Scholarly Roadkill

Mitch’s Blog

The Grande Finale

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

It’s the climax of every show. The fat lady singing. The mass song and dance number with the music swirling to a climax. The abrupt silence of a sudden stop with artists’ arms stretched skyward waiting for the applause they know will come. It’s an epiphanal moment for a performer.

Our last Mexican show was in Huejutla, the largest city in Huasteca. It had been a grueling 10 days but this was to be the grande finale. Put our best numbers on stage and ending with a speedy clog number that featured a long a capella stretch where the only music was the rhythmic tapping of 20 shoes on the stage. Then the ending stomp, the bow, and the exit. A grande finale.

 The setting matched this grande moment. The city had built an open air stage in the expansive town plaza. The sixteenth century stone church loomed above it, one built atop a pre-Columbian shrine that sat there for many centuries before. A threatening set of rain clouds loomed above the tower and brass bells of the church.  Busts of various once-important generals  were scattered around the plaza, as were booths featuring either local crafts or Nike t-shirts or both. Mobile taquerias were jammed into every available corner.

We were given the courtyard of City Hall next to the plaza to change into our costumes. Groups of dancers from Costa Rica, Colombia, Poland, and us Estado Unidos folka claimed our corners and grabbed chairs to hold our costume changes ready for the second half of the show. Earlier rain left the open tile floor of the central courtyard still glistening with the damp.

We were after the Costa Ricans, fourth on the program. But I was dressed early, so skipped down the steps heading for back of the audience to watch the other groups dance while waiting our turn. Then came my grande finale. A slippery shoe, a slick tile, and a moment later I gave a loud yelp of pain as my knee gave way. Gravity took the knee and rest of me to the ground but in two different directions. The loud yell reverberated in the courtyard, a grande finale kind of yell.

I knew that right knee well. We had been doing battle since the first injury in high school gym class. A drunken New Year’s Eve party in Ann Arbor. A mistimed leap on a hiking trail above Santa Barbara. It had been superseded in recent years by injuries to the left knee that eventually led to a full replacement a decade ago. The right knee, intimidated by threat of a major operation, had been quiet for a long time. But not today.

People came running. One of the local organizers yelled to the armed guard at the door to call the EMTs. Another rushed out to find a local doctor whom they knew was attending the show. Dancers scuttled by heading to and from the stage for their own performance sets, several offering condolences in Spanish or Polish. It was immediately clear that I wouldn’t be dancing that day and told that to Becky, the director, standing over me in concern. The wheels began noisily spinning in her brain as she tried to assess who could replace me on stage in a few minutes time.

The show must go on. And it did. Despite my grande finale.

The doctor came and moved the leg around a bit. She asked questions about mobility and pain that somehow were translated to English and got half translated answers. Wrapped up the leg with the bandage that Jay kept in Jubilee’s first aid kit. The EMTs came and went as I was not in distress and had no desire to spend the night in a Huejutla hospital. Did Huejutla even have a hospital?

Me and my knee had done this dance before. We were old partners who still remembered each other’s moves. And we were both leaving on a midnight bus back to Mexico City  en route home no matter what.

The rest of the concert was blessedly short. I sat in a chair with a pack of ice Suzie had confiscated from a nearby vendor, cursing that incautious step in every language that I knew, and a few I didn’t. The Costa Ricans, then the Poles, sped off to the stage on cue.

The crisis of “is Mitch ok?” was quickly supplanted by another one as the rain began to steadily fall. Would we send our musicians out to the wet stage surrounded by a jungle of electronic equipment, the threat of lightning always present? Or do we offend our hosts by not performing in the second half the last show. Fortunately, the groups ahead of us faced that dilemma first and the organizers cancelled half of the show.

The trip back to Mexico City was an all-night dreamscape in a large bus shared with the Colombians. Windy mountain roads, rain showers, dense fog. A brief pee stop in an unknown dark location with me hobbling in the dark to find a sheltering tree along with everyone else. Those of us who could sleep, did.

The bus took us to the airport; most of us were leaving that day. Vida and I had arranged to stay at the airport hotel and leave the following morning, expecting to take a taxi into town to taste a bit more of Mexico City before we left. Instead, I spent the day with my leg on a pillow rotating ice packs, much easier to find in an airport Marriott than the town plaza of Huejutla.

The show, and the tour, was over. We just had to wait it out. I was able to hobble the few steps to the hotel restaurant for lunch, just as they launched their earthquake drill. September 19 was an ignominious day in modern Mexican history—the date of the deadly quakes both in 1985 and 2017 that killed thousands. The country has a drill every year on this date to prepare for the next one. As guests, we were assured we didn’t have to participate. The chef dropped off our breakfasts as he headed out of the hotel. The staff filtered back as I returned to our room. Vida went off to find out about getting a wheelchair to navigate me through the airport the following morning.

As I put the next mound of ice on the knee, the walls began to shake. So did the windows, solidly but not violently. A Californian, I know what that shaking means. Not scary at the moment, except for what it might develop into. And I’m unable to move. Vida texts that she’s being sent out of the hotel on another evacuation drill and can’t come back to the room. It’s not a drill, I respond.

The shaking doesn’t intensify, but also doesn’t stop. Alarm bells are blaring up and down the hall.  I contemplate trying to crawl under the TV table to protect myself from flying objects if the quake spirals upward. Instead, I wrap the knee tightly, grab our passports and do my best Pegleg Pete limp out the door toward Reception. One staff member, presumably a sacrificial lamb left behind to help late escaping guests like me, offers to push me out of the building in a wheelchair. I accept, until he wheels me to the elevator to get to the escape floor below. An elevator. In an earthquake. In a wheelchair. That would truly be a grande finale.

Fortunately, the staff engineers had turned off the elevator, the escalator, and any other moving device. By the time my savior had moved me back to Reception to plan our next escape move, the all-clear had been sounded and people were returning to the hotel, shaking their collective heads over yet another massive earthquake on September 19. The epicenter was hundreds of miles away, but Mexico City felt it fully.  

The rest of the story is more mundane. A taxi took us through the endless Mexico City traffic to the nearest Walmart for a cane to help me negotiate the hobble home. A wheelchair showed up on cue the following morning and the hotel staff and airport personnel helped wheel us through the long hallways and longer lines of the crowded airport to our plane. An Uber from San Francisco airport turned out to be impossible as the Dreamforce conference began that morning, with 40,000 geeky attendees snatching every ride available. An hour later, the BART train flashed the sign Walnut Creek and we were able to limp home. A not-so-grande finale to my Grande Finale.

Now for a month or two of braces, rehab, PT and careful walking while the leg heals. One thing, though, is clear. The next person who shouts “break a leg” just before we go onstage will have a lot to answer for.

© Scholarly Roadside Service

Back to Scholarly Roadkill Blog



HJ Design Logo