leader.  Brian knows he is not the leader they are looking for and tries to disperse the crowd.  Every time he says something or asks a question though, the crowd answers in unison.  Finally Brian tells them "You are all individuals." to which the crowd responds in unison "We are all Individuals."  Brian then states "You are all different." and again the crowd answers in unison "We are all different."  Then there is a lone voice from back in the crowd somewhere and this voice states simply "I'm not".  By stating that he isn't different, he is being different.  That is what this post is about.  We have two examples of that split second in a crowd situation when everything is quiet and one voice raises out of the silence to make a proclamation.  It has happened a lot of times but I have chosen these two examples of a lonely voice in the crowd rising above all others.

PART ONE

The first example takes place in Talladega, Alabama.  Each year hundreds of thousands of people dressed in t-shirts and caps indicating who their favorite driver is get together to watch the big stock car weekend on the United States largest oval track.  They begin to arrive early in the week and up to fifty thousand people camp out at the race track.  It is a week of rising excitement as the big day, Sunday, gets closer and the big boys of stock car racing take to the track.

I had gone down to visit my sister one October to spend some time with her and the kids and to take in the Talledega race with my niece and nephew.  We left early in the morning to be sure to get there in plenty of time to park and get to our seats and be settled in when the race began.  It was a beautiful day with the temperature in the middle seventies and the sun shining in a clear blue sky.

The fellow race fans were very friendly and almost everyone you came across had a smile on their face and would greet you.  The beer had been flowing at the track for a week now and so there were some extremely happy people at the track.  We walked about a mile to the track from where we parked the car.  To get to the track we had to go through a few camp sites where the beer consumption was more than obvious.  As we crested over that last hill and the whole of Talladega came into view it took your breath away.  It was enormous.  I had been to tracks in Dallas and Kansas before but this track was the mother of all tracks.

We worked our way into the facility and then found our seats.  As the drivers were introduced there was a constant mixture of cheers and boos.  The pre-race activities took about an hour.  Introduction of the drivers, then the drivers being driven around the track in convertibles followed by some music from some group that I didn't know.  Parachuters were dropped from planes into the facility with smoke flares coming from their shoes as they descended onto the infield. 

The National anthem was sung with everyone taking off the hats that indicated their favorite driver and placing it over their hearts.  It is a somber time as the anthem is sung.  NASCAR fans are very patriotic and love their country, right or wrong.  When the Anthem is finished lots of whoops and hollering is let out from the crowd for about five minutes or so.  Then it is time for a local minister to give a prayer before the drivers start their engines.

The prayer is the kind you would expect at a place where men would be driving over two hundred miles per hour with less than a foot between the cars.  The minister prayed for everyone to be safe and for God to watch over each and every one not only the drivers, but the fans as well.  The minister was bringing his prayer to a close and it was a good thing.  People were starting to shift from leg to leg in anticipation of getting this ting started.  The minister finally ended his prayer and in closing said "Shalom and Amen".

A lone voice in the crowd about ten rows back from us yelled in a loud southern booming voice, "WHO THE HELL IS SHALOM?"

My nephew sheepishly looked at me and said matter of factly "Sometimes I am so proud to be from Alabama."

PART TWO

We have an all girls Roller Derby team in Kansas City.  They play their games down at the Municipal Auditorium in the heart of downtown.   I have watched roller derby on television ever since I was a young boy and I really enjoyed it.  It was rough and physical and it did not look fake to me like the professional wrestling did.  I had been wanting to go see a roller derby match in person for a long time and had threatened Barb to take her to a match one night.  She had no interest in going and just shrugged it off whenever I mentioned the possibility of going.

Then I started asking my son Brett if he would like to go.  Without hesitating he said "SURE" and so my quest began to keep an eye out for the next time the warriors would be in Kansas City and to get tickets for the two of us to go.

The opportunity came on a Friday night.  I ordered the tickets so we could pick them up at the box office.  As we arrived at the parking garage that night I noticed a few things that mirrored the people who go to car races.  They wore shirts with either the Warriors logo on it or pictures of their favorite player.  They were also very loud with the excitement they felt of going to the roller derby match.

The roller derby was almost frighteningly noisy.  There was loud music playing non-stop in the back ground.  An announcers voice rang out louder than the music promoting up coming events and introduction of the players.  The music never stopped.

I was thinking that surely they would stop the music before the match started but I was wrong.  All through the match the music was played loud, the announcer was calling the match play by play, so to speak, above the loud music and the crowd was cheering madly as the girls on the track beat each other up as hard and as fast as they could.  Girls would get hit and fall on their rear ends and go sliding off the track.  They would immediately get back up and back on the track for more beating.  It was probably the closest thing to total insanity in the sporting world that I have seen including Australian Rules Football.

About halfway through the second match something terrible happened.  One of the skaters got hit extremely hard and as she was falling twisted her leg up somehow.  She was hurting.  There was no doubt about the pain she was feeling as she rolled back and forth on her back holding her knee.  He face was grimaced with the pain and she could not open her mouth to scream in pain.  It looked bad.  It looked bad to everyone.  It even looked bad to the people who were running the match that night.

As the doctor came out on the track to attend to her the music went silent for the first time since we had arrived.  The crowd was hushed as they watched one of their favorite players being attended to by a doctor.  She did not appear to be able to walk.  It was almost complete silence for ten minutes as they worked on her.

I could hear other fans of the roller derby actually talk in whispers around me about what had happened and speculating on how bad she may be hurt.  Movement in and out of the arena for snacks stopped.  It was like the whole place was frozen in time as people watch intently each movement that the derby queen tried to make and each time her face scowled up in pain.  Finally it looked like they were going to carry her out on a stretcher.  Two young men brought a stretcher onto the track.  The star had been down almost fifteen minutes by now.

A lone voice in the crowd suddenly shouted out "GET UP!!"  The tension was eased as people laughed at the lone voice and the star was carried out.  The noise was cranked up again with the music and the announcer competing for the attention of your ears until the match was over.

A lone voice in a crowd, it turns out, can carry a lot of weight.

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